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Financial Inclusion in Europe and Central Asia: The Way Forward?

Asli Demirguc-Kunt

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Authors: Asli Demirguc-Kunt and Cyril Muller*

If you are unbanked there is a high likelihood you are living on the edge of poverty, exclusion and vulnerability. If you struggle to attain or maintain a secure, well-paying job, you probably do not have a bank account or access to financial services. You are completely reliant on cash, which is unsafe and hard to manage. And, should you or a family member experience a serious illness or another unexpected financial burden, you could quickly fall deeper into poverty and despair.

Unfortunately, this is the reality for millions of people in the developing countries of Europe and Central Asia. As recently as 2017, around 116 million adults in the region still had no bank account. And almost 60% of the unbanked in the region are women. In today’s highly globalized, technology-driven world, it is a stark reminder that we have a long way to go to ensuring greater inclusion and opportunities for all.

Over the past decade, account ownership has been increasing overall in Europe and Central Asia – from 45% of the adult population in 2011 to 65% in 2017 – but the data masks differences across subregions. In the high-income countries of Europe, most adults already own an account, and about 55% save formally in a financial institution. However, countries in the South Caucasus and Central Asia, despite important increases in recent years, have much lower levels of banked adults.

Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, the Kyrgyz Republic, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan are among the countries that have seen the greatest increases globally, but they started from a very low base.

What are the reasons so many people in the region remain unbanked?

Lack of trust in institutions is a major issue. Almost 30% of unbanked adults in the region report lack of trust in banks as a barrier to opening an account, which is reflected in the very low level of formal savings in the region. Less than 25% of people in the developing countries of the region borrow from formal sources. As such, informal borrowing is prevalent. In cases of emergency, people rely on family and friends rather than savings or borrowing from a financial institution.

Gender gaps in financial inclusion also persist, and are especially acute in countries such as Armenia, Kosovo, Turkey, Tajikistan, and Turkmenistan. In Turkey, for example, 83% of men have a bank account, while only 54% of women have one. Being unbanked is also associated with a lack of labor force participation, which underscores the challenges facing so many women in the region with respect to participating equally and fully in business and in the economy.

What is the way forward?

Inclusive financial systems provide a high share of individuals with greater access to resources to meet their financial needs, such as saving for retirement, investing in education, capitalizing on business opportunities, and confronting shocks. Inability to use these financial services can contribute to persistent income inequality and slow economic growth.

There are many opportunities to increase account ownership. Over 80% of the unbanked in Europe and Central Asia have a mobile phone. Providing these mobile users with internet access or digital financial services could be key to expanding financial inclusion.

For governments, switching from cash to digital payments can reduce corruption and improve efficiency. Making government, private sector and agricultural payments directly into accounts would go a long way. For example, moving public sector pension payments into accounts would reduce the number of unbanked adults in the region by up to 20 million, including 8 million in Russia alone.

Technology has a huge role to play. Digital payments – such as receiving payments or transfers directly into an account, making payments over a mobile phone or using the internet, paying utility or fees directly from accounts – can drive financial inclusion, as many countries are also experiencing major advances in digitalization.

Financial services must be used responsibly, nonetheless. As such, countries need to ensure greater financial literacy among citizens and provide consumer protection safeguards. Financial services should also be tailored to the needs of financially underrepresented groups such as women, the poor, and first-time users.

As the Europe and Central Asia region grapples with sluggish economic growth and uncertain prospects in 2019-20, inclusive financial sector development can help boost growth and reduce poverty. Rapid technological advancement and interconnectivity between regions also provide unprecedented opportunities to ensure everyone can benefit from financial inclusion and therefore participate equally and fully in society.

*Cyril Muller is the World Bank Regional Vice President for Europe and Central Asia.

World Bank

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Economy

Principal Trends in the Development of Eurasian Integration

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The development of the Eurasian Economic Union in 2019 was once again marked by deepening integration and the expansion of global trade and economic relations. Emerging trends include the improved quality of integration and the shaping of the Union as a pragmatic and responsible partner involved in international relations as an independent actor.

The EAEU is improving its institutions and mechanisms for regulating trade and economic cooperation, reducing the number of barriers to ensure the complete freedom of movement of goods, services, labour resources and capital within the single customs space of the member states.

