Finance Minister Colm Imbert says the government is committed to realising a future where financial inclusion is not merely a plan but a reality.
He was speaking at a technical workshop organised by the TT International Financial Centre (TTIFC) in collaboration with the EU-UNCDF-OACP Partnership for Digital Financial Inclusion at the International Waterfront Complex, Port of Spain, on Monday.
In a release, Imbert said financial inclusion is a significant priority for the government, aligning with its broader objective of empowering the public to engage in the economy.
He stressed the importance of equitable access to the financial sector, irrespective of individuals' circumstances or backgrounds.
"Financial inclusion extends beyond having a bank account. It plays a crucial role in fostering entrepreneurship, particularly among underserved groups such as rural residents, women and small and micro-businesses," he said. "It aims to empower citizens, particularly the unbanked, by providing them with the tools and resources needed for financial resilience."
Referencing a survey conducted by TTIFC – which reported that 76 per cent of people own a formal financial account, compared to 81 per cent in 2017 based on the World Bank Findex report – he acknowledged a widening financial exclusion gap over the last five years, attributing it to the impact of the covid19 pandemic on the vulnerable population.
These challenges included closures and reductions in the scope of bank branches worldwide, a shift from over-the-counter to digital transactions and concerns among individuals unfamiliar with digital payment methods. He said millions still heavily rely on cash for transactions, especially for low-value and high-volume transactions.
At present, cash transactions account for 63 per cent, debit card transactions for 12 per cent, credit card transactions for three per cent and online/mobile banking for two per cent, while other methods, including cheques and over-the-counter transactions, contribute to 20 per cent of transactions.
Additionally, digital payments within micro-firms are minimal, with 86 per cent of these businesses not utilising digital instruments in their operations.
"Transitioning to a cashless economy could increase financial inclusion and stimulate financial technology innovation," he said.
He said his ministry, through TTIFC, is actively working to develop a thriving FinTech innovation ecosystem, focusing on education, innovation and the acceleration of inclusive digital financial services.
"These initiatives will generate investment opportunities, contributing to the development of a viable FinTech sector," he said, emphasising the need for a national financial inclusion strategy to address socio-economic challenges, promote economic growth and ensure that all segments of society benefit from financial services.
"I envisioned a future where every individual has access to necessary resources, contributing to the prosperity of the global community," he said.