Toespraak van Prinses Máxima bij conferentie Wereldbank over onderzoek en data voor toegang tot financiële diensten, 12 maart 2009

13 maart 2009

De toespraak is uitgesproken in het Engels

Measurement, Promotion, and Impact of Access to Financial Services

Your Excellency, ladies and gentlemen,

It is an honor and privilege to be here with you today, to discuss how we can better understand how poor households use financial services, and how we can better measure the overall impact of access to financial services.

First of all I would like to thank the World Bank Research team for organizing this conference about Measurement, Promotion and Impact of Access to Financial Services.

After  the 2005  International Year of Microcredit, the United Nations asked me and a group of 24 other people from a variety of professional arenas including finance, academia, development, government and the regulatory community, to become part of a new UN Advisors Group on Inclusive Financial Sectors.

Our task was to identify and define the key issues limiting access to financial services and advise the United Nations and its member states on strategies and concrete steps to remove these constraints to enable genuinely inclusive financial sectors.

One of the key limitations we identified was the gap in concrete data at all levels on access to financial services. Over the next two days we will discuss the steps that are currently being taken to address this gap, and where we must go from here. I am particularly happy that the World Bank, the IMF and other key partners have committed themselves to come to a common approach on collecting data on access to and usage of financial services. We need to speak the same language in order to understand the challenges and define the opportunities together.

I am sure, that when I ask each of you to estimate the number of unbanked people in the world, I will hear answers ranging anywhere from half a billion to 3 billion people. Economists - like myself and many of you here present-  might find this hardly reassuring. The fact is, though, that no-one knows what that number really is. And without the numbers, it is impossible to substantiate and identify the right policies or to track progress.

Having high quality, comparable data on access to financial services is important for a number of reasons. First, it helps identify priorities for policy; second, it allows us to monitor the effectiveness of policies over time; and third, it provides a platform for researchers to better understand the implications - or impact-  of financial access. And as the conversations in this room over the next two days will demonstrate, all this is well within reach.

There has been progress on collecting broad data on the structure and soundness of financial systems, but the need remains for reliable household level data on usage and access to finance. I cannot stress enough the importance of this work in gaining in-depth knowledge of the landscape of financial services on poor households across the world. 

There are two strands of data that are needed: the first is high level institutional and regulatory data-the kind that CGAP and the World Bank have shown great expertise in tracking. The second, is data at the household level, the one that tells us who the customers are - or might be - and how their access varies with income, location and other important factors.

There is research currently being done at the household level that offers new ways of thinking about the poor and their financial lives. A new financial diaries study in Bangladesh, India and South Africa shows us that the poor don't actually live hand to mouth, but that they lead complex financial lives. Households are borrowing from neighbours and relatives, they are also using moneylenders and they take advantage of microfinance when they can. They are also using post office savings accounts and joining various informal savings clubs. The fact is that the poor have complex financial lives not despite being poor, but because of it.

But a clear conclusion of researchers is that for all the variety of tools the poor are using-some formal, some semi-formal and some informal-most of these products and services are unreliable and imperfect in various ways. Creating greater access to formal financial institutions means creating access to more reliable tools at reasonable prices. This conference holds the promise of collecting data on the successes and progress of that ambition.

We are joined here today by representatives from the World Bank, IMF, and by researchers, experts and donors. Years of conversation and coordination have yielded a high level of cooperation between major partners, and allowed us to envision a strategy to collect and maintain a set of high-quality, comparable data. I am pleased that the partners in this endeavor, the World Bank, IMF and others, have made progress and commitment in a number of areas. They have examined the data currently collected by the IMF, World Bank and central banks, they have identified which indicators are useful in framing policy decisions about inclusive finance, and outlined additional indicators to incorporate and standardize across countries and regions.

A possible complementary effort that is being considered, is a world-wide survey of financial access, by piggy-backing a short list of questions on omnibus surveys that polling companies already use today for other purposes. I am keen to hear the opinions of the panel on this particular approach to measuring access.

While setting a strategy for data collection is a significant achievement, it is only the first step. Next, it is important that we gain the support of national data collectors, such as central banks, national statistics agencies and others, and that there is a high level of commitment - but also capacity - from governments and national authorities to support this effort.

Finally, once data is collected, we must ensure that it is widely available. This requires a central repository to house it. This could be a web-based or electronic publication through which the data can be disseminated by the IMF, World Bank and others. Such a forum should ultimately become the main reference for governments, academics and the industry to draw upon.

To conclude: we have taken important strides towards the goal of providing and maintaining a set of data that can be used to inform policy decision makers and track the effectiveness of policies over time. But we need a continued push in the form of high-level commitment from all the institutions present here today. There is amazing capacity in this room to take this effort forward and ensure its longevity. I am committed to supporting the institutions represented here today as they continue to pursue these ambitions.

I look forward to an open and fruitful debate.

Thank you.