Author Archives: Ashley Smith

H.E. Dr. -Ing. Getahun Mekuria to be a keynote speaker for AFTS Addis

We are excited to announce H.E. Dr. -Ing. Getahun Mekuria as a keynote speaker!

H.E. Dr. -Ing. Getahun Mekuria, Ethiopia’s Minister of Innovation and Technology, is spearheading digital transformation and innovative initiatives that will transform Africa?s second-most populous nation. Because of his efforts, he has recently been named as one of the world’s 100 Most Influential People in Digital Government in 2019, honoring his exceptional leadership in the space.

In November 2018, Dr. Mekuria adopted a ?2,2,2,2 Strategy? with the goal of establishing 2,000 tech SMEs, creating 20,000 tech jobs, and generating $2 billion in tech GDP over the course of  2 years. Other equally impressive and impactful initiatives include livestock transformation projects, deployment of drones in mining exploration, the incubation of tech startups, a cashless economy, e-government and digital ID drives. Dr. Getahun is also closely working with the National Bank and  other stakeholders to develop an electronic transaction and e-commerce proclamation that will allow fintechs to flourish in Ethiopia?s financial system.

Dr. Getahun is passionate about the power of tech and e-commerce and has successfully lobbied for and signed a deal with the Universal Postal Union, effectively laying the foundation for Ethiopia to become the e-commerce hub for East Africa. Along with the electronic transaction proclamation and deployment of connectivity infrastructure, the hub will revolutionize Africa?s e-commerce ecosystem.

Beyond Ethiopia, Dr. Getahun is passionate about Africa?s potential and has successfully managed to bring the prestigious World Telecommunication Development Conference (WTDC-21), which will take place for the first time on African soil when it comes to Ethiopia in 2021. 

On welcoming AFTS delegates to Ethiopia, Dr. Getahun said, ?I am thrilled that this great event is coming to Addis Ababa. There is no better time than November 2019 for this Summit to come to Addis, to show to our policymakers the great economic impacts fintechs are bringing to other economies and to prove that our current sweeping digital reforms are absolutely correct.?

We are very excited to have His Excellency Dr. Getahun as our keynote speaker and look forward to hearing more about his and MiNT?s digital transformation activities, their roadmap for Ethiopia, and the seismic effect this will have on the African fintech ecosystem!

5 Questions with Yilkal Abate, ICT-ET Vice President

In our ?5 Questions? series, we ask partners in the AFTS ecosystem to share about their work and unique perspective on fintech. This ?5 Questions? interview is with Yilkal Abate, the Vice President of ICT-ET, which is a strategic partner of the AFTS Addis Ababa event.

Briefly, can you describe what ICT-ET is, and the focus of the association’s work?  

ICT-ET is an association of private sector ICT companies. It was formally established in Nov. 2010 with Charities and Societies Agency, and re-established at the Ministry of Trade in Dec. 2013. The purpose of the association is to Expose, Engage and Enable the private sector within the ICT industry in Ethiopia. The association provides different services which include the Public/Private Sector Forum, ICT Expo and conferences, facilitating innovation competitions,  research, studies and policy proposal, Diaspora Mentorship Program, and Technology Innovation series to connect and expose the Ethiopian tech sector to companies from outside and vice versa. We are also working to incorporate additional support/services from the association related to startups.

Tell us about your public-private discussion forums and policy advisory roles in Ethiopia. How many members do you have and what sectors are a priority in your policy engagements?

Public/Private discussion forums normally take place every quarter, and they provide a mechanism to engage on sector-specific issues that need input from private sector companies. This platform is also useful to understand what the priorities are for the government in the sector. Both the public and private sectors update each other of their plans and achievements as well as challenges at the public-private discussion forums. The association also helps gather feedback for policymaking, and helps prioritize issues from the private sector via different working groups.  ICT-ET has more than 80 paying member companies, and more than 3000 companies and professionals on its mailing list. It has different working groups which include software, hardware, services and cross-cutting areas. It is also in the process of setting up sub-sectors to align further with day to day activities of member companies, and streamline the engagement mechanism. We have recently provided feedback on e-transactions regulation in the works, as well as ICT sector incentives to give the sector a boost. We also would like ICT sector to be included and recognized within Ethiopia?s MSME (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprise ) law.

