Argentina is facing the great challenge and opportunity of making progress in a digital financial inclusion process that is key for inclusive economic growth, says BBVA Executive Director José Manuel González-Páramo.
During his presentation at the Argentina-European Union Forum on June 1-2, González-Páramo urged Argentine authorities to boost the population’s access to financial services and make decisive progress in digital inclusion. He explained in detail that financial inclusion “is based on powerful digital development and good regulation that protects us from risks, along with an education that allows us to be sure that customers take advantage of, and understand, the opportunities.” “It is a huge challenge for Argentina,” he added.
The BBVA representative was accompanied by the vice president of Argentina’s central bank, Lucas Llach, who agreed with him on the concepts of inclusion. Llach pointed out that “issues of financial inclusion and digitization are on the agenda and will be discussed here by those familiar with the topic,” referring to the Spanish executive.
In his presentation, González-Páramo noted that “the rise of cell phones and technological advances are offering the opportunity for digital financial inclusion in Argentina”, although he admitted that Latin America is behind, with the exception of Chile.
José Manuel González-Páramo, BBVA executive director, during his speech.
However, he said Argentina’s presidency of the G20 in 2018, which was another main topic at the Forum, will be a good opportunity for the government to boost the population’s access to financial services. “Argentina, which will lead the G20 in 2018, has an opportunity to promote financial inclusion”, he stressed.
During his presentation at the Argentina-European Union Forum, González-Páramo explained that there are three main pillars to sustain this inclusion: “It’s the triple combination of digital infrastructure in an adequate regulatory framework and financial education. It’s a true ‘virtuous triangle’ which allows us to make progress in this regard,” he said.
BBVA’s Executive Director indicated that financial inclusion is a pivotal component to achieve inclusive economic growth. The lack of access to financial services affects the most vulnerable sectors, he said. They do not have guarantees to ensure their loans are paid and in general require small amounts of money that do not generate enough profitability for banks. In Argentina, less than 50% of the population has access to a bank account – a much lower percentage than in other Latin American countries such as Brazil or Chile (where 60% and 70%, respectively, have a bank account, according to World Bank data).
BBVA Research has found that, with the exception of Chile, Latin America is still far behind the developed countries in its digitization rate. In Argentina, 62% of households had Internet access in 2015, using it mainly used for social networks and communications. The biggest gap is in the level of development of electronic banking and ecommerce.
However, González-Páramo reiterated that Argentina has significant room for improvement in the regulation of areas such as digital consumer protection, through e-commerce laws and tools to guarantee digital security, such as digital signatures. Furthermore, the cost of fixed broadband in Argentina (which was used by 67.3% of the population in 2015) is higher than in the most developed countries. He pointed to the high level of cell phone penetration as good news. It is estimated that every Argentine has an average of 1.5 cell phones. The key, therefore, lies in digital financial inclusion.
José Manuel González-Páramo discussed the digital advances in technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, the cloud and biometrics. Together with cell phone use, they are the keys to bringing real improvements in access to financial services, and to helping people fully participate in economic life, promoting economic growth and reducing poverty.
The BBVA executive stressed the need for, and importance of, having laws on technology “that recognize digital signatures and protect email and intellectual property because it’s important to defend content from piracy, which must be taken seriously.” He also praised Argentine Central Bank’s decision to promote mobile payments: “I think these are steps in the right direction”.
From left to right: José Manuel González-Páramo, BBVA executive director; Lucas Llach, vice-president of the Central Bank of the Argentine Republic; and Daniel Valli, Managing Director for Argentina and Senior Director of New Business for the Southern Cone of Llorente&Cuenca.
In terms of the regulatory framework, he called for greater cooperation and coordination among financial and non-financial authorities to ensure that rules are uniform and coherent. In his opinion, a competitive environment should be created, in which similar products receive the same regulatory treatment regardless of the nature of their provider (startups, banks or digital giants). “We understand that there are customers who are completely unprotected in this new world – in part because it’s highly unregulated. We need to try to level the playing field”, he said.
Finally, he emphasized the important role of financial education. With digital banking, there are an infinite number of possibilities to develop digital financial literacy programs. “For BBVA, financial education is one of our strategic priorities for responsible business”, he noted. Over the past nine years, BBVA has invested more than 67 million euros to develop financial education programs for more than nine million people in all the countries where the bank has a presence.
BBVA’s Executive Director also said that “the profile of the customers is related to the third pillar”. In this regard, he explained that “it’s a joint task for government authorities, but also us, as private sector actors,” he concluded.
During the Forum, topics related to Argentina were also analyzed. Argentina is one of the largest economies in Latin America and has been immersed in a profound economic transformation since President Mauricio Macri came to office in December 2015, with a clear focus on opening the economy internationally.
In this context, the Association Agreement between Mercosur and the European Union –negotiations for which were resumed and analyzed during the Forum– would be very beneficial for both parts of the world. The Euroamerica Foundation chose this stage to hold the “Argentina- European Union Forum: Opportunities for a New Strategic Relationship” on June 1st and 2nd in Buenos Aires. This high-level meeting aims to be a forum for discussion and dialogue that incorporates the opinions of experts, government officials and institutions, both from Argentina and Europe, as well as representatives of private companies like BBVA.
BBVA has been a sponsor of the Euroamerica Foundation since 2004, sharing its knowledge and experience to expand the spaces for European and Ibero-American meetings, thanks to the bank’s strong presence in Latin America – its principle market - and deep commitment to the region.