Ashraf El-Bassiouny, assistant managing director for marketing and retail banking at the Housing and Development Bank (HDB), said that in order to achieve financial inclusion in Egypt, we first have to reach a phase where clients can obtain services without having to visit branches.
He told Daily News Egypt in an interview that the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) also has to grant banks incentives and support them to expand their client bases, noting that failure to assist banks to market their financial and banking services outside their branches is one of the biggest obstacles for financial inclusion in Egypt.
He pointed out that the establishment of the HDB aimed at enabling those who did not deal with banks previously to access housing and banking services, adding that the bank is doing much to achieve financial inclusion.
What is the bank’s role in supporting the state’s efforts to achieve financial inclusion?
HDB is playing a major role in supporting the state’s efforts to achieve financial inclusion. The decision to establish the bank in 1979 aimed to finance housing and development projects to provide housing for low-income people.
This enabled many people who did not deal with banks to access housing and banking services, through obtaining housing units at affordable prices and long-term instalments with a state-provided interest.
As of 2003, the strategic direction of the bank’s senior management was the full development of the bank and its transformation from a specialised bank in the field of housing into a comprehensive bank that conducts banking efficiently like any commercial bank, and even to compete in this field while retaining its specialisation.
During this short period, the bank was one of the few banks that did not stipulate a minimum monthly salary to obtain credit services. In the same period, the bank took care not to set an excessive minimum for opening accounts like most banks, in order to grant the opportunity to the largest segment of society to access banking and housing services.
The bank was keen to participate actively in the initiative launched by the CBE in the Arab Week for Financial Inclusion through several measures, including waiving fees on incoming remittances on the ACH system, exemption from credit and debit card issuance fees, granting loans without approval fees, exempting new clients from the minimum balance conditions, distributing pre-paid cards for free, and a number of other measures.
What is required to achieve financial inclusion in Egypt?
We firstly have to encourage banks in Egypt to expand their client bases and cover all segments of the society. This can be stimulated by incentives from the CBE to these banks and supporting them to continue their expansion.
It is also necessary to spread awareness among all segments of society, especially the segments that lack education and are not very accessible for advertisement, in order to help them see their rights and financial responsibilities when dealing with financial institutions. The presence of banks must be facilitated in youth centres, public gatherings, festivals, and holidays.
Do you think that the technological structures of banks operating in the Egyptian market are capable of achieving financial inclusion?
Banks in Egypt have made a technological breakthrough over the last ten years, amid strong competition by the foreign banks that entered the market. This pushed most banks—encouraged by the CBE—to modernise their electronic systems and expand the banking services through several applications, including internet banking and usage of mobile phones for payments.
Moreover, there is a government trend to develop electronic payment systems for monthly salaries of government employees, besides the huge number of ATMs available for use in the Egyptian market, as well as the strategic orientation of most banks working in the Egyptian market, with a wide geographical spread and the expansion of branches.
Despite all this, I believe that in order to achieve financial inclusion, we must reach a stage where the client does not need to visit bank branches in order to conclude their financial and banking services.
What are the most important obstacles hindering financial inclusion?
The most prominent of these obstacles is the failure to assist banks in marketing their banking and financial services outside branch offices, where clients cannot sign the forms to open bank accounts or obtain loans outside the branch offices, as well as not authorising marketing campaigns to be present for long periods in public gatherings and during the summer.
Furthermore, some banks have set many restrictions on opening bank accounts, such as savings and current accounts, through putting a cap on the limit. These limits must be eased.
We should also allow youth under the age of 21 to open bank accounts and make cash withdrawals instead of limiting this to their custodians. Youth over 16 years old who have ID cards should be allowed to open savings accounts and make cash transactions. We can have a limit, like EGP 10,000, on their transactions.