You have been involved in the consultation of the draft e-commerce & fintech policies in Ethiopia. What was your role and what significant changes do you expect when these enactments are implemented?  

One of the roles of the association has been in helping convene companies for required input towards the stated regulations while they are in draft stage. The association provided assistance in helping regulators understand the activities of fintech companies for example, and the value they can and do add to the payment and transactions aspect of the economy, thereby facilitating smoother trade. The new regulation recognizes fintech companies, which was not the case before. We anticipate that the implementation of the new policy will help improve aspects of public service where payments are likely to be made easier.

We also hope other tech-enabled industry verticals can create more jobs as a result. ICT can help create jobs in the Ethiopia context in agriculture, transport and logistics, health, hospitality, environment, manufacturing, and many other areas with appropriate connection and application of tech solutions in those sectors. This kind of well-considered application of technology will also help improve the competitiveness and attractiveness of the country to further investment from both locally and internationally. The association wants to play a catalytic role in that regard.  

What are some developments in fintech that you are excited to see from ICT-ET members? What are some developments you would like to see in the future?   

The fintech sector is now starting to attract investment from abroad and that is a positive development. There are several emerging Fintech companies with interesting use cases which would be exciting to see the impact of when they are further honed.

The government?s expressed support and increased focus on the area are also welcome. The activities of EthSwitch starting work to provide national switch service connecting all banks and financial institutions through different channels will likely also bring in further choice and competition in services in the area. Policy direction for financial inclusion in the short- and medium-term will also create opportunities for ICTET members, and we encourage them to participate.

We would like to see easier trading and smoother digital transactions taking hold in trade within Ethiopia?s economy. We also want to see strengthening of the ecosystem with growth of private sector companies involved in the sector.

Why are you excited to partner with Africa Fintech Summit in Addis Ababa?  

The event will provide networking opportunities for Ethiopian tech companies, and allow them to share their experience with those coming from outside. It can provide an opportunity to dialogue and suss out possible solutions to potential challenges.

The event is being held at a time when Africa has launched a continental free trade agreement and the discussions will be a useful input towards how Ethiopia should prepare for the realization of this common market.

Last but not least, it will support ICT-ET?s effort to provide sector-specific facilitation and collaboration opportunities.

U.S. State Department to Partner with AFTS Addis Ababa

PRESS RELEASE – FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE

October 9, 2019

The Africa Fintech Summit (AFTS) is pleased to announce that the United States Department of State will be joining AFTS in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia as a partner for the November 21st summit.

The 4th edition of AFTS will focus on the future of banking, mobile money growth and integration, policy and regulation, e-commerce, job creation, blockchain, digital identity, remittances, and financial inclusion.

?We selected Ethiopia as the host for the 4th AFTS event because it is a unique time in the country?s growth. The momentum around the U.S. State Department?s support of Ethiopia in both the public and private sector is reflective of this new chapter in Ethiopia?s history, so we are excited for the opportunity to join forces with the State Department?s Office of Global Partnerships,? said Leland Rice, CEO of Dedalus Global LLC and one of the co-organizers of AFTS.

This partnership is facilitated through the U.S. Department of State?s Office of Global Partnerships (GP), which ?strives to advance the Department of State?s top foreign policy priorities through private sector engagement.? Building off of this spring?s Ethiopia Partnerships Forum, GP will lead a Partnership Opportunity Delegation (POD) to Addis Ababa during Global Entrepreneurship Week to better understand what opportunities for collaboration exist in the country?s startup and creative economies. The day after AFTS, GP will host P!TCH ETHIOP!A, a startup bootcamp and pitch competition for Ethiopian entrepreneurs.

On day two of the Africa Fintech Summit, GP will host the inaugural edition of P!TCH ETHIOP!A, a pitch and demo event for Ethiopian startups. Ten finalists will be given a chance to pitch to investors, customers, and government partners, providing them with world-class feedback, prizes, and potential investment. Winners will travel to Silicon Valley, CA as semi-finalists in the Startup World Cup.

