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Barriers and Obstacles to Financial Integration in Africa

09.03.2015Excerpt from the African Development Report 2014

The following is an Excerpt from the African Development Report 2014, a flagship publication of the African Development Bank.

Regional financial integration has potential to foster financial sector development and inclusive growth. The development of cross-border banking, capital markets as well as regional financial infrastructure could expand the economies of scale, and lead to a larger pool of resources and better risk-sharing mechanisms.

The potential for reaping the benefits of regional financial integration are likely to be greater in Africa than elsewhere, given that financial markets on the continent are still small and shallow.

However, (...) there are many obstacles preventing countries from reaping such benefits. They include the fact that key financial inclusion principles, such as commitment and compliance to a single and acceptable set of rules, equal access to financial instruments and/or services as well as equal treatment in the use of financial services or instruments were seriously undermined in the process of regional financial integration. Moreover, there seems to be a tendency to mimic existing behavior and intermediation techniques, which in the past led to the concentration of bank lending to a few clients, while excluding the underserved at both micro (e.g. small firms, households and underserved sectors) and macro (fragile or post-conflict and poor African countries) levels.

The Report identifies as important challenges weak entry conditions (e.g. inadequate institutions, poor governance in both public and private sectors and underdeveloped financial markets) and the general lack of national financial inclusion policies that are consistent with an inclusive financial integration agenda.

The Report also argues that it is important for African countries to upgrade their regulatory and supervision frameworks for cross-border banking, harmonize them at the regional level and adopt international standards for financial sector stability and confidence building. This would entail a reduction in transaction costs and raise efficiency benefits for all market players. Most importantly, the strengthening of regulations should not undermine financial institutions' capacity to innovate and serve the low end markets and underserved sectors.

Besides, the Report argues that making available long-term funding at regional level is a precondition for inclusive regional financial integration. This could be achieved through a variety of ways, including efforts to enhance the dynamism and liquidity of stock exchanges, encouraging regional rather than national platforms; helping regional economic communities set up harmonized regional payment and information systems as well as credit registries, developing regional bond markets, and building capacity in local currency funding and infrastructure bond issuance.

* If you find value in this Excerpt, you may enjoy reading the full report, particularly the Chapter 5 on "Harnessing Regional Financial Integration".

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