Innovations for Poverty Action calls for better banking in Malawi

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Innovations for Poverty Action (IPA) and Bankers Association of Malawi (BAM) last week organised a two-day conference in Lilongwe to appreciate efforts government is making in the financial inclusion agenda and find ways of better banking.

IPA country director Dr Thomas Chataghalala Munthali, speaking at the official opening of the conference, said their global financial inclusion initiative works to identify innovative products and programmes that enhance poor household access to and usage of improved financial products, services and tools.

He said the initiative is focused on three key areas of research in financial inclusion, namely savings, payments and financial capability.

Munthali advised participants at the conference to find time to meet IPA to explore how development practitioners and researchers can partner and come up with innovative products in a competitive global world.

He said government’s willingness and efforts in supporting the financial inclusion agenda is a welcome development, adding that the presence of Secretary to the Treasury (ST) Ronald Mangani and the central bank’s officials are a clear indication of moving forward.

“Through this event, we hope to contribute to the ongoing discussions in Malawi on financial inclusion policy by representing evidence from a set of randomised evaluations conducted in this domain by IPA and its partners,” said Munthali.

He advised participants to dig deeper and find out what works or does not work when designing financial inclusion programmes and to use the opportunity to network for better banking in Malawi.

BAM executive director Lyness Nkungula said studies have shown that in Malawi, only 33 percent of the population have access to formal financial services, which means that the remaining population is financially excluded.

She said statistics call for concerted efforts among stakeholders to begin to reach out to the unbanked in both rural and urban areas.

Nkungula noted that the challenge for all financial institutions is to develop pro-poor ways of conducting business and come up with the best mix of people, processes and technologies that must facilitate a number of innovations such as mobile banking.

“We know that initiatives may not be easy to derive but can be done if majority of the people have access to formal financial services for the country to properly account for its gross domestic product and gross national product,’’ she said.

Nkungula assured participants that BAM remains committed to ensuring that all milestones spelt out in banks policies should be achieved by asking Reserve Bank of Malawi to consider reviewing its requirements for financial institutions to open outlets in rural areas.

Secretary to Treasury Mangani said government is committed to implementing financial sector reforms, which are aimed at fostering financial sector development.

He said government recognises the role of increased access to financial services by individuals and firms as an important ingredient for alleviating poverty and reducing vulnerability among the people.

“We all know that financial inclusion is about increasing access and use of financial services at a reasonable cost, especially to the lower end of the market,” said Mangani.

He said the policy assumption behind financial inclusion is that the provision of financial services, particularly to the excluded, should increase income in the wider economy by mobilising savings and providing loans to small businesses in urban and rural areas.

Mangani said it is pleasing that Malawi is one of the promising mobile money markets in the region, following the launch of mobile money platforms by TNM and Airtel Malawi which have become an enabler for financial inclusion in Malawi.

IPA is a non-profit research institution dedicated to producing evidence on what works and what does not work in reducing poverty.