Just one year ago, WSBI joined up with partners CaixaBank of Spain and Germany's Savings Banks Foundation for International Cooperation (SBFIC) to create WSBI Advisory Services, a new not-for-profit consultancy company aimed at improving retail banking worldwide. The company opened its doors for work in September 2016.
On the leap to 21st century banking
I signed up four months later to lead the WSBI Advisory Services team. It was made clear from day one by the company’s president, Heinrich Haasis – who is also WSBI President and Chairman of the Board of SBFIC – that the new orgranisation’s aim was to drive retail banks around the world to better navigate a host of challenges, especially digitisation, sustainable banking and financial inclusion. Expertise within WSBI Advisory Services would help retail banks make the needed leap to 21st-century banking, strengthening locally focused retail banking in both developed and developing countries.
Working with WSBI Managing Director Chris De Noose, who serves as chairman of the newly formed consultancy's executive committee, we have pursued this goal. We have looked for ways to better tackle banks’ 21st century business needs. Those needs include digitisation and payments, institutional reform of state-owned banks including corporate governance and change management, as well as housing and green finance. We conducted a landscape analysis to see how we could help banks harness better digitisation to help them bring more people out of financial exclusion and offering them access to formal financial services.
Crucial for this is offering needs-based financial services that could be relevant and meaningful to people. That approach assures uptake of the products and therefore sustainable financial inclusion for both users and institutions.
Under this perspective, it is encouraging for us to see the progress made by WSBI member savings and retail banks towards their Universal Financial Access 2020 pledge. Recently updated, WSBI noticed that members who harness new technologies have made real inroads. Those financial institutions have been able to better attract new customers and more effectively offer affordable, highquality products and services that meet the needs of the underserved and unbanked, while boosting financial access and usage.
The latest data show that WSBI and their members continue to push ahead to reach its UFA 2020 goal of 1.7 billion customers and 400 million new transaction accounts by the end of 2020 (see related story on page 12). WSBI members added 136 million new clients as of 31 December 2016 from the UFA commitment starting point set at year-end 2014. WSBI members, who are present in some 80 countries worldwide, had 1.57 billion clients as of year-end 2016. Relatedly, the number of new transaction accounts provided by WSBI through 2016 stood at 2.35 billion, up 236 million based on the end-of-2014 benchmark.
From those figures, we are more convinced than ever of the big upside in learning from and re-applying innovation-led success on the ground with those who could benefit most, like locally focused banks and regulated microfinance institutions. Here we see a role for the WSBI Advisory Services to strengthen successful models and help multiply them with other financial institutions.
Sharing the story
When we look at our field of play, we notice first that WSBI is really delivering on the financial inclusion front. WSBI Advisory Services builds on this previous work done by WSBI in financial sector development in more than 70 countries. Their most recent success was the WSBI Doubling Savings Accounts Program supported with funding from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. To date WSBI continues this work through the MasterCard Foundation-supported Making Small Scale Savings Work program. At WSBI Advisory Services, we participate in this program, putting our effort in identifying and strengthening methodologies in different country settings, which can make small-scale savings relevant for users and financial institutions.
Helping improve peoples’ financial lives – and with this, their overall wellbeing – is a compelling story to tell. WSBI Advisory Services is set up to contribute to this overall objective as its main raison d’être – to help banks help people create a better financial life for themselves. At WSBI Advisory Services we want to participate in strengthening awareness of the efforts and advances in this field and inform people through outreach that stays true to that “red thread” message, weaved into all of our communication through channels like our website – wsbi-as.org – and regular news features. We aim to keep donors, experts, our staff, WSBI colleagues and members, and the consultant world in the loop and share our story with them, and would enjoy to keep them plugged in and interested in our work. The expertise of all of us, joined up with efforts and projects, can help build the future of banking and contribute to the goal of an account for everyone.
Financial inclusion: the road ahead relies on innovation
We see a lot of work ahead to address financial inclusion. Despite great progress made worldwide, more than 2 billion adults remain without an account. Hundreds of millions more now own an account according to the latest data from the World Bank.
But more accounts are not enough. People must use their account and use it regularly. That’s where meaningful innovation can really play a role. Banks need to have a strategy and business model developed, based on client’s needs and relevance for their financial lives, and put this strategy to use on the ground, in branches and through online and mobile channels.
Sometimes this means starting from scratch and sometimes it is about tweaking what they already have in place. People-focused product design is needed, along with close-to-customer service, to make it meaningful and easy for people to call on, logon or tap through to use banking services.
For many banks that means embracing change management.
We can help steer them to take the right approaches and coach
them along the sustainable banking journey, strengthening also
their internal capacities and strategic vision to be ready to offer
ever more innovative, inclusive financial services in their field
of action. We want to seize the challenge. We see a real chance
to help financial institutions to contribute in a successful way to
meaningful and sustainable financial inclusion.