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Zambia 2014 | FINANCE | FOCUS: FINANCIAL INCLUSION

Improving access to the financial system for the majority of Zambians is seen as key to upping GDP and helping those in the informal economy emerge from the shadows.

The government of Zambia established financial inclusion as one of its main objectives within the regulatory framework of the Financial Sector Development Plan. Through the signature of the Maya Declaration in 2011, the Bank of Zambia established as a national goal the need to increase financial inclusion from 37% to 50% of the population by 2015 as well as to ensure appropriate access to banking services in all areas, as well as develop an education strategy at a national level and improve access to financial services. According to the Governor of the Bank of Zambia (BoZ), Dr. Michael Gondwe, the level of financial inclusion is now at 42% in urban areas and 34.4% in rural areas. “This scenario underscores the importance that the Bank of Zambia attaches to increasing financial inclusion, which has been adopted as one of the Bank's key strategic tasks," Dr. Gondwe told TBY. In order to achieve this national objective, the BoZ is developing five initiatives, which are the promotion of the delivery of banking services outside traditional bank branches, the expansion of mobile banking, the development of a unified collateral registry to encourage lenders to accept diverse movable property as collateral, the transformation of the existing uniform Know-Your-Customer (KYC) regime, and the implementation of a national strategy on financial education.

This great national commitment, with huge socio-economic implications, means that not only the public sector but also the private sector develop different initiatives to include all segments of the population into the fold for basic financial services. “We fundamentally believe that if you bring people into banking and connect them to the financial world, it is the starting point in terms of getting better involvement in the economy, and better GDP growth. So it's not a solution that's going to solve poverty, but it is like a prerequisite," as the Managing Director and CEO of the Zambia National Commercial Bank (Zanaco), Bruce Dick, explained to TBY. Under his guidance, Zanaco has improved transactional banking facilities through initiatives like Zapit, the first mobile banking-based application in the country.

Other private institutions are targeting rural areas like those in Copperbelt, which are mostly unbanked. “We are looking at things like mobile money, where you can start to penetrate that market," said CEO of Stanbic Bank, Charles M. Mudiwa, to TBY. “We have opened up branches in some remote areas and we are looking at more. What is important for us is to provide technology and the platform for people to transact." Stanbic Bank is developing a SME-based strategy with an account called Tamanga, which has already disbursed KMW18 billion to Zambian SMEs, with the goal of providing them with the financial resources they need for growth.

The Entrepreneurs Financial Center (EFC), whose goal is to empower minority groups through the provisioning of fair finance loans, has launched one of the most innovative products within the microfinance sector. The Client Share Ownership Program allows borrowing clients to progressively become a member of the EFC. Those with a good repayment history have the right to receive an incentive based on the amount of interest they have paid, a portion of which is reinvested in the EFC's activities.

Mobile operators and international institutions are also committed to financial inclusion in the region. In August 2014, the International Finance Corporation (IFC) announced a $1 million advisory services agreement with Airtel Zambia to increase access to mobile banking in the Zambian market. This three-year project, supported as well by the MasterCard Foundation, is an initiative of the World Bank to strengthen financial inclusion in Sub-Saharan Africa.