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FHI 360 experts strengthen Palestinian financial sector

Campaign empowers, protects consumers in the West Bank and Gaza

December 03, 2012 —

"Do not extend your feet beyond the length of your bed." So goes a Palestinian proverb that reminds people of the need to manage credit wisely.  Until recently, such pearls of traditional wisdom were the only resources many consumers in the West Bank and Gaza had to make informed choices about financial products and services and to hold financial institutions accountable to basic consumer protection standards. People stashed their savings under mattresses and borrowed from family, neighbors or informal moneylenders when they needed loans.

The formal Palestinian financial sector is still very young, having only been established in 1993 following the signing of the Oslo peace accords. Helping Palestinian consumers and businesses become more aware and comfortable with financial services was a leading objective of FHI 360's Expanded and Sustained Access to Financial Services (ESAF) program, funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development. Managed by FHI 360 experts since 2008, ESAF's centerpiece has been a national consumer awareness campaign led by government and industry partners. With a slogan that translates as "Figure It Out and Improve Your Life," the campaign assures consumers that they can invest with confidence in regulated financial institutions, rather than rely on informal methods. Surveys found that the campaign — which used billboards, radio spots, newspaper ads, popular TV and radio talk shows, a campaign website (www.amwaly.ps) and brochures — reached much of the public and raised awareness of available financial services and regulatory safeguards.

FHI 360 also reached out directly to Palestinian youth. Experts worked with the Palestine Monetary Authority, the emerging central bank, and the Ministry of Education and Higher Education to integrate financial education into the public school system, reaching about 48,000 students per year. With technical assistance from FHI 360 partner Making Cents International, which supports economic empowerment in developing countries, ESAF designed a practical and highly interactive companion curriculum that was integrated into an 11th-grade economics course that is required for most students. Lessons covered issues such as financial planning, decision making, information gathering, asking for help, and savings and credit.

In addition, ESAF helped prepare prospective homebuyers to make sound decisions. One component, which was implemented under a subcontract to international development organization CHF International, focused on educating consumers on the requirements, responsibilities, risks and benefits of borrowing to buy or improve a home. This included the development of an Arabic-language home buyer education manual, the first of its kind in the Arab world, and a series of animated videos on YouTube. The manual and other materials developed under ESAF are available at http://amwaly.ps/buyhome.html.

To strengthen the financial sector further, ESAF partnered with the Palestine Monetary Authority to introduce a national credit scoring system and make credit reports available to the public at no cost. The new system is helping banks and businesses make better decisions about offering credit, while also empowering consumers to build a good credit history by paying bills on time, reviewing their credit reports and disputing any inaccurate information.