National Workshop on Development and Social Inclusion of (Digital) Financial Services in Rwanda Organised by EPRN and AERC on 29th August 2023 at Lemigo Hotel Kigali

1. Background

In Rwanda, financial inclusion rate rose substantially from 48% in 2008 to 93% in 2020, according to the 2020 Finscope survey. Digital financial has also risen remarkably from 46% of the adult population in 2016 to 66% in 2020, mainly driven by serviced offered by mobile network operators – particularly mobile money. In a bid to promote financial inclusion and digital financial services in the country, several policies have been enacted by the government and innovations have been undertaken by financial service providers – including financial institutions and MNOs. Throughout the process of developing a broader and deeper financial sector as well as digital financial service ecosystem, evidence is an integral component.
In this regard, the African Economic Research Consortium (AERC) and the Economic Policy Research Network (EPRN) undertook several studies to understand the status, drivers, challenges and recommendations to build a more inclusive financial sector and digital financial service ecosystem, with funding from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation.

2. Objectives of the workshop
The main objective of this workshop is to disseminate the key findings from all the four papers and seek insights from stakeholders including policy makers and regulators, financial service providers, development partners, among others. Specifically, the workshop aims to :

* Understand the progress made so far in promoting financial inclusion and digital financial services in Rwanda ;
* Create/raise awareness of the challenges faced by women and persons with disabilities in accessing and effectively using traditional and digital financial services ;
* Establish a mechanism of collective responsibility among stakeholders towards promoting inclusive financial services and DFS ;
* Facilitate learning and drawing of lessons regarding initiatives to promote financial inclusion and digital financial services for all.

3. Accounts of proceedings
Welcome speech by Professor Herman Musahara
On behalf of the Legal Presentative of EPRN, Dr. Charles Ruranga, Professor Herman Musahara gave a welcoming speech to workshop participants. He thanked the participants for honoring the invitation by EPRN and sacrificing their time to attend the important dissemination workshop. He reiterated the importance of research dissemination and the move from merely publishing papers to ensuring the research findings get understood and used by intended audience. Additionally, Professor Musahara emphasized the need for social inclusion (particularly disability) in financial services and encouraged participants to embrace digital financial services.

Remarks by Mr. Senvy Maistry, Director of Communications, AERC
Mr. Senvy Maistry from AERC gave an overview on the work of AERC, including its three pillars, namely ; research, training and policy which allows the institution to reach its key objectives. He proudly informed participants that AERC capacity building and research programs have benefitted a network of about 20,000 experts from across the world and sectors whose skills have been enhanced. Mr. Senvy explained the context, background and rationale for the Financial Inclusion and Market Development research project which resonates well with the AERC strategic plan (2020-2025) improving quality and expanding influence in the region. Finally, he highlighted the rationale for the dissemination workshop as a tool to devising evidence-based solutions to the DFS gap in Rwanda.

Key notes from the guest of honor
The guest of honor, Mr. Chris Songa Musonera from the National Bank of Rwanda appreciated the invitation and gave participants an overview of the work done by the National Bank of Rwanda especially regarding payment systems. Mr. Songa mentioned that overall financial inclusion rates in Rwanda are quite high, at 93% of the adult population in Rwanda. However, usage remains relatively lower especially among women ; for example, women are less represented in formal services specially those offered by banks. He further added that women have a higher propensity to borrow but they tend to borrow less amounts and also prefer informal groups (ibimina) as source of credit. He further added that currently people, including women, have access to digital loans which gives them access to credit in ways that are different from the traditional channels. According to Mr. Songa, there is need to build supportive infrastructure to boost DFS and support persons with disabilities to access financial services.

