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The Dutch Queen’s global advocacy on financial inclusion

Financial inclusion is a key enabler for fulfilling the sustainable development goals (SDGs). It can improve lives by unlocking economic opportunities.

According to the United Nations, when people have access to financial tools, they can have enough protection against hardships as well as opportunities to invest in their future, which can lead to positive development outcomes.

Highlighting this importance, the UN Secretary General (UNSG) appointed Her Majesty Queen Maxima of the Netherlands as the UNSG’s Special Advocate for Inclusive Finance for Development (UNSGSA) in 2009.

Since then, Queen Maxima—a trained economist who has experience working in international finance and emerging markets—has become a leading global voice on advancing access and usage of affordable, effective, and responsible financial services.

Last May, Queen Maxima visited the Philippines for the second time since her appointment as UNSGSA. Her mission was focused on strengthening the foundational pillars of financial inclusion. This includes connectivity, cybersecurity, and digitization, as well as enhancing financial health and resilience against economic and climate-related challenges. 

Aside from meeting with the President and other government leaders and private sector groups, she visited communities to interact with financial services users, including women micro-entrepreneurs and fisherfolk. 

Queen Maxima said that there has been a big change since her last visit to the Philippines in 2015: “Back then the Philippines was around 30 percent and now it’s above 50 percent, certainly a very big growth. We still have to get to that hundred percent so that everybody has actually access. We’ve seen that the poor still do not have access,” she stressed.

According to the World Bank Global Findex, there remains about 37.6 million Filipinos who are unbanked, placing the Philippines among the top 10 globally with the highest number of unbanked adults. 

The Global Findex data also revealed other pressing concerns about financial resilience among Filipinos. For instance, 42 percent of adults are worried about covering medical costs in case of serious illness or accident, while 24 percent are concerned about managing monthly expenses, and 17 percent are worried about securing funds for old age. 

In line with this, Queen Maxima highlighted the need for affordable financial services, which is especially crucial for the Philippines’ many small islands.

Noting the high vulnerability of the Philippines to climate change risks, she emphasized the importance of financial services in strengthening resilience of its citizens. She shared that during her community visits, she was able to talk to fishermen and micro entrepreneurs in island communities, and she was happy to know that they have access to financial services such as health and emergency insurance. 

“In case of any emergency these people don’t have to start all over again. That’s really very promising, and these types of projects need to be expanded all around the Philippines. This visit is not only to expand to 100 percent [access] but also how do we give these kinds of products that will really make people’s lives much better,” she said.

As the UN’s financial inclusion envoy, Queen Maxima has been visiting countries where there is still a large number of unbanked populations. She makes sure to meet with low-income families and various private sector leaders to learn which programs on financial inclusion actually work. 

She promotes regulations that take advantage of new technologies to expand access and usage to underserved populations while ensuring consumer protection. In fact, her country visits have resulted in either changes in existing regulations or crafting of new ones, such as in Bangladesh, Indonesia, Mexico, Pakistan and Senegal, among the most recent ones.

She has also been working closely with the private sector. In 2018, she first convened the CEO Partnership for Economic Inclusion (CEOP), a group of 10 leading CEOs from large global companies from a variety of sectors, including banking, technology, and consumer goods. Their mission is to put in place private-private partnership that are good for their business while also expanding financial inclusion. 

The UNSGSA is a Global Agenda Trustee for the World Economic Forum’s Global Challenge Initiative. She is also an Honorary Patron of the G20’s Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion (GPFI), a platform for all G20 countries, interested non-G20 countries and relevant stakeholders to carry forward work on financial inclusion. 

In her video message to members of the GPFI for its First Plenary in Brazil last March, she said that it is not enough that they open doors to financial services, because they also need to provide the necessary financial tools for people to effectively manage daily expenses, withstand financial shocks, achieve their financial goals, and gain confidence in their financial lives.

Queen Maxima emphasized: “Our mission goes beyond facilitating access. It is about ensuring that these services meet people’s needs and lead to improved life outcomes.”

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