China's influence looms large over global digital financial inclusion, and Africa, being an early mover in adopting digital financial inclusion, has also accumulated valuable practical experiences over the years. To foster communications and cooperation between China to explore more financial inclusion models that are effective in facilitating growth and progress in less-developed regions, Chinese Academy of Financial Inclusion (CAFI) joins forces, with Finance Center for South-South Cooperation (FCSSC)，and Financial Sector Deepening (FSD Kenya) to host the “Belt and Road: China-Africa Digital Financial Inclusion Summit in Nairobi, Kenya from the 28th till 31st of May, 2019. The conference is sponsored by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and proudly supported and participated by International Finance Corporation (IFC), China Banking Association (CBA), and the National Internet Finance Association of China (NIFA).
The summit marks a historical milestone in the field of financial inclusion that an academic institution takes the initiative to join force with other institutions home and abroad and build a platform for international exchanges to facilitate Chinese financial entities to ‘Go Global’.
The opening ceremony of China-Africa Digital Financial Inclusion Summit took place on the 28th of May in Nairobi, Kenya and was chaired by Dr. Zhong Wu, Vice President and Director-General of FCSSC, Dr. Duoguang Bei, President of CAFI, and Mr. David Lubinski, Senior Program Officer for the Bills & Melinda Gates Foundation, delivered opening addresses at the ceremony, followed by keynote speeches by Mr. Dongrong Li, President of NIFA, Mr. Guangwei Pan, CEO of CBA and Chief Vice Chairman of Asian Financial Cooperation Association(AFCA). Mr. Xiyuan Zhao, Minister-Counsellor of the Embassy of the People’s Republic of China in the Republic of Kenya, and speakers from World Bank, Africa Development Bank, and Visa, among other institutions.
Dr. Bei briefly introduced the context and purpose of the Summit and shared the findings of CAFI’s ongoing Global Ecosystem Index of Financial Inclusion research project, in which Kenya ranks number one among thirty-nine African countries surveyed in terms of the utilization of financial inclusion services by micro, small, and medium-sized businesses and individuals. Drawing on vivid analogy between financial services’ assistance to business development and transportation system on River Nile or Yangtze River, Dr. Bei highlighted the importance of applying different financial models to different economic entities of different scales and stressed the specific challenge of the ‘last mile’ in delivery of the financial services, the same way as that a moped has to be involved in order that packages be delivered to a client’s doorstep.
“I strongly believe that the Summit shall serve as a catalyst to unleash the power of financial inclusion in fostering development of microbusinesses and improving people’s living standard in the Belt and Road countries”, said Dr. Bei.
In his keynote speech Mr. Li of NIFA reminisced the achievements of China-African collaborations in digital financial inclusion and reiterated the benevolent role that digital technologies play in propelling changes in financial inclusion. In recent years, according to Mr. Li, public authorities of all levels in China have been upping the ante in investing in digital and mobile communication infrastructures, creating a nurturing environment for broadened applications of digital technologies in financial services sector.
“The rising tide of the digital age produces ample space and exhilarating prospects for China and Africa to join forces in facilitating the development of digital financial inclusion. It is my humble wish that financial services professionals in China and Africa be proactive in adhering to the international consensus in digital financial inclusion and stay abreast of the trend in modern financial industry, which can be summarized as ‘there won’t be finance without technologies’. It is also of utmost imperative that financial risk prevention be emphasized, infrastructures be perfected, and financial consumer protection be vigorously enforced, in order that all economic entities and general public alike in China and Africa enjoy the nourishment that financial inclusion promises to its fullest extent”, said Mr. Li.
Mr. Pan of CBA gave in his speech a vivid depiction of the present state of financial inclusion in China, with a singular emphasis on how digital technologies, a notable example being electronic payment, engender profound changes to consumers’ financial behaviors and the business practices of legacy banking sector as well. Also included in Mr. Pan’s speech were cases of China Construction Bank and Luan Rural Commercial Bank in Anhui Province, among other institutions, which illustrate the insights that China has acquired and accumulated into applying digital financial inclusion practices in improving the accessibility and affordability of financing for micro, small, and medium-sized businesses, delivering services to client residing in peripheral areas, and preventing and mitigating risks.
Following the opening ceremony are discussions on a spectrum of agendas including “Innovations and Development of Digital Financial Inclusion in Africa”, “Focus on Kenya, Africa’s Vanguard in Digital Financial Inclusion”, and “Serving the Weak and Vulnerable: Practices and Development of Financial Inclusion in China”. Representatives from China’s rural commercial banks, Africa’s financial institutions, mobile carriers, Chinese-funded enterprises in Africa and international organizations are involved in the dialogues and contribute constructive advice on how mutual understandings between China and Africa can be enhanced and how the parties can engage in joint efforts to facilitate financial inclusion.
In her remark at the closing ceremony, Dr. Xiaohui Zhang, Dean of PBC School of Finance at Tsinghua University, stated that accurate understanding of the concept of financial inclusion should take precedence over the development of financial inclusion, the importance of policy support should be comprehended, and risk prevention and control should warrant meticulous attention. She also emphasized that, while enjoying the convenience that digital technologies bring, we need to be fully cognizant of various issues such as how to strike a balance between innovations and risks amid the development of financial inclusion, how to construct legal and regulatory frameworks that are accommodative to the orderly progress of digital financial inclusion, and how to foster capacity building.
Following the Summit, it is reported, participants are scheduled to visit selected businesses and financial institutions in Kenya to have further discussions and explore opportunities for collaborations.
As early as in the 15th century, Africa had already made its mark on the Mao Kun Map, the nautical chart of the peaceful armada under the command of Admiral Zheng He, the legendary Chinese mariner, in its voyages to the Western Oceans, turning a new leaf of China-African friendship on the history of the Maritime Silk Road. Six centuries later, today Chinese academic institutions joins forces with organizations and enterprises home and abroad to explore together the prospects and opportunities for China’s digital financial inclusion to ‘Go Global’. We have every reason to believe that the Summit shall open doors for multilateral dialogues in pursuit of understandings and win-win solutions for global agendas.