President Paul Kagame has praised the resilience of the National Bank of Rwanda (BNR), especially during the country's turbulent history, and called on the central bank to continue prioritizing taking financial services closer to the people.
He was speaking in Kigali yesterday at a conference dubbed 'Financial Inclusion for Inclusive Growth and Sustainable Development Summit'. The conference was organised as part of celebrations to mark the central bank's golden anniversary.
He called for fast-tracking of the creation of tools and the appropriate use of technology to help expand access to modern financial services to enable the country's citizens to effectively save their earnings and invest carefully.
"Financial inclusion should be seen as a key component of the pursuit of self-reliance generally," he said.
"With the right mindset, the problems we face are just an opportunity to speed up progress toward the future we want and deserve. Our common goal is to empower as many people as possible to fulfil their potential and lift themselves into the circle of prosperity," Kagame added.
The conference was organised in partnership with the global Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI), the African Development Bank (ADB), and the World Bank.
Kagame praised BNR's contribution to the country's resurgence following the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. "The National Bank of Rwanda has played a key role in rebuilding our country. Our government inherited a devastated economy and empty coffers, but the Bank has mirrored the resilience of the country and its people," he said.
The President added that the bank's work has been "the foundation of the confidence that global markets and investors increasingly have in the future of the Rwandan economy".
He noted that Rwandans today have trust in the country's economy because the bank, through its regulatory work, has succeeded in maintaining the stability of the Rwandan currency and a banking system worthy of trust.
"As a result, we are doing better than ever before at saving and investing for the future of our families and the nation as a whole," Kagame said.
On financial inclusion, which consists of bringing low-income households and small businesses into the formal financial sector, protecting their assets, and helping them to manage financial risks and access credit, Kagame called for scaling up of access to financial information.
"Today's new technologies and methods make it easier, than ever before, to ensure the integrity of the financial system, without excluding the poor from it. We don't have to choose between these two goals," President Kagame said.
He described access to financial information as "the lifeblood of financial inclusion" and urged timely and reliable statistics to allow monitoring and policy development in the financial sector.
"Cheaper, faster, and more reliable information on creditworthiness and economic activity spurs dynamism and competition in the financial sector," he observed.
Figures from the central bank indicate that Rwanda has made remarkable strides with regard to financial inclusion, doubling formal inclusion from 21 per cent to 42 per cent over the last five years.
The Rwandan government says it wants to double formal financial inclusion to 80 per cent within the next three years - by 2017.
If that goal is to be achieved, Kagame advised, financial education needs to be integrated in such programmes as good governance and civic engagement of citizens and appropriate technology.
Delegates, who included financial experts, regulators and policy makers commended Rwanda's monetary policy and financial stability mechanisms, which have kept the country's inflation rates relatively low and the Rwandan Franc stable despite different economic challenges.
"Rwanda has become one of the most prosperous countries on this continent," said Dr. Alfred Hanning, Executive Director of the Alliance for Financial Inclusion.
Speaking to The New Times, Bank of Kigali chief executive officer James Gatera said that lack of awareness about financial services at the grassroots remains the main obstacle to financial inclusion. "If financial literacy continues to increase, then you are going to see more financial inclusion," he said.