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8th July 2021, Skopje – The COVID crisis leads to a time of transformation of traditional economies into smarter, more digitalized, inclusive and greener economies. In such conditions, when FinTech is becoming more present in our reality, the need for a higher level of financial literacy, as a prerequisite for financial inclusion, will be even more pronounced. But it also implies the need for greater activity for consumer protection. These challenges has not taken the financial regulators by surprise – several years ago already they started the process of preparation of the first national Strategy for Financial Education and Financial Inclusion, within the five-year project for financial education with the support of the Ministry of Finance of the Netherlands and the International Network for Financial Education at OECD (INFE-OECD). The Strategy was adopted and promoted today. It refers to the period 2021-2025 and exceeds the initial project goal, because it refers not only to financial education, but also to financial inclusion, taking into account their mutual causality and connection.

The event on the occasion of its adoption was addressed by representatives of all financial regulators – the Governor of the National Bank, Anita Angelovska Bezhoska, the Minister of Finance, Fatmir Besimi, the President of the Council of Experts of the Insurance Supervision Agency, Krste Shajnoski, the President of the Council of Experts of the Agency for Supervision of Fully Funded Pension Insurance (MAPAS), Maksud Ali and the Commissioner of the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Kiril Jovanovski.

“Financial education is also at the core of financial stability, especially evident after the global financial crisis of 2008/9, which largely arouse from the cumulative risks due to poor financial decisions. But the process of financial education can not be conducted spontaneously. It requires information, guidance, advice, but above all, a systematic approach. Therefore, a coordinated approach at the national level is needed, i.e. a strategic framework that recognizes the importance of education, enables inclusion and coordination of all relevant parties and defines a roadmap of activities for effective achievement of goals. This brings us to the Strategy for Financial Education and Financial Inclusion, which we are adopting today. The strategic and systematic approach to the issue of financial education is even more important in this new age of fintech revolution “, said Governor Angelovska Bezhoska at the beginning of her speech, after which she addressed certain activities envisaged in the Strategy.

She noted that for proper design of the Strategy, a key precondition was the assessment of the current level of financial literacy, due to which the first measurement of the level of financial literacy was initiated under the OECD methodology, according to which our population reached 56% of the maximum value, also confirmed by the second measurement within the project, which is comparable to the countries in the region, but compared to developed countries, it indicates a significant room for improvement.

The Minister of Finance Fatmir Besimi pointed out that the Strategy is important for two reasons: first, because financial education and inclusion are the basis for the stability of the financial system and second, in order to achieve significant results in this field, it is necessary to act SMART – that is, to set clear goals, good strategy and implementation plan.

“With a well-coordinated process of financial education, which will include institutions and private entities that can contribute, in the medium term can really achieve better results in terms of financial education of the population. This will improve the effectiveness of their participation in the financial sector, and at the same time, they will be protected as consumers who have more and better information. The utilization of the best practices for promoting the financial inclusion can facilitate the access to finance for multiple categories. “Increasing financial inclusion is of particular importance for the economy, because it provides access to capital, which entails investment and consumption, which in turn results in increased economic activity.” – said the Minister of Finance, Besimi.

The Minister pointed out that in terms of improving access to financial services, the Guarantee Fund will soon be launched through which the state guarantee scheme will be implemented, which will facilitate access to capital for small and medium-size enterprises. The Fund, on the one hand, will contribute to the offer of new products in the financial system with lower risk for banks and savings houses, and on the other hand will provide access to capital for those who have the most difficulty in obtaining loans, i.e. small and medium-size enterprises.

The President of the ASO Council of experts Krste Shajnoski, stated that the speeding up of the financial education and inclusion process is particularly important, given the underdevelopment of the insurance market within the financial system.

“By making the Strategy a formal document, we will be able to realize our common objectives, such as growth and development of the financial market, widespread and accessibility of the financial services to individuals, families, small and large businesses, state sector, and all of that at fair prices. All of this will be implemented only if we provide operation of sound financial institutions, managed and supervised by professionals that successfully balance the implementation of objectives led by the interest for profit on one hand, and providing quality of the offered financial services and fair treatment of financial services consumers on the other hand.” – stated Shajnoski.

“Led by the basic principle that financial education is a long-term investment in the society and the country, as it is for individuals that could easily and safely make sound financial decisions and have a better quality of life, I am convinced that, by accepting the Strategy as a comprehensive document, we provide wise and effective plan for our future activities and resources in the area of development of financial education and financial inclusion of the population in our country, with emphasis on the youngsters as a most important target group. This is why MAPAS considers that the engagement of non-governmental and private sector is of great importance in the implementation and realization of the Strategic objectives. Thus, we will provide overall financial education and increased financial inclusion of the population.”- stated Maksud Ali, President of the Council of experts.

“The wide range and accessibility of financial products under globalization, make the financial literacy one of the priorities for the policy makers in economy. Namely, we should point out that, the ability of processing multiple information grows with the increase of the level of understanding complex financial instruments. Our insistence that the participants in the financial system need to be precise and highly transparent should be accepted and accompanied by appropriate understanding by the ones that need to be transparent. Additionally, intensive financial education and inclusion will lead to increased financial sector contribution to the economic development. By taking all of this into consideration, the SECRNM points out that it will strive to raise the financial literacy with all its capacities, especially for issues related to securities market.” – pointed out Kiril Jovanovski, representing the SEC.

The Strategy, inter alia envisions development of special educational programs for various age groups, from youngest to the oldest, given the understanding of education as a process in a lifetime, and especially the financial dynamics nowadays.

Educational programs should be designed according to the financial education Core competencies, which is a document envisaged with the Strategy that is already in the process of preparation. In order to create a framework for appropriate coordination of activities, exchange of information, as well as quality, fair and unbiased financial education from all potential providers, а Code of good practices for financial education is already under preparation, with the involvement of regulators, private financial institutions and civic associations. The process of monitoring the implementation of the projected activities is planned to be managed by a working group, involving representatives from regulators, private and civic sector, which will enhance the cooperation and provide optimal allocation of available resources towards the objectives.

In the period ahead, special attention will be given to activities related to consumer protection, in individual financial segments, which is also in favor of greater financial inclusion in future. Part of the projected activities in the area of consumer protection belong to regulators, and part of them to private financial sector, which again indicates the necessity for cooperation as a prerequisite to successful implementation of the projected activities. A consideration of the alternative dispute resolution mechanisms is planned, on resolving possible disputes with consumers, including and considering the possibility of introducing an Ombudsman for the financial sector.

According to the Strategy, proper attention should be paid to the increase of transparency in operations and publishing financial services data by the private financial sector, including standardization of published data for the same type of service.

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