UNSGSA Queen Máxima encourages private sector innovators to use fintech as a tool for greater financial inclusion and improving financial health in the UK and advanced economies during a video message keynote at the UK Fintech Week on 19 April 2021.
It is wonderful to be part of this year’s UK Fintech Week and to join with you virtually today.
For over the last decade as the UN Special Advocate, I have witnessed the power of tech-led innovation in my own work to improve financial inclusion. This has been critical for giving access to financial services that can protect people against hardship and help them invest in their futures.
We have seen many fintech innovators building more accessible and affordable financial services that people truly need, globally, but also here in the UK.
One example is the fintech CreditEnable. It helps British SMEs by reducing the hassle, cost, and time it takes to get a loan. Apart from speeding up the process – from eight weeks to only three or four days – the data analytics and AI platform matches small businesses with the most appropriate loan product for their needs and at the best rate.
Another promising UK-based fintech is Chip. It is an app which assists customers to save, and offers more competitive interest rates, especially on low balances. Chip uses AI to analyze a customer’s bills, income, and spending. It then automatically suggests an affordable amount to be moved to savings each week. This innovative approach was made possible by the UK’s open banking standard, which supports the app to connect seamlessly with all 18 British high street banks using APIs.
So far, we have just seen the beginning of the journey. For example, six million adults in the UK downloaded a bank app for the first time during the pandemic.
Big-data analytics can play an increasing role in identifying what customers need and they can make services more intuitive for use. Innovation can drive more competition and collaboration between traditional players, start-ups, and tech companies. And fintech solutions can rapidly change the way customers pay, save, borrow, and protect themselves against risks.
I’m convinced that inclusive technology-led innovations, like these, present our best opportunity to tackle financial exclusion and improve financial health. Inclusive fintech solutions are needed to help us rethink traditional business models to better serve the poor, low-income and underserved customers.
It is important for us to also recognize that financial exclusion is not an issue just in low-income countries, but for advanced economies too. Today, in the UK there are over 1 million people without a bank account and 5 million adults who are underbanked.
In addition, the pandemic has highlighted the need to build up financial resilience and overall financial health. As in most advanced economies, many Britons and Dutch do not have a financially strong position. In the Netherlands, one in five adults do not have enough buffer.
And in the UK one in four adults have less than 100 British Pounds in savings and could not cover more than one month of living expenses if they lost their job. And many are borrowing to simply pay for life’s essentials, which is unsustainable. As of October 2020, the UK’s Financial Conduct Authority found that more than 14.2 million Britons struggle with over-indebtedness, low savings, and limited or erratic earnings. So it is clear that a lot still needs to be done in this field.
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.
Providers and investors can create industry standards to make their practices more inclusive and safer. Fintech associations 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 do this by setting up fintech hubs and accelerators, by running techsprints, and by anchoring industry sandboxes. They can also drive innovative research to better understand which approaches work and which do not.
More broadly, if we want inclusive fintech to thrive, there are necessary policies and pieces of infrastructure that need to be in place. Some are critical for access, such as connectivity, physical infrastructure, and digital IDs. Others make markets work better for customers, such as fair competition and interoperable payment systems.
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 of cyberattacks, over indebtedness, and algorithm bias.
Finally, I call on each of you to consider the impact that you can have as private sector innovators to use fintech as a tool for greater financial inclusion and improve financial health.
Basically it means how can you design your products to help nudge customers to save, to help them budget better, and to address risks that they need to hedge? And how can you support SMEs with digital tools to run their businesses better?
I really look forward to encouraging all of you on this journey and I wish you all success. Your success can be a success of many.