Zekarias Amsalu, Founder and MD of Ibex Frontier and a co-organizer of AFTS, also expressed enthusiasm about the partnership. ?As an investment catalyst focused on bringing more human & financial capital to the flourishing Ethiopian tech ecosystem, I am looking forward to welcoming GP?s POD to AFTS and their engagement to Ethiopia?s Shebavalley tech ecosystem players that will add impetus to the growing private-sector momentum.?

In addition to the State Department, strategic partners for the summit include PeaceTech Lab, Corporate Council on Africa, and Startup World Cup.

Tickets for AFTS Addis Ababa are on sale now. To learn more or to register, visit https://africafintechsummit.com/v2/. For more information on P!TCH ETHIOP!A, visit https://www.lionsafrica.org/pitch-ethiopia.html

For more information:

Cambria Hayashino, Director of Communications

cambria@africafintechsummit.com

Photo Gallery – UNGA Fintech in Africa Roundtable

Photos from the Fintech in Africa Roundtable in New York City on September 25, 2019.

5 Questions with Yemiru Chanyalew, CEO of Moneta Technologies

In our ?5 Questions? series, we ask partners in the AFTS ecosystem to share about their work and unique perspective on fintech. This ?5 Questions? interview is with Yemiru Chanyalew, the CEO of Moneta Technologies S.C., whose mobile wallet platform AMOLE is a sponsor of the AFTS Addis Ababa event.

Briefly, can you describe the focus and scope of Moneta Technologies’ work?  

Moneta Technologies S.C is a fintech company working in partnership with Dashen Bank.  We provide a mobile commerce and digital payment system named AMOLE in Ethiopia with a focus on largely facilitating merchant payments because the economy has wide capacity gaps across the various sectors. We also provide a digital wallet for mobile payments. With some 65% of Ethiopia?s estimated 100M+ population being digital natives, we aspire to be Ethiopia?s preferred interactive communication & payment platform. We have a largen Pan-African footprint with offices in Kenya and USA.

Tell us about your mobile wallet platform, Amole. When did it launch and what specific market needs were you addressing? What is the significance of the name ?AMOLE??

Amole is a digital banking platform created by Moneta Technologies S.C. & powered by Dashen Bank, through which we offer mobile money and digital finance through an omni-channel platform where users can engage with Amole through USSD, smartphone app and on their desktops. Our app is also embedded with a chat and e-commerce function that helps users link to sites such as online stores and travel companies for seamless transactions. In Ethiopia, raw cash is still king, with a significant number of the population unbanked ? but with mobile phone access ? and we are enabling financial inclusion and bringing the unbanked into the formal financial world. The Amole platform was launched in May 2018 on beta followed by July 2018 with 10 products & services, local e-commerce gateway, 8 eco-system players, full marketing & GTM as well as 24/7 customer call center support.

Amole is an Amharic word referring to the bullion of salt that was used as a form of currency by ancient Ethiopia traders, and we see our digital wallet as a solution to Ethiopia?s digital economic challenges.

Amole has been a unique success in Ethiopia as a model partnership between private fintech and traditional bank, as Amole is powered by Dashen Bank. What have been the key components of your successful partnership?  

Given Ethiopia?s fintech is bank-led versus bank/telco led fintechs in other markets, we chose to deploy our platform with a bank that is innovative and fintech-oriented, and our partnership with Dashen bank was mutually rewarding. As a result, Amole Financial Services, in partnership with Dashen Bank, enables payments, savings, lending, credit and other banking transactions, while our Amole Value Added Services by Moneta Technologies powers airtime purchases, social media interactions, in-app purchases, micro insurance, utility payments, e-commerce transactions for music, books, ringtones and sports betting, as well payment functionalities for traffic fines, airline tickets, regional bus tickets, DSTV subscriptions & school fees.

What are some developments in fintech that you are excited to apply to the area of mobile money?

 Ethiopia currently has the largest number of mobile subscribers (around 44M) with digital banking penetration of 6%, and the country strives to bring this to 40% by 2022. This huge leap needs a convenient, reliable and innovative enabler in payment solutions as well as digital transactions and we are providing the solution via our platform. We are watching the space for microloans to SME?s, microloans to individuals, international remittance services, insurance payments and more.

