e-MFP's cross-sector, mixed-methodology survey of challenges, priorities, concerns, opportunities and forecasts reveals a sector anxious about the future - but with tentative hope as well
By Sam Mendelson, Lead author, Financial Inclusion Compass series
e-MFP has today published the Covid-19 Financial Inclusion Compass, a special edition of the Compass series specifically focused on the current challenges, medium-term priorities, concerns, opportunities and forecasts for a sector facing probably the greatest crisis in its modern history.
The Compass started in 2018, and another edition followed last year. With proof of concept well established for a cross-sector, mixed-methodology survey, the plan was to continue with the annual paper this year, looking at trends, new areas of focus and the other established themes of this series, which together seek to provide an overview of in what direction the sector sees itself heading, and how to get there.
But as the Covid-19 pandemic spread and the severity of its impact on the financial inclusion sector became increasingly apparent, e-MFP decided to take advantage of the methodology, brand, goodwill and expertise developed in the previous two editions to re-purpose this year’s survey for this critical moment, to ask: how severe are the various challenges facing different stakeholder groups? what should be the priorities of the sector in the medium-term (both to recover from this crisis and put in place measures to mitigate the next)? And how will this year transform the sector – for better or worse?
What has emerged – the Covid-19 Financial Inclusion Compass – reveals a sector that is highly anxious about the consequences of the pandemic and especially the economic downturn – on liquidity-starved providers, on investors, but most of all on clients. There is palpable concern that this crisis may be the death-knell for the sector, undoing decades of progress. There are concerns about maintaining client protection among the remaining FSPs that survive, about the continued uncertainty –from macroeconomic trends and their effects on trade, tourism, transport and prices; from the future responses needed, from investors, regulators and providers; and indeed from uncertainty about the lethality and endurance of the coronavirus itself.
But there are glimmers of hope too. There is a genuine sense among survey respondents that once the acute crisis brought about by economic shutdowns passes, there are chances to make changes that the gravitational pull of the status quo would never allow in more normal times. There has been unprecedented collaboration and cooperation among sector stakeholders these past months – perhaps heralding a permanent new approach? Innovations may be catalysed, especially in the use of technology that genuinely improves clients’ access to valuable products and services. New resilience can be built in to better face future challenges. And, more nebulous but no less important, there is the opportunity for a re-think about the sector’s purpose. Can we, once this is all over, ‘build back better’?
e-MFP would like to thank its members and friends who helped give feedback to the early drafts of the survey, to the e-MFP Board and the Luxembourg Ministry of Foreign and European Affairs and the Ministry of Finance for their continued support of this initiative, and of course the 108 respondents from 44 countries who gave their time to take part in the Compass. We appreciate it.
We hope you find real value in the breadth and depth of responses – both the scoring and the extensive commentary from respondents – contained in this paper. It is the only one of its kind, and e-MFP hopes that the ideas within can help all sector stakeholders get through this and emerge on the other side with renewed vigour and dedication to the goals of financial inclusion.
Sam Mendelson is Financial Inclusion Specialist at e-MFP and lead author of the Financial Inclusion Compass