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From cash to insurance: All citizens should have access to a set of basic financial services

Retail & financial inclusion

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Finance Watch

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Brussels, 7 July 2020 – Finance Watch today released a new report which identifies a shortlist of basic financial products and services that should be made available to all European citizens to help combat financial and social exclusion.

Access to financial services is needed for modern life and is a right under the European Pillar of Social Rights, yet a significant number of Europeans are finding themselves ‘financially excluded’. Vulnerable groups of citizens who lack documentation, the financial means, or the abilities (social, physical, mental, cultural, …) to access financial products are most at risk of exclusion.

One way to improve Europe’s rate of financial inclusion would be to ensure that all citizens can access a minimum basket of basic financial products. Finance Watch, together with partners from around Europe, has conducted surveys, interviews and workshops to understand which products might belong in the basket. They are: a payment account, access to cash, a savings account, a safe third pillar pension product, motor insurance, health insurance, home (fire) insurance, and personal liability insurance.

The report analyses why these particular products matter for financial inclusion and how this varies between Member States, for example containing more products in countries with higher levels of financialisation or digitalisation, as local conditions require.

The report also recommends practical steps for improving access to them, including through changes to the Payment Accounts Directive, EU Accessibility Act, PEPP Regulation and Consumer Credit Directive.

Olivier Jérusalmy, Senior Research and Advocacy Officer at Finance Watch, said:

“The idea of a minimum basket of basic financial products is not to promote these products or make them mandatory but to ensure that citizens have access to simple versions of them if they want. This should make it easier to participate in modern life without being held back by unnecessary documentation requirements, lack of financial means, or differences in physical and mental capacity.

“Our research also found a need for stronger consumer protection rules around household credit products, where there are high risks of consumers being exploited or falling into excessive debt. Banning exploitative practices and overhauling the way that  borrowers are assessed for credit would be important steps in this direction.”

Benoît Lallemand, Secretary General at Finance Watch, said:

“An economy that works for people requires access for all to fair and basic financial services. This issue deserves a higher political priority in a context where the most vulnerable citizens will be hit hardest by the social and economic consequences of the pandemic. In particular, the risk of increased over-indebtedness – as in the best of cases repayments have only been delayed to accommodate potential lower incomes – requires the focus of policymakers. A recovery that leaves fragile populations behind can only be short-lived.”

ENDS

For further information or interview requests, please contact Finance Watch’s Head of Communications and Networks, Charlotte Geiger, at charlotte.geiger@finance-watch.org or at 0032 / (0)474 33 10 31.

NOTES FOR EDITORS

The report’s findings were based on surveys and interviews which were conducted before the Covid-19 outbreak. The risk of over-indebtedness and financial exclusion becomes even worse as the social and economic consequences of the health crisis unfold. This situation only makes more urgent Finance Watch’s recommendation to look at structural solutions to financial exclusion. Our analysis of the impact of Covid-19 on finance, the economy, and people was published in a series of blog articles.

In March 2020, Finance Watch released the report “Making the invisible visible” on the increasing range of people in the EU encountering difficulties in accessing financial services. Finance Watch used surveys, interviews and workshops with 69 experts in 23 different European countries to identify groups most vulnerable to financial exclusion, and singled out three key barriers that they face: legal requirements for access, financial requirements for access, and lack of required skills or means.

Legislative timelines:

  • The European Commission is in the process of collecting stakeholder views on how the European Pillar of Social Rights should be implemented. The contribution period will end on 30 November 2020.
  • The Consumer Credit Directive (Directive 2008/48/EC) is currently under evaluation. The European Commission had originally intended to release a proposal for a possible revision by Q4 2020 under its 2020 work plan. It has now pushed back the date to Q2 2021 in its updated work plan (page 13), following the COVID-19 crisis. The Commission will indicate in the proposal possible amendments to the Directive based on the evaluation.
  • The Payments Account Directive (Directive 2014/92/EU) is also currently under evaluation. The European Commission is scheduled to provide a report to the European Parliament and Council of the EU by 18 September 2020. The report will include a proposal on whether or not it will review the Directive based on the evidence it is currently gathering.
  • The Pan-European Personal Pension Product Regulation (Regulation EU 2019/1238) will be applied 12 months after a series of Delegated Acts and Technical Standards have been finalised. EIOPA is set to submit technical advice on these Delegated Acts and Technical Standards by mid-August 2020.
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