Why are you excited to partner with Africa Fintech Summit in Addis Ababa? 

This is the first time it?s been held in Ethiopia. Ethiopia was not on the radar as a technology or digital hub to attract the world’s attention until now.  This is an opportunity for Moneta Technologies to show the world we are offering a world-class fintech product that can be deployed in other markets we are strategically looking to expand to, and we are looking to meet some of potential collaborators and partners.

5 Questions with VC4A CEO Ben White

In our ?5 Questions? series, we ask partners in the AFTS ecosystem to share about their work and unique perspective on fintech. This ?5 Questions? interview is with Ben White, the Founder & CEO of VC4A, which is a strategic partner of the AFTS Addis Ababa event.

Briefly, what is the scope of VC4A’s work?

VC4A links transformational entrepreneurs to growth opportunities. Each connection represents an entrepreneur connecting to the knowledge, network, and capital they need to succeed. VC4A supports the making of these connections through the core activity of building, improving and maintaining the VC4A.com website, a critical piece of infrastructure for supporting entrepreneurs building high growth high impact African ventures.

What was the impetus for the founding of VC4A?

Africa?s increased economic momentum is fueled by a growing number of entrepreneurs and their ambition to transform the continent. They bring to life important solutions for society, generate quality employment opportunities, and are a vital source of tax revenue for African governments. These entrepreneurs hold the key to unlocking the continent?s full potential. 

What are some of the VC4A success stories that make you the proudest?

VC4A can contribute to the development of robust startup ecosystems by improving the access entrepreneurs have to many layers of support. Through the online platform, the organization connects members from 159 countries in what is increasingly a global community dedicated to African entrepreneurship. VC4A.com lists more than 12,500 startups active across 46 African markets, links over 650 Africa-focused early-stage investors as part of its network of investors, and offers direct business development support with more than 300 business experts offering their expertise free of charge on VC4A Mentor Marketplace. Over 1,200 ecosystem building organizations leverage the VC4A.com platform to recruit entrepreneurs for their initiatives and where VC4A has facilitated more than 25,000 applications. 

VC4A is otherwise agnostic to country, stage or sector, and where there are meaningful connections to be made for all types of entrepreneurs regardless of their gender, location or level of experience. 

How have you seen the relationship between fintech and the African startup scene evolve over your years of work in the space? What are some fintech developments that particularly excite you?

Any time technology touches daily life, you are going to see traction. We see this happening in fintech, but also in the fields of agriculture, healthcare, and education. Each of these verticals shows growth and represents important innovations, products, and services, coming to market with a tangible social and economic impact. For sure fintech has caught the attention of investors, but we expect this will carry over into many other sectors of arguably equal importance. 

What role do you see Ethiopia playing in the fintech startup scene in Africa?

At the core, we are talking about innovations that help to unlock economic activity and make it easier for economic participation. The applications are wide-ranging and there are many developments taking place that should have our attention. That said, the industry requires oversight and there should be clear rules about what is and is not acceptable. Here the government needs to be involved in setting up clear policies. The boundaries are being expanded in many directions, where we have to ensure people don’t get hurt. Entrepreneurs and investors should be thinking very carefully about their actions and keep their stakeholders front and center in their decision making.  

The first step is to focus on the enabling environment. What is the country doing to be conducive to this type of entrepreneurship? What is the dialogue with stakeholders yielding in terms of feedback and ideas for improvement? How far is this feedback being elevated to the decision-makers and how far are they mandated to address these concerns? Ethiopia has a large population, where fintech most certainly has a role to play in the country’s development, but only when this space is given the guidance and support it needs. The competitive field is global and Ethiopia will only attract the best solutions and the best teams when they can clearly present a startup ecosystem that is conducive to entrepreneurship. The ingredients are there and I am optimistic Ethiopia will be a hot-bed of activity and center of innovation on the continent in the years to come.  

Addis Ababa to host the Africa Fintech Summit

On November 21, leading innovators, investors, and policy makers from around the world will gather in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, for the 4th edition of the Africa Fintech Summit (AFTS).

