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Financial inclusion, still at an embryonic stage in Tunisia

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While financial inclusion is making spectacular inroads in a large number of African countries, in Tunisia the situation is still at a rudimentary stage. Originally, the conservatism of our financial and monetary institutions and their allergy to any innovation.

The World Bank defines inclusion as “the possibility for individuals and businesses to access, at lower cost, a whole range of useful financial products and services adapted to their needs (transactions, payments, savings, credit and insurance) offered by reliable and responsible service providers”.

Financial inclusion at the service of landlocked people

The stakes for landlocked populations are considerable. Access to financial products and services makes day-to-day life easier and helps households and businesses anticipate financing for long-term goals or deal with unforeseen events.

It is a happy shortcut that allows them to circumvent the tiresome and unenforceable promises made by politicians to improve the infrastructure to improve their mobility and accessibility to the necessary services.

Read also: Covid-19 : UNCTAD Advocacy for Better Financial Inclusion

To make the most of it, the Bretton Woods Institution recommends that interested countries meet three prerequisites: the establishment of a regulatory environment to preserve the rights and interests of all parties, the incentive for unbankable persons to open a bank or postal account, and the generalization of the possession of an identity document, “a precious sesame, but still insufficiently widespread in the world, to open a bank account and access capital and credit”.

The state of play in Tunisia

In Tunisia, the banking rate, that is to say the holding of a bank or postal account, has been around 50% for decades. Consequence: large sections of society and regions do not yet have access to the financing necessary to improve their daily lives.

Worse, the current accounts in Tunisia are what are called “access accounts”, that is to say accounts for just withdrawing the payroll at the end of the month, most often as a debtor or even in the red. It is at the limit an unproductive access insofar as it does not create value.

We are very far from the financial inclusion that is talked about in countries like Kenya or Côte d’Ivoire. In these countries, financial inclusion, developed thanks to the trivialization of mobile banking and the proliferation of microfinance companies, allows, for example, Kenyans and Ivorians to carry out several financial operations. It helps them to buy, sell, transfer money, take out loans and even small credits to finish the end of the month, without having to kowtow to have them at exorbitant costs from a friend, of a brother, a father or an informal banker.

The Central Bank has its plan

In Tunisia, the Central Bank of Tunisia (BCT) is aware of all the good that the country can derive from financial inclusion. The Issuing Institute is in the process of setting up a “made in Tunisia” financial inclusion system, even specific to Tunisians. This project has two components.

Read also: The BCT consolidates the regulatory mechanism to promote digital payment and financial inclusion

There is the digitization component which aims to use new technologies to promote digital payments. This type of payment offers customers, even beyond their traditional network, safe and efficient ways to send money, receive or repay a loan on time or to buy goods from a merchant.

In this perspective, the BCT is working on the interoperability of financial establishments, on the restructuring of the Electronic Banking Company Tunisia (SMT) and on coordination with public service providers (SONEDE, STEG, etc.).

The second component relates to financial inclusion itself. It is a question of solving the problem of the inaccessibility of 50% of the population to financial benefits. To this end, the BCT is considering the restructuring of public banks specializing in microcredit and financing dedicated to VSEs and SMEs. This is the case of the Tunisian Solidarity Bank (BTS), the SME Financing Bank (BFPME) and possibly the future Postal Bank.

Consideration should be given to a possible merger of these establishments. The ultimate goal is to play on proximity and promote access to bank credit for large sections of society, particularly within the country.

Inclusion is not just financial

Beyond these efforts of the BCT, which we hope will be accelerated, for Radhi Meddeb, economic expert and founding president of the association Action et développement solidaire (microfinance company), financial inclusion should not be an end in itself. For him, “it is certainly the mother of all inclusions, but it must promote other inclusions in its wake: economic inclusion (creation of micro-projects, etc.), social inclusion (and its corollary, a dignified life with a dignified income), civic inclusion (participation in the life of society, etc.) and political inclusion.

This is to say that the much-claimed financial inclusion is broken down into several major macro-economic and macro-political parameters. It promotes the development of the country with the participation of the maximum number of citizens and the democratization of the country, on solid foundations, with aware voters who are individually convinced of democracy. The French academic and essayist, Georges Burdeau, said in this regard that democracy is not in the institutions: “There is no democracy, only democrats”, he says.

Of which act.

Abu SARRA

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