H.M. Queen Máxima of the Netherlands, the United Nations Secretary-General’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA), provided a pre-recorded video keynote for the Bank for International Settlements (BIS) Innovation Summit held under the theme "Technological Innovation in an Age of Uncertainty" on 21 March 2023.
Ladies and Gentlemen,
It is a pleasure to join you virtually for the third BIS Innovation Summit. I thank you for this opportunity to put financial inclusion at the heart of the discussion.
We come together at a difficult and uncertain time. From Covid to conflict, to inflation and climate change, we are all seeking new ways to tackle the challenges before us. As we know, technological innovation offers enormous opportunities.
As the UN Secretary-General’s Special Advocate, I have witnessed the power of digital innovation to build resilience, endure shocks, and bolster financial inclusion.
For example, the rapid growth in mobile phone use and new customer data trails offer exciting new ways to reach the underserved and change lives for the better.
I recently saw this firsthand in Tanzania. There, I met with smallholder farmers mitigating extreme weather impacts for the first time, with the help of a formal financial services provider called ACRE Africa. The company offers affordable microinsurance to farmers using weather satellite data to assess and predict risks. When disaster strikes, this data is used to trigger digital payouts that farmers receive automatically.
This innovative set of services helps the farmers become more resilient to climate change. And the confidence gained from insurance coverage has spurred them to seize new opportunities. They now invest in drought-resistant seeds and fertilizers to boost crop yields.
One innovation can set off a chain of benefits. But it can also bring new risks, in both advanced economies and emerging markets.
For instance, financial services that use artificial intelligence can help overcome many traditional barriers people often face to obtain a loan. But, at the same time, it might use algorithms that create patterns of bias and misinterpret data. This can especially affect underserved groups like women, small business owners, and the elderly, among others.
Another issue is appropriate and adequate data governance. This is urgent, as big tech platforms look to use customers’ data footprints to embed financial services in social media, e-commerce, and entertainment.
Meanwhile, customers often do not know the value of their own data. Most grant consent for data usage without reading the terms and conditions, which are usually long and hard to comprehend.
They also rarely benefit from their own data. For example, it is nearly impossible for customers to access and share their data trails to receive lower insurance quotes or interest rates.
Individuals and MSMEs could be empowered with their own data, and bias in algorithms should be addressed to become more inclusive.
To achieve this, we can start by better understanding new risks. Then, accelerating collaboration to ensure technological innovation puts customers at the center.
For example, by developing audit tools and putting ombudspersons in place to assess algorithms on behalf of customers. Or, building balanced data sets that are reviewed and analyzed to reduce historical bias.
Digital public infrastructure will be needed to enable these innovations in the public and private sectors. For instance, greater connectivity and digital ID can open access to financial services for millions left behind. Fair competition and interoperable payment systems can help markets work better for even the smallest-scale customers. Cybersecurity, data governance, and digital literacy can help marginalized communities navigate digital innovation with more confidence.
During this summit you can discuss all these important issues, taking stock of the opportunities — and of the risks.
Let us ask:
How can we better create and share approaches to mitigate bias from algorithms? What more can we do to empower individuals and SMEs with their own data?
How can we encourage the development of financial products that enhance customers’ resilience?
And how can the public and private sectors work together to create digital public infrastructure that enables transformative opportunities for the underserved?
We are lucky to have many leading global policymakers and senior leaders in finance, technology, and academia here today. Your role is crucial. I wish you every success in your efforts to create a real innovative digital financial system that benefits everyone.