IMF & World Bank Annual Meetings, Day 4: Fintech is an opportunity, not a threat, and other key takeaways

When I first viewed the agenda for the IMF & World Bank Annual Meetings, I knew that day four would be one to look forward to. Digital was the theme of the day, and I was extremely excited by three flagship events that would discuss the disruptive impact technology is having on achieving development goals and financial stability: Harnessing Technology for Inclusive Growth, the Bali FinTech Agenda, and the Human Capital Index.

'Harnessing Technology for Inclusive Growth' discussed the opportunities and conditions required to capitalise on the promise of technology for inclusive development. It was led by an all-star cast including; Melinda Gates, Co-Chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation; Sri Mulyani Indrawati, Finance Minister of Indonesia; and Kristalina Georgieva, CEO of the World Bank. This proved to be a pertinent topic as technology has a tremendous opportunity to do good but, as Ms Gates pointed out "we cannot assume the benefits of innovation will be spread evenly"

Next was initiating the 'Bali FinTech Agenda', which outlined 12 policy elements to help countries harness the benefits and opportunities of rapid advances in financial technology. It became clear from the discussion that FinTech is disruptive, chaotic and uncomfortable for a risk-adverse public sector, but represented an unparalleled opportunity to deliver financial inclusion for all and improve the resilience of the financial system. It was also great to hear from Joko Widodo, President of Indonesia, who launched the event and outlined how Indonesia aims to have a 'light touch, safe harbour' approach to regulating and supporting FinTech.

Another major launch was the 'Human Capital Index', a ranking that measures the access to health and education by the next generation of workers. Jim Kim, President of the World Bank Group, spoke extremely passionately about how the Index was created to provide national leaders with a competitive drive and no excuses around what the best practices are to improve the human capital. It was also interesting to hear the role of Human Capital in ensuring a country is adaptable to disruptive technologies; a more pragmatic approach than trying to predict what the future would hold. 

Upon reflecting on an action-packed Day 4, three key takeaways stand out to me:

The future is going to be defined by technology and human capital. It is clear that while the opportunities that technology provide are immense, they cannot be accurately predicted. The only way for a nation to capitalise on these benefits is to develop a workforce that is flexible and adaptable to change.

FinTech is an opportunity, not a threat. This realisation is growing amongst senior banking executives, and it is great to see the dedication that FinTech and technology has had at this conference. For example, it was noted that with 2.5 billion individuals still unbanked, it is only with FinTech that these individuals are able to be reached and enable them access to financial services.

Despite technology and youth dominating the discussion, there is still a lack of representation. How can you launch a FinTech Agenda without a FinTech leader? How can you talk about youth being the hope of the future without getting them involved in the discussion? These questions still seemed to remain unanswered at these international conferences.

By: Ben Munns, University of New South Wales, Co-op Scholarship Program