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Pacific agreement focuses on women's access to finance

08 September 2014

Westpac Gail Kelly and Foreig Minister Julie Bishop sign memorandum of understanding

Westpac has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Department of Foreign Affairs (DFAT), to improve the livelihoods of people in the Pacific by increasing their access to finance.

“Our partnership with DFAT represents a step forward in helping support economic development, reduce poverty and lift standards of living in the Pacific,” said Westpac Chief Executive Gail Kelly (pictured above left with Foreign Minister Julie Bishop), who signed the MOU with the Foreign Minister the Hon Julie Bishop MP in Sydney on September 8.

“The focus of the agreement is on the Pacific countries of Papua New Guinea and Fiji, identifying areas where DFAT and Westpac will share their respective strengths, experiences, technologies and resources to help support economic growth and financial inclusion,” she added.

Gail went on to make special mention of her strong interest in supporting women and girls in their access to finance and her role as an Ambassador for CARE, which does significant work globally to improve access to finance for women and girls as does Westpac’s own Women’s Markets in the region and through its close ties with the Global Banking Alliance for Women (GBA).

Growth through diversity

Westpac and the Australian Government will work together to substantially improve livelihoods in the Pacific by:

• Embracing innovative solutions for increasing financial inclusion through channels, products and services including Mobile Phone Banking and value-added services;

• Exploring options for low-cost international and domestic remittances to reduce the difficulty and cost of Pacific Islanders sending money home and between islands;

• Exploring key infrastructure projects via commercial loans and grant funding;

• Developing a range of initiatives to support the economic empowerment of women;

• Evaluating avenues to extend microfinance to local businesses; and

• Leveraging commercial finance for formal sector businesses through the Pacific Business Fund.

The Foreign Minister also noted that increasing Pacific women’s access to finance is a key aspect of the understanding.

“Greater financial inclusion is key to ensuring women have a full and free participation in economic, political and social life. We welcome the opportunity to work with Westpac to attack some of the constraints that are holding women back from being able to access credit, save money and improve their lives.”

Interest in the Pacific has substantially increased in the past few years. Hillary Clinton, when she was Secretary of State, was the first US Secretary of State to attend a Pacific Islands Forum. She remains well aware of the evidence gathered by organizations, such as the UN and the World Bank, and the GBA, in which Westpac plays a very important benchmarking role, on the positive impact for economies and societies of investing in women and girls.

In an APEC Women and the Economy Forum address in St Petersburg in Russia in June 2012, Mrs Clinton referenced the work Westpac does in building inclusive lending platforms (platforms that allow women access to finance and capital), saying: “…Westpac Bank has increased their bottom line by 2.5 billion Australian dollars in 2009 by focusing on women as borrowers.”

More recently Westpac's Director of Women's Markets Larke Riemer attended a Westpac sponsored forum in Fiji for 400 accountants, where she further embedded the importance of access to finance for women. A message she described as being well received by the audience.