Economic transformation through financial inclusion: Building the pillars of Bhutan’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy

13 December, 2017

Original source: AFI

Financial inclusion is now recognized as an important policy goal for sustainable poverty reduction and inclusive growth. In Bhutan, financial inclusion is regarded a fundamental and essential prerequisite for achieving economic transformation for equitable and harmonious development.

In pursuing Bhutan’s financial inclusion agenda, the Royal Monetary Authority of Bhutan (RMA) made a commitment under the Maya Declaration with targets aimed to develop Bhutan’s national financial inclusion strategy (NFIS). Since then, the RMA Bhutan has been putting in place regulations to promote financial inclusion in Bhutan.

With the support from AFI Grants, RMA Bhutan conducted a demand-side and a supply-side survey to guide its policy intervention relating to financial inclusion. Several regulations have been introduced to promote financial inclusion in Bhutan, which include Microloan Institutions Regulation in 2014; Agent Banking Rules and Regulations in 2016; Private Money Lending Rules and Regulations in 2016 and Deposit Taking Microfinance Institution (MFI) Regulations in 2017.

The Bhutan Economic Forum for Innovative Transformation (BEFIT) — held in Thimphu, Bhutan from May 24 – 26, 2017 — was conceived to realize His Majesty, King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck’s vision for a vibrant democracy for Bhutan built on the foundations of a strong and dynamic economy[1]. The BEFIT event convened a wide range of international and regional experts to share best practices, and deliberate on innovative and transformative solutions for Bhutan to emulate.

Digitization was identified as one of the key drivers to accelerate Bhutan’s financial inclusion agenda.

Bhutan has a population of 700,000 and its topography comprises of mountainous and often precipitous terrain, which makes accessibility to remote areas a challenge. While mobile penetration rate is high at 86 percent, there are only 60,000 existing mobile banking users of B-WALLET – a mobile wallet product offered by the Bank of Bhutan. As such, there is an opportunity to leverage on mobile payment financial services and digital channels to overcome geographical barriers.

The availability and the usage of reliable demand-side and supply-side data provides the foundation for building pillars for Bhutan’s financial inclusion agenda. Formulation of Bhutan’s NFIS needs to be consistent with the national development goals of Bhutan, which derives from Bhutan’s participatory and inclusive approach towards development driven by its own philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH). This drives an internal goal to come up with an appropriate definition and profiling of the national financial inclusion strategy, including its successful implementation.

Effective coordination amongst relevant stakeholders were highlighted as a critical component to the successful implementation of strategy. What was noted throughout the BEFIT event was the strong political will and coordination among all stakeholders in pursuing Bhutan’s financial inclusion agenda. This is evident in the active participation of financial service providers, politicians and local leaders, representatives from various ministries, civil and non-governmental organizations.

The BEFIT event also demonstrated high-level political leadership, a critical element in driving the successful implementation of Bhutan’s strategy. This forms the foundation of creating a formal coordination mechanism for the formulation and successful implementation of Bhutan’s NFIS — one that recommends RMA Bhutan to capitalize and provide the leadership role as the driving agents in promoting financial inclusion.

The strength of the AFI network is imbedded in its peer-to-peer learning modality, where policymakers share and learn knowledge on proven financial inclusion policies and initiatives. One such example is the week-long peer advisory programme on NFIS implementation hosted by Central Bank of Nigeria in June 2017 that RMA Bhutan participated along with five other members.

RMA Bhutan is contributing to and gaining from the wealth of knowledge and experience in the AFI Network. Their active engagement in the AFI network serves as an example where member institutions can look towards for inspiration, motivation and support whilst pursuing their financial inclusion agenda.

View the final report of the proceedings of the BEFIT event.

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