It is widely recognised that the development pathway requires access for families and firms to appropriate financial products, including savings, credit, insurance, and investment instruments. Although much of the debate around poverty reduction focuses on meeting basic needs, such as food and health care, sustained long-term economic progress at both household and economy-wide levels depends on access to financial products and services that allow individuals and firms to move away from short-term decision-making to an inter-temporal allocation of resources. Access to financial services is a fundamental driver of increased household income and resilience in an increasingly shock-prone global economy. Designing financial products that respond to the needs of the poor and middle class and creating the policy environment in which financial institutions can flourish present core development challenges.
Private- and public-sector efforts to address these needs have been on the rise in the past ten years, but these can best be described as scatter-shot and based more on intuition and belief about what will work than on either well-developed concepts or empirical evidence. Experts, high-level government officials, and practitioners involved in financial access programs, who in late 2007 were brought together at a Center for Global Development workshop, concluded that with the possible exception of microfinance activities, there is not yet a systematic analysis on what initiatives work best and under what conditions.
Responding to this knowledge gap, Liliana Rojas-Suarez, senior fellow at the Center, convened a task force in June 2008 of leading experts on the subject from around the world and asked them to identify key principles that initiatives and programs for improving access to finance need to meet to be considered sound and successful. The task force met three times over a twelvemonth period under the leadership of co-chairs Stijn Claessens from the IMF, Patrick Honohan from Trinity College Dublin (now Governor of the Central Bank of Ireland), and Rojas-Suarez. Policy Principles for Expanding Financial Access is the result of the group’s deliberations.