Interesting speech from Frank Elderson, Executive Director of the Netherlands Bank, highlighting some of the risks attached to the digital revolution and the impact on potentially excluded households. For example, losing access to bank branches, or ATMs, the impact of big data and the complexity of banking products. This perspective is important.
We still face challenges here in the Netherlands. Although these challenges are of a very different order to those in many other parts of the world. That’s because in the Netherlands, a lot is already very well arranged. For example, we have a stable system of payments, and everyone has access to financial products and services, such as bank accounts, insurance and pensions. Over 99% of Dutch citizens have a bank account.
Plus, in the Netherlands, we also devote a lot of attention to financial education, another important aspect of financial inclusion. You also play a big role in this respect. These initiatives include the Money Week project for primary school pupils, the Money Wise platform, as well as the activities of Child and Youth Finance International.
Yet there’s another aspect of financial inclusion I’d like to see us pay more attention to in this country: resilience. We strive for financially resilient consumers in society. Consumers should, in order to be resilient, make prudent and sound decisions. That’s one aspect on which we still have much work to do in the Netherlands. It is apparent in several areas. Let me give you a few examples:
National issue #1: vulnerable groups
For one, the impact of innovation, and the widespread digitization of financial products and services. This development means that many more people are now able to gain access to, for instance, insurance and banking services for the very first time. It’s fantastic to see what innovation can deliver in this respect.
However, in the Netherlands we have seen how innovation has also led to certain sections of society becoming more financially vulnerable. This is due to banks closing more of their branches and reducing the number of ATMs. At the same time, the new products and services that FinTech companies offer are sometimes still inaccessible for certain groups. These include the elderly, the handicapped, and people with low digital literacy.
These days, innovative firms focus on specific or younger target groups.
The early adopters. This is a logical business strategy. However, during this transition we must also consider the needs of more vulnerable groups. After all, access to these products and services should be available to everyone. While we are dismantling old systems and introducing new ones, the vulnerable among us may not always be able to keep up.
They run a risk of becoming disenfranchised – a risk of being left out in the cold.
National issue #2: exclusion
The second development I’d like to call your attention to under the aegis of ‘financial resilience’ is the use of data analysis to make services more personalised. Again, we can see how this has had a very positive impact internationally. For example, if a financial service provider, based on data analysis, can see a customer is reliable, then such service provider is more likely to grant that person a loan to set up a small business.
But there is also another darker to this coin, also in The Netherlands. In addition to the potential violation of privacy, data analysis can also lead to the exclusion of some customers. They may, for example, be excluded from certain financial services, if, by shrewdly combining various databases, it becomes clear that they have a high risk profile, or low profit expectations.
National issue #3: understanding
The third and final aspect of financial resilience I’d like to discuss concerns people’s understanding of financial products. Getting a mortgage or choosing a pension is not an easy process. The information provided is often highly complex. If someone takes out a mortgage they can’t afford, or chooses the wrong pension, it can lead to serious financial problems.
The combination of honest communication and understandable products is an important concern in this respect.
‘Consider the vulnerable people’
I’m sure you’re familiar with these examples. But I’ve mentioned them for a very good reason. When you’re designing a product or a service, I urge you, as representatives of the financial sector, to please always stop and ask yourself the question: “have I considered the more vulnerable people