UNSGSA Queen Máxima encourages private sector innovators to use fintech as a tool for greater financial inclusion and improving financial health in the Netherlands and advanced economies for the 2021 Amsterdam Fintech Week on 7 June 2021.
Excellencies, Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to join you virtually for the opening of the Amsterdam Fintech Week and to see innovators across the Netherlands, Europe and beyond come together.
In my work as the UN Special Advocate for over a decade, I have seen that tech-led innovations are powerful engines to spur financial inclusion and improve financial health. Telecoms and other digital financial service providers have helped previously unbanked and underserved customers leapfrog brick-and-mortar banking across Africa and Asia to access financial services through their mobile phones or the nearest mom-and-pop store agent.
Similarly, the innovators gathered here have a tremendous opportunity. Rethinking your business models could transform the lives of customers in the Netherlands, and throughout Europe—especially underserved segments, such as small and medium-sized enterprises.
This goes beyond simply making services more efficient. Your solutions, your investments, and the inclusive innovation ecosystem that you build together, can be a catalyst for change. That change can enable access to the quality financial services people need to protect against hardship, invest in their futures, and better manage their financial lives. A more user-focused approach to design, can make services more intuitive for customers to learn, use and gain confidence with their finances.
We have already seen many fintech innovators build more accessible and affordable financial services that people truly need. Innovators like Funding Circle and Banking Circle are providing faster and cheaper access to capital, using big data and AI analytics to rapidly perform credit ratings for SMEs and disburse instant loans. Fintechs like Factris are helping SMEs quickly turn unpaid invoices into cashflow through their innovative online platform. And intuitive app-based stockbrokers, like BUX, are lowering the barriers to invest in capital markets, making it easier for people to start creating an investment portfolio.
So far, we have only seen the tip of the iceberg of what is possible.
Here in the Netherlands, we have nearly universal access to basic financial services—however, gaps remain. This is particularly true for SME finance. For example, the Netherlands has the highest SME bank loan financing gap in the European Single Market at 22% of GDP. And according to the World Bank’s Ease of Doing Business 2020 Report, our worst performing indicator for enabling enterprises is “getting credit”.
The challenge appears to be growing. Over the last 7 years, SME bank financing has declined by 16%. Small-ticket loans, loans to female-owned SMEs, and working capital credit have been disproportionately impacted—adversely affecting smaller enterprises the most in these challenging times.
The recent trend showing the emergence of many non-bank SME finance providers is very positive. This includes venture capital, crowdfunding platforms, fintechs focused on leasing or factoring solutions, and microfinance institutions giving alternative options. Innovation has a key role in supporting non-bank players to increase competition, to increase outcomes, increase usability and improve financial options for SMEs.
To date, non-bank innovative solutions have mainly focused on filling the gap left by banks for short-term working capital needs of SMEs. From the recent success of Qredits in supporting small loans to SMEs, we can see that low cost funding, guarantees, and promotion—when provided strategically by the private and public sector together—not only are in high demand, they also make a difference in serving SMEs’ financial needs.
Going forward, it will be important to develop more solutions to address SMEs’ long-term financial needs, support their digitization, help them train their staff, and to provide them with financial and business advisory support. Beyond loans, firms need equity financing to improve their solvency and to continue to invest in their businesses. So in order to have innovation in SMEs, we will need innovation in financing.
The pandemic has also reinforced the need to build up financial resilience and overall financial health. As in most advanced economies, not all Dutch people were in a strong financial position before the crisis. According to NIBUD, in 2018:
- 38% of Dutch households have difficulty making ends meet.
- 36% have less than €5,000 in savings.
- And 31% lack enough money to replace two of their most valuable household possessions.
Innovators can create tools to help people manage their day-to-day finances, as well as nudge customers to save, compare different financing options, budget their finances in the short term and the long term, so that they can meet future goals.
It is clear that a lot needs to be done in this field.
Providers, advisors and investors can create industry standards and codes of conduct to make their practices more inclusive, responsible and safer. Fintech associations, such as Holland Fintech, can lead by providing a collective voice to regulators on policy changes to encourage innovation. Large companies can support the emergence of new solutions and start-ups. They can set up fintech hubs, venture funds and accelerators. Public and private institutions can also drive innovative research to better understand which approaches work and which do not. I am pleased that several institutions are starting to take some of these steps already.
While improving the regulatory environment is a crucial piece of the puzzle, it is the private sector which will create products that can expand financial inclusion and contribute to customers’ financial health.
More broadly, if we want inclusive fintech to thrive, there are necessary policies and pieces of infrastructure that need to be in place—what I like to call digital public goods. Some are critical for access, such as connectivity, physical infrastructure, good regulation and digital IDs. Others make markets work better for customers, such as creating credit bureaus accessible to both bank and non-bank players, making payment systems interoperable, and ensuring fair competition. And some protect the financial system and users, such as data privacy, cybersecurity, consumer protection, and digital and financial literacy. This last set is particularly critical to address new risks, such as cyberattacks, over-indebtedness, limited digital literacy, and algorithm bias. Issues relevant here in the Netherlands and also across the world.
I am eager to see what creative tools you can build together for advancing financial inclusion—but above all promote the quality of these products. Because by promoting the quality of the products we can get the outcomes we really want, which is no financial stress for people and opportunities for growth for SMEs. Thank you so much.