The following regulatory instruments have been amended and improved in 2019:

-electronic customs declarations have been put into use; these declarations are connected to the unified information platforms currently being developed in all EAEU states;

-the procedure for offsetting customs duties using a system of advance payments has been modified (it will significantly speed up paperwork flow and reduce customs clearance times);

-the rules for calculating and collecting compensatory and anti-dumping duties have been streamlined;

-the terms and powers of state agencies have been specified; the areas of influence and regulatory control of the Eurasian Economic Commission (hereinafter the EEC) have been expanded in matters relating to the supervision and implementation of the EAEU anti-monopoly rules both on cross-border markets and throughout the EAEU in general;

-international treaties have been amended in the part pertaining to the distribution of customs duties collected between the treasuries of the member states (the following ratio has been stipulated: Armenia – 1.22 per cent; Belarus – 4.86 per cent; Kazakhstan – 6.955 per cent; Kyrgyzstan – 1.9 per cent; Russia – 85.065 per cent).

Emphasizing the “Digital” Aspect

In 2019, the EAEU actively developed and improved the digital agenda in various segments of the common market. Projects for implementing a digitalization programme have been developed and approved. The programme stipulates the procedure for implementing digitalization projects through the consolidated efforts of all EAEU members.

In particular, in order to simplify the paperwork flow, speed up customs proceedings, and make it easier to do business in the Union, the EAEU adopted the decision to streamline the rules and functioning of the “one window” system. For all the members of the EAEU market, this could serve as a platform for an electronic information exchange system for all EAEU market participants regardless of their country of origin, as well as a venue for interacting with the licensing and regulatory system.

The EAEU also adopted the Concept of Cross-Border Information Interaction, which lays down the legal framework for the exchange of information among EAEU market participants and can be used as a platform for the development of the information services market in the future.

The digital agenda programme also extends to the real sector of the economy, which is provided for by the project for industrial cooperation, sub-contracting and technology transfer. The project entails developing a system of e-contracts between industrial enterprises. The advisory body, the Industrial Policy Council, has been tasked with managing the implementation of this project.

Single Sectoral Markets

2019 saw the adoption of the Concept for the Creation of a Common Financial Market of the Eurasian Economic Union, which entails free mutual access to national markets for banking and insurance institutions (regulating the process of streamlining and aligning the rules and mechanism for issuing licenses and their mutual recognition). The Concept will boost competition on the banking services and insurance markets, expand the range of available financial services, and stimulate investment and capital mobility.

The complexity and scale of reforms necessary to create common banking, insurance and securities markets require a lengthy preparatory period in order to coordinate, streamline and aligning macroeconomic criteria, standardize indicators to ensure the stability of the financial and insurance sectors, as well as the legislative framework, by 2025. A transitional model of the common financial market will subsequently be launched.

Energy is Key

The transitional model of the EAEU common energy market has been launched. An important detail in the concepts of energy market integration is the fact that, when negotiations on the Union Treaty were in progress, the objective of creating a single common market for all types of energy sources was abolished in favour of creating the common market format (CEM) as a target objective for the integration of the energy sector.

The EAEU CEM entails free pricing on energy and energy transmission using the following mechanisms: long-term contracts between independent companies use agreed prices set with due account of the equilibrium price of the common market that has been written into contracts, and exchanges operate with free pricing.

Trade is organized with the use of an e-system for swap contracts, forwards and futures, and with the use of the Single Information System (SIS) accessible for all wholesale market participants. However, only authorized organizations are authorized to conclude long-term transactions and determine the volumes of surplus energy offered for bidding.

Before launching the gas market, the upper and lower price limits for surplus electricity and service tariffs are to be regulated within internal prices. This means that the “freedom” of pricing for energy and services is from the very outset established in accordance with the terms and conditions and within the limits of the manufacturing, resource, technical and technological potential of national natural monopolies, and the common market only adjusts pricing depending on the current supply and demand at a specific moment in time.

This is a transitional format for the functioning of the EAEU CEM, and it fits perfectly into the integrational model of cross-border trade cooperation, which entails achieving the objectives set for the common market by increasing trade volumes and ensuring equal access to the services and infrastructure of national monopolists.

Consequently, the development of Eurasian integration made it possible to preserve the growth of the positive influence that integration has on the stability of the macroeconomic situation in member states and on the degree of macroeconomic convergence in the EAEU in 2019. As a result of applying the single customs tariff of the Customs Code of the EAEU and expanding the list of technical regulations implemented by all states, conditions on the commodities markets are becoming streamlined at a rapid pace, and equal competition conditions are being created for all actors on the EAEU common market. These developments make it possible to stem the drop in growth rates that were predicted for the global market at the beginning of 2019.

Streamlining the rules governing trade in goods and services on the common EAEU market in 2019 made it possible to ensure a smaller drop in mutual trade in monetary terms within the Union compared to the decline in foreign trade with third countries. The decrease in bilateral trade in January–September 2019 was 1.3 per cent, compared to the 2018 trade decline of 2.5 per cent with third countries.

Armenia (6.4 per cent) and Belarus (3.5 per cent) demonstrated positive growth in mutual trade, while the other states demonstrated a decrease in trade turnover of approximately 3 per cent on average. As in previous years, minerals (26 per cent of the total mutual trade in the EAEU), machinery, equipment and vehicles (20 per cent, with Russia and Belarus remaining the principal suppliers), agricultural raw materials (15 per cent), metals and metal goods (13 per cent), and chemicals (12 per cent) remained the principal drivers of growth.

The EEC estimates that the dynamics of mutual trade in comparable prices (calculated using the physical volume of supplies index) demonstrate stable trade volumes, remaining at the 2018 level, and a drop in prices of 1.5 times, which led to a decrease in the cost indicator of mutual trade volumes. Consequently, the Eurasian integration factor retains its positive effects and can be bolstered by stepping up integration processes.

The potential of expanding trade cooperation can be realized by expanding the circle of partners in the preferential regime of economic cooperation. In 2019, the EAEU continued its work to develop international cooperation. One example of this is the Agreement on Trade and Economic Cooperation between the Eurasian Economic Union and the People’s Republic of China, which went into force in 2019. Cooperation agreements were signed with Serbia and Singapore, memorandums on cooperation were signed with Indonesia, and a partnership declaration was signed with the Pacific Alliance. In addition, negotiations were launched on agreeing on the terms and conditions of partnership agreements based on previously signed memorandums of cooperation with the African Union, Bangladesh, Argentina, the United Nations Economic and Social Commission for Asia and the Pacific, the World Intellectual Property Organization and the Global Medical Device Nomenclature Agency.

The EAEU’s activity in the international arena is testimony to its great development.

From our partner RIAC

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WEF 2020: A Blank Check on Climate Change Costs

Naseem Javed

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At the WEF Davos 2020, is there already a blank check issued from stakeholder capitalists to Greta Thunberg to go and fix global climate damages? If not, too bad…just relax full payment may be coming.

First some facts; big and small governments have no money, big businesses have no money, what disappears in heavenly bushes of the paradise-accounting always stays there. The world is basically broke to fix this monumental problem; broke it’s mentally and crushed morally, broke is also the global populace, exhausted and restless, unless their survival on sustenance, equality and social justice not addressed at much faster rate over populism mobs may appear.

The Blank Check: Enters the five million small medium businesses of the world; a super economic force to reckon with on platform economy.

In broader strokes, as a simple example, The United States Business Administration, the SBA has some 13 million small medium size enterprises as members. Now imagine, if five million of such enterprises, already doing USD$2-5 million in annual turnover were placed on national mobilization of entrepreneurialism to boost special skills on innovative excellence to produce exportable quality. Now imagine if each one added only one-million in additional revenue to their current operations what will happen, basic math. Five million small enterprises times one million new revenue each equals 5,000,000 x 1,000,000 = 1,000,000,000,000 or one trillion.

Now imagine, if there were 25 million such enterprises scattered across the world, each adding two million dollars as a base per year that will be 50 trillion dollars… or 10 five times the revenue of the world’s five largest and most powerful technology companies. This is a wake-up call to exhausted economies. These operations are less new funding dependant they are execution hungry and deployment starved.

There are some 100 million SME in such mix around the world; if mobilized on national entrepreneurial platforms would have enough strength to help and fix local community issues, as entrepreneurs by their DNA are cause centric and will take care of such global climate issues, unlike short term shareholders on money schemes. The lack of discussion on SME revival are main reason, such silence proves lack of vision and global-age knowledge on entrepreneurial transformation and most importantly about global consumption and how to create real value creation. The spotlight on hedge funded value manipulations take all the attention and systematically the entrepreneurial talent of SME suppressed for not being glamorous enough on talk shows over earth shattering robotic technologies.

Fact: The world can easily absorb unlimited exportable ideas in unlimited vertical markets. Fact: The well-designed innovative ideas are worthy of such quadrupled volumes. Fact: The entrepreneurial and dormant talents of a nation are capable of such tasks. Fact: The new global age skills, knowledge and execution are now the missing links

The world is changing fast; this is no longer a cliché, now a serious warning: You can always tryout a change and start with some 500 small and medium enterprises in your own local region on national mobilization of entrepreneurialism protocols and measure the impact of innovative excellence on the local grassroots prosperity. Currently there are already 11,000 Chamber of Commerce in the world with combined membership of 45 million, somewhere here in lack of digital platforms are 25 million enterprises eager and ready to boost their revenues by million each. The art and science of global showcasing of its members with global bounce is a solid start on export strategy. Bold and open debates will streamline the fears of missing skills at the top to tackle such large scale deployments.

The rest is easy

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UNDP: Reshaping the Global Development Agenda

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The establishment of United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) ushered a new era during the course of United Nations (UNs) exemplary journey.   In September 2000 at the Millennium Summit the world leaders pledged to reduce poverty by 2015 focusing on the eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) . After all, the UNDP has been able to take the lead in accomplishing global impact on humanitarian priorities.  As  a result  of this  effort the UNDP played a pivotal role in taking a billion people out of extreme poverty by  reducing global poverty by half over the last 30 years.  This was closely related to the UNDP’s visionary leadership reshaped the future of the global sustainable development agenda in the shortest possible time. Over the years UNDP projects have had measurable success in protecting the environment. For example the UNDP allocated over US$ 5600 million supporting   nearly 4600 new projects worldwide  (UNDP, 2019).  Of this the largest recipients in 2019 were Afghanistan, with an estimated total of  US$ 530 million.  The recent initiatives implemented by the UN development agency will begin to impact systematically and begin to grow in magnitude touching all aspects of human life over the coming decades.

One of the  most  important  components of the UNDP  journey   was the  Human Development Report (HDR) that  paved the  way  to  discuss  the meanings and measurements of human development that  can  enlarge  people’s choices.  Speaking at the launch of 2019 Human Development Report on 11 December 2019 the current   Administrator of the United Nations Development Programme Achim Steiner  said, “In terms of productivity, the report shows that the growing market power of employers is linked to a declining income share for workers. It argues that anti-trust and other policies are key to address the imbalances of market power”. It is noteworthy to mention after more than five decades of global outreach the UN development agency seeks to adopt a strategy addressing inequality and social exclusion, preventing and mitigating conflicts and disasters, economic recovery, development planning and inclusive sustainable growth.

Globally climate change has been a concern in the recent years. Renewable energy is considered to be one of the alternatives that can combat global warming and stabilise the climate. Roughly US$2.5 billion has been provided to 140 countries for climate change initiatives and the   UNDP was the largest implementer in combating climate change globally.

Another major area of worldwide concern was the displacement of people due to armed conflicts.  The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), Global Trends report findings shows conflict and violence have forcibly displaced 65.3 million people globally. The adoption of conflict and development analysis (CDA) tools designed by the UNDP   for building practitioners aims to strengthen peace and security in war and in post-war countries. However the UNDP remains committed to successfully strengthen democracy and good governance through transparent institutionalizing process in developing nations.. Infrastructures for Peace can be an important tool to prevent conflicts.  By laying a  solid foundation for Peace initiative designed by UNDP to strengthen the capacity and to manage conflict is one such successful programme. Today the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) plays a fundamental responsibility with worldwide communities to address global, regional and national challenges. Since its inception the United Nations development agency has made significant solutions to world’s most pressing problems.

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