Fintech a gateway for Africans to access financial services

12th November 2020 By: Marleny Arnoldi - Deputy Editor Online

Financial inclusion has been one of Africa’s greatest success stories over the past decade, with more than 470-million mobile money accounts having been created.

Kenya-based Cellulant Corporation CEO Ken Njoroge on November 12 said that, with financial technology (fintech) financing of between $5-billion and $6-billion a year, the continent could move past one-billion mobile money users.

Speaking during a webinar hosted by financial services company Mastercard on how fintech has evolved on the continent and what lies in store in the future, Mastercard sub-Saharan Africa president Prasad Raghav said the launch and growth of digital financial services had led to an unprecedented increase in the number of people enjoying access to formal financial services.

Today, Africa is home to more digital financial services deployments than any other region in the world.

Mastercard believes the economic transformation of Africa firmly resides on the foundation of digitisation, which allows for true democratisation of financial services.

Raghav noted that the Covid-19 crisis had demonstrated the power of digital economies to sustain societies.

“Suddenly when face-to-face contact is limited, and touching cash is risky, digital activity is the only way to keep things going. Unfortunately, Covid-19 has also shown the extreme disadvantages faced by small businesses and people who cannot participate in the digital economy. We must endeavour to reduce this number dramatically.”

Raghav added that, with mobile networks such as MTN having a large subscriber base across the continent, and their connection with consumers and small businesses, it makes telecommunications companies a key partner for financial services providers such as Mastercard.

He believes that, to give access to affordable financial services for all Africans, collaboration between fintech companies, telecommunication companies, government, regulators and financial services providers is needed to achieve these kinds of transformation objectives.

Kenya-based Bankable Frontier Associates CEO Amolo Ng’weno pointed out that Africa still lacked the products, business models, regional integration and other tools to make the digital economy accelerate towards that leapfrogging economy everyone is looking for, although the continent has made enormous advances.

“We have a young population and they are digital natives, but yet there is a big task to bring them into the digital economy and accelerate access to digital services on the continent,” she stated.

Ng’weno added that, despite the digital infrastructure needed, there also needed to be trust infrastructure. She believes many people still need to be convinced that digital services are reliable, convenient and safe to use.

Mobile money service M-Pesa interim CEO Sitoyo Lopokoiyit noted that, in Kenya, five-million people had bank accounts in 2007. This has grown to 40-million people today, largely owing to the electronic opening of bank accounts, which started in 2012.

He remarked that access to savings mechanisms and credit had made a big impact on the lives of millions of Africans, particularly through 2.5-million microsized businesses in Kenya, that employed the majority of the population.

Njoroge said he had seen central banks being supportive of fintech innovation over the past decade, while having observed a strong drive by governments toward digitisation and financial inclusion across Africa.

In turn, this has led to increasingly more venture capital going into the financial services sector.

The result has been 400 fintech companies being established on the continent, constituting a vibrant fintech ecosystem, he added.

He expressed confidence that Africa could go from strength to strength in this regard with the right partnerships and continued policy support from government across the continent.