1st presentation : Disability, digital financial services and financial inclusion : evidence from Rwanda by Dr. Ggombe Kasim Munyegera
The first paper on disability, financial inclusion and DFS was presented y Dr. Ggombe Kasim Munyegera who presented the statistics and regression results which indicated that persons with disabilities have lower access to bank and mobile money accounts as well as lower usage of financial services like saving, credit, among others. He also presented the main factors behind the disability gap in financial inclusion and DFS which include lower rates of financial and digital literacy, lack of disability-friendly financial products, communication barriers, negative attitudes and disability stereotypes among some financial service providers, among other constraints. In his presentation, Dr. Kasim presented some of the recommendations to make the financial sector more disability-inclusive, including investment in supportive infrastructure for service deliver, enforcement of the building code to enhance physical accessibility to premises of financial institutions, digital and financial literacy programs that are sensitive to the needs and realities of persons with disabilities, multi-stakeholder efforts to promote knowledge and awareness and break disability stereotypes, among others. The presentation triggered an interactive discussion from participants, most of whom appreciated the evidence presented on such an important issue. Some organizations representing persons with disabilities suggested having universal facilitation rather than special support to this group while financial institutions expressed concern over the cos-benefit implications of developing products and services for persons with disabilities.

2nd presentation : Development of the digital financial ecosystem in Rwanda : drivers, lessons and way forward by Ms. Agnes Mutuyimana
The second presentation after the tea break was made by Ms. Agnes Mutuyimana who presented the trends and patterns of key DFS indicators including number of subscribers, number and value of transactions from mobile money, mobile banking, internet banking and card-based payments. The presentation alluded to the fact that DFS uptake is increasing substantially in Rwanda, driven partly by enabling policies and regulations, innovations by financial service providers including MNOs, high growth of ownership of feature and smart phones, government initiatives including introduction of electronic payment of taxes and public services, among others. Recommendations to further promote DFS include stricter implementation of DFD and financial inclusion policies e.g. interoperability, cyber security, building code, etc. ; digital literacy programs that are sensitive to the needs of different customer segments ; among others. Several stakeholders made their contributions and sought clarifications during the workshop. The main take-away from these discussions is that no stakeholder needs to work alone but rather joint effort is needed in developing DFS infrastructure, promoting literacy and awareness, among other interventions.

3rd presentation : Gender, digital financial services and financial inclusion : empirical evidence from Rwanda by Dr. Ggombe Kasim Munyegera
The third presentation focused on examination of the gender gap in access to and usage of financial services in Rwanda as well as the drivers of gender-based differences and recommendations to narrow the gender gap. The paper revealed differences between women and men where women lag behind men in terms of ownership of accounts (bank, mobile money, internet and mobile banking) as well as usage of financial services like savings and credit. Recommendations made to improve the financial inclusion women include the need for digital and financial literacy programs targeted to women, financial products that are suited to the needs and realities of different categories of women (rural, informal, etc.), awareness campaigns to break cultural barriers, among others.

4th presentation : Access to digital financial services and women empowerment : evidence from rural Rwanda by Ms. Rosemary Botha
The fourth and final presentation mainly focused on financial inclusion for women in rural areas who are disproportionately less included in financial services. The presenter indicated that mobile money is a key enabler of agency which defined as women’s capacity to make financial decisions within households, particularly in rural areas.
Overall recommendations from the paper are : (a) Direct more social protection payments (e.g. VUP) via mobile money, (b) Increase access to mobile phones (tax exemptions for some phone categories), (c) Incentivize saving through mobile money and (d) Continual scaling up of agency banking to benefit women and other groups.

4. Summary of key recommendations from all four presentations
i. Mainstreaming policies to have specific interventions for different categories of people
ii. Financial and digital literacy programs that provide practical financial and digital literacy skills to different groups of people.
iii. Strengthening the implementation of existing policies and regulations, for example interoperability, cyber security, the building code for physical accessibility, among others.
iv. There is need for greater information sharing and partnerships among stakeholders including public-private partnerships (PPPs) for telecom infrastructure projects to improve service reliability especially in rural areas.
v. Scale up government guarantee schemes for credit access for collateral-constrained groups of people.
vi. Direct more social protection payments (e.g. VUP) via mobile money
vii. Increase access to mobile phones (tax exemptions for some phone categories)
viii. Incentivize saving through mobile money

Some photos from the workshop