With participants who represent over $4.5bn in private equity and venture capital funding, the AFTS is the premier global initiative dedicated to financial technology in Africa. The bi-annual summit occurs each April in Washington, D.C., and each November in a different African city. The AFTS Advisory Board unanimously chose Addis Ababa as the 2019 host city in recognition of its rapidly growing economy, extensive infrastructure investments across the last two decades, and ambitious reform agenda that includes partial privatization of the national telecom monopoly and ongoing liberalization of the financial sector.

?I am thrilled that this great event is coming to Addis Ababa,? said the Honorable Getahun Mekuria (Dr.-Ing) Minister of Innovation and Technology, Ethiopia. ?And there is no better time than Nov 2019 for this Summit to come to Addis, to show to our policy makers the great economic impacts fintechs are bringing to other economies and to prove that our current sweeping digital reforms are absolutely correct.?

H.E. Fitsum Arega, Ethiopian Ambassador to the US, added: “I am very much pleased to welcome Africa Fintech Summit delegates to the continent’s political capital and a nexus of global events, Addis Ababa. Ethiopia’s commitment to Pan-African economic growth and integration is evident from its founding membership of OAU/AU, its offer of visa-on-arrival to all African travelers, its ratification of  the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) last April, and by its flag-carrier Ethiopian Airlines, which connects 61 African cities to more than 120 destinations worldwide. Ethiopia is well positioned to welcome global travelers for the Africa Fintech Summit.? 

?In addition, the country?s renewed focus on digitalizing the broader economy and driving greater financial inclusion through innovation, there is no better time to host the Fintech Summit in Ethiopia,? the Ambassador added.

The AFTS is organized by Dedalus Global, an investment and communications advisory focusing on emerging markets and emerging technologies, and by Ibex Frontier, an investment consultancy and route-to-Ethiopian-market advisory.

?We are extremely proud to bring AFTS to Ethiopia, the 2nd most populous nation in Africa that is at the inflicting point of digitalization, as e-commerce and financial inclusion are of prime focus both by the Government and the tech sector. We look forward to welcoming global investors and Fintech eco-system players with warm Ethiopian hospitality,? said Zekarias Amsalu, Founder & MD of Ibex Frontier.  

This past April, the AFTS in Washington, D.C. hosted 200 entrepreneurs, bank executives, policy makers, and corporate influencers from over 20 countries. Past AFTS speakers include Jim Ovia, Founder and Chairman of Zenith Bank; Clinton Townsend, Director, Global Fintech at Visa; Olugbenga Agboola, Co-Founder and CEO of Flutterwave; Tayo Oviosu, Founder and CEO of Paga; Andi Dervishi, Chief Investment Officer at IFC; and Worku Gachou, Managing Director for Africa, OPIC.

The AFTS Addis Ababa will focus on the future of banking, mobile money growth and integration, policy and regulation, blockchain, digital identity, remittances, and financial inclusion. Strategic partners for the Summit include the Corporate Council on Africa, the US State Department, the US-Nigeria Council, the Congo Business Network, and PeaceTech Lab.

A limited number of delegate passes for the AFTS Addis Ababa are now on sale. To learn more or to register, visit https://africafintechsummit.com/v2/.

Figure 1 Zekarias Amsalu, Founder and Managing Director of IBEX Frontier LLC, and Leland Rice, CEO of Dedalus Global LLC, signing an MoU to jointly organize and execute the Africa Fintech Summit in Addis Ababa on November 21, 2019.




For more information:
Cambria Hayashino
Director of Communications, AFTS
cambria@africafintechsummit.com

How Mobile is Your Money?

Traveling across Africa?s 54 countries, you could potentially transact in roughly 40 different currencies, on over 150 mobile money services, and through a countless number of payment solutions. While a growing number of businesses accept international credit cards, mobile money, and other payment apps, you?ll likely spend a small fortune through transfer fees and unfavourable exchange rates.

Africa?s high number of currencies and payment platforms creates several challenges for intra-regional businesses and banks. While past campaigns towards a single monetary union have succumb to political gridlock, the recent Continental Free Trade Agreement (CFTA