Access to financial services has become indispensable for social inclusion. Without a bank account, a family cannot receive payments such as a salary or social benefits or make payments for essential expenditure such as rent or utility bills. Access to other financial products and services such as a mortgage, a life insurance or a pension are just as important during a family’s lifetime.
The conference “Accessible and fair financial services: alternatives to mainstream banking” built on these premises and explored the question of how alternative banking could contribute to ensure access to fair and quality financial services for all families. After a welcome address form COFACE President Annemie Drieskens, Mick McAteer, chair ofthe FSUG, kicked off the conference by sketching an overview of the current financial and economic situation and the pressing need for financial inclusion.
The conference explored a variety of aspects of financial inclusion through five panel sessions:
1. The importance of independent and quality financial guidance to help families make the right decisions during their entire life course, there by preventing overindebtdness and fostering responsible borrowing.
2. The availability of affordable credit and the alternatives that may exist to”traditional” credit such as micro credit, social mortgage loans or solidarity loans for families in vulnerable situations, all of which often include a proper assessment of a family’s needs and provide a follow up to prevent such problems as defaults.
3. The issue of overindebtedness, looking at abusive lending practices such as loans in foreign currency and at solutions for families that default on payments or are insolvent such as personal bankruptcy laws.
4. The added value of alternative banking institutions such as cooperative banks, ethical banks and credit unions both for the economy and for families.
5. The necessity to ensure a proper representation of alternative banking institutions in policy making to prevent laws and regulations that favorthe “big” banks at the detriment of ethical banks, cooperative banks or credit unions.
The conference was co-organised by the Municipal Institute of Consumption of the City Council of Madrid, the General Association of Consumers (ASGECO) and COFACE.