Dubai: When we hear the term ‘financial inclusion’ we often think ‘banking for the under-privileged’. I maintain and often advocate that actually it is much more than that — it is a belief that equates individual financial independence to a nation’s economic progress. Put simply, financial inclusion directly correlates with the aspirations and wealth of any nation.
It is well-known that financial inclusion is about delivering financial services at affordable costs to sections of disadvantaged and low-income segments of society. So it follows that inclusive financing will empower that same society and increase individual independence as well as the banking communities’ weight. Any initiative that aids the eradication of dependence on debt and promotes saving and financial independence is worth pioneering.
The UAE Banks Federation (UBF), a professional representative body representing 50 member banks in the UAE, works to enable all members of the community to enjoy the opportunity to take advantage of any and all of the financial services offered by banks. Varying demographics, levels of educations and economic development within nations hamper this progress and present challenges.
In the UAE we have taken great strides to improve and enable an environment ripe for financial inclusion as most adults in the UAE hold more than one bank deposit account. We need to continue to innovate and improve technologies that enable financial inclusion while also avoiding risks inherent with potential microfinance options. We therefore encourage continued striving towards high quality regulatory and supervisory models of working within banks. We encourage innovation and continuous assessment of new technologies that pave the way for increased accessibility. We also encourage competition among the banking community since we believe that improved financial inclusion is critical, in turn, for the competitiveness of the nation as a while.
There are a number of factors that drive such an initiative as financial inclusion — fairness, transparency and access. Most of the underprivileged in the UAE tend to be in remote areas; therefore lack of accessibility is a key deterrent to knowing about services available as well as locating these. The UBF and the Central Bank are working on an initiative that includes the ability to provide financial services to various segments of the population through mobile phones. I am encouraged by the innovation already demonstrated by member banks in the UAE. Embracing technology, harnessing and cultivating a saving generation means banks and our society can work together to make financial inclusion a reality throughout the UAE.
All of the above is underpinned through education. If we can permeate the youth of today in underprivileged areas and stimulate financial literacy, we can help avoid the pitfalls seen through history, specially after the international financial crisis. There is more than one definition for ‘access’ and educating all on the various personal finance jargon and therefore making personal finance more accessible will bode well for a more inclusive financing society in the UAE. The banking community in the UAE has an opportunity to lead the way.
— AbdulAziz Al Ghurair is Chairman of the UAE Banks Federation