Last week, on September 15, an exciting announcement was made on the official social media platforms of both the National Bank of Rwanda (NBR) and the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI). The news revealed that NBR had emerged as the winner of the prestigious 2023 AFI Financial Inclusion Innovation Award. This momentous announcement took place during the AFI's 2023 Global Policy Forum, held in Manila, Philippines. This article serves the purpose of shedding light on the nature of the award and shedding light on the key flagship projects that propelled NBR to emerge victorious in this competition. AFI is the world’s leading organisation on financial inclusion policy and regulation. A member-owned network that empowers policymakers to increase access and usage of quality financial services for the underserved through the formulation, implementation and global advocacy of sustainable and inclusive policies. AFI is a network of 86 regulators from 82 countries with the purpose of promoting financial inclusion and leaving no one behind. National Bank of Rwanda is a principal member of AFI that joined in May 2009. NBR derives several advantages from its association with AFI, including peer learning exchanges, access to knowledge products, and the utilisation of policy models generated by AFI. Moreover, NBR secures grants to facilitate the implementation of financial inclusion projects. The Nestor Espenilla Jr. Financial Inclusion Innovation Award is one of the AFI high-level awards seeking to recognise AFI members who have illustrated outstanding commitments towards innovation and the use of technology to advance financial inclusion in memory of Governor Nestor Espenilla Jr. of Bangko Sentral Pilipinas, who was a founding member of AFI. Securing this award was no small feat, especially considering that countries like Ghana, Nigeria, Fiji, and Malaysia were among the top five contenders. This prestigious accolade recognises NBR's groundbreaking achievements in pioneering innovative systems that foster financial inclusion, complemented by an enabling legal and regulatory framework designed to advance financial inclusion. Below are the innovations that led to winning the award: 1. Electronic Data Warehouse: Empowering informed decision At the heart of this transformative journey is the Electronic Data Warehouse, a groundbreaking platform that enables the NBR to automatically collect granular financial inclusion data from all regulated financial service providers. The data are disaggregated by factors such as gender, age, location, and economic activities. They empower policymakers with unparalleled insights into the specific needs and preferences of various demographic groups. Armed with this invaluable information, the NBR can tailor financial inclusion strategies more effectively, ensuring that no one is left behind in the journey towards universal access and usage of formal financial services and well-being of citizens in Rwanda. 2. Intumwa Chatbot: Empowering financial service consumers to lodge complaints The NBR's commitment to consumer protection is evident in the introduction of the Intumwa Chatbot. This innovative tool serves as a bridge between financial service consumers and providers, offering a convenient platform for consumers to lodge their complaints. What sets it apart is the real-time notification system, which alerts the NBR whenever complaints are filed. This allows for timely follow-up, ensuring that consumer grievances are addressed promptly and effectively, thereby enhancing trust and transparency in the financial sector. Intumwa Chatbot was designed to be inclusive: It is available in three languages (French, English, and Kinyarwanda), the most widely spoken languages in Rwanda, and can be accessed through five channels including: through the NBR website, websites of all regulated financial institutions, SMS sent to 6005 and WhatsApp at 0791700721. 3. Gereranya: A price comparator for informed decision making Empowering financial service consumers to make informed decisions is a cornerstone of financial inclusion. The Gereranya web comparator is a groundbreaking tool that allows financial service consumers to compare prices and offerings from various financial service providers. The availability of information empowers financial service consumers with the knowledge they need to select financial services that best suit their individual needs and preferences. You can access Gereranya here. 4. Rwanda Integrated Payment Processing System: Accessible 24/7 In an era where digital transactions are increasingly prevalent, the NBR has played a pivotal role in ensuring accessibility and convenience for all. The upgraded Rwanda Integrated Payment Processing System facilitates 24/7 fund transfers, ensuring that individuals and businesses can seamlessly conduct transactions at any time, promoting financial inclusion and economic growth. 5. Savings and credit groups map Savings and Credit Groups commonly known as VSLAs refer to a small group of people who save together and borrow from their pooled savings. These informal saving groups have been a source of financial services to approximately 16 per cent of adults in Rwanda, mostly women as more than 70 per cent of members are women. In supporting access to finance for the informal segment through Saving Groups, NBR developed a Saving and Credit Groups Map (SCG) map that profiles savings and credit groups operating across the country. The saving group map was developed to facilitate the SCGs' visibility, and linkages from informal to formal financial institutions and fast-track the SGs' digitisation process. This map is hosted on the central bank’s website. It is worth noting that interoperability use cases such as e-Kash are pieces of evidence for the Government of Rwanda to support digital financial services. The National Bank of Rwanda has demonstrated its unwavering dedication to bridging the financial inclusion gap through a series of groundbreaking initiatives that have not only set benchmarks but also significantly improved the lives of countless Rwandans. In the last 15 years, formal financial inclusion stood at 21 per cent and this increased to 77 per cent by 2020. It is worth noting that general financial inclusion that considers both formal and informal financial services stands at 93 per cent. The progress in financial inclusion is a result of multiple stakeholders. In receiving the Nestor Espenilla Jr. Financial Inclusion Innovation Award, NBR reaffirms its dedication to the principle that financial services should be accessible to all, irrespective of their socioeconomic status. By combining cutting-edge technology with visionary policymaking, the NBR has not only raised the bar for financial inclusion but has also become a beacon of inspiration for other nations embarking on a similar journey. As we celebrate the National Bank of Rwanda's remarkable accomplishments, let us also celebrate the profound impact it continues to have on the lives of the Rwandan people and the broader financial inclusion community worldwide. Dr Moise Bigirimana is a Senior Principal Analyst & Manager, Financial Inclusion & Education, NBR.