Interview: Tiémoko Meyliet Koné

How has the penetration of financial services in Côte d’Ivoire evolved in recent years?

TIÉMOKO MEYLIET KONÉ: As of the end of 2018 there were more than 90,000 financial services access points, 60 per 10,000 people and 293 per 1000 sq km compared to 16 per 10,000 people and 168 per 10,000 sq km in 2014. As a result, the financial inclusion rate increased from 39% to 70% during the same period. In fact, in 2015 the BCEAO issued new e-money guidelines which not only allow competition between banks and non-bank players, but also the extension of agent networks. Like electronic money issuers, these credit institutions use a local agent network to offer their services using neighbourhood shops and kiosks, which do not require a significant amount of investment. With the rise of new technologies, this potential should be further exploited through the increased use of mobile phones. The use of mobile money accounts has considerable advantages for banks in terms of cost reduction, as mobile phones make it possible to use intermediaries in bank operations instead of branches. New technologies could also enable banks to offer additional financing options to rural producers and small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs), which are an important part of the economy.

In what ways can the BCEAO contribute to the improvement of member states’ financial inclusion?

KONÉ: There is generally a low level of financial education in UEMOA countries, but numerous initiatives are being undertaken in the member states to improve this through specific programmes. In October 2019 the BCEAO launched a regional strategy to support the development of financial education strategies at state level. Business education has a crucial role in strengthening financial inclusion and understanding the regulations put in place to ensure consumer safety. The strategy’s main target segments are women, young people, rural populations and SMEs, as financial literacy is often low in these groups. Additionally, measures are being implemented to raise awareness among public and private sectors and low-income consumers to equip them with the tools to make the right financial decisions, particularly regarding loans and repayments. Meanwhile, the Agency for the Promotion of Financial Inclusion drafted the National Financial Inclusion Strategy 2019-24 in July 2019. This comes alongside the government’s financial education programme initiated in 2012, which has more than 150,000 beneficiaries. Through the 2010-24 financial inclusion strategy, the government aims to improve financial literacy, develop the population’s understanding of basic finance, strengthen confidence in financial institutions and rationalise behaviour. Indeed, a misunderstanding of financial services, coupled with a lack of awareness of their rights and duties, can lead consumers to inefficient or inappropriate use of products and services.

What challenges have been faced in coordinating digital finance interoperability across the region?

KONÉ: This has brought significant challenges regarding financial inclusion in UEMOA countries. Côte d’Ivoire is one of the region’s most important financial centres, with 28 banks and six e-money-issuing services, including three subsidiaries of telecoms operators. Like other countries, financial services using mobile phones have also expanded, with nearly 23.5m accounts in 2018. Over the same year, 569.4m transactions were processed using smartphones, with a value of around CFA9.7trn ($16.7bn). Despite this dynamism, the financial ecosystem is still fragmented due to several bilateral partnerships and difficulties in terms of accessing and using financial services. However, as technology develops, demand for faster and more secure transactions is growing. The BCEAO is looking to introduce a payment system that will allow transactions between any account using any channel, and will integrate all financial services providers so that UEMOA citizens can carry out transactions wherever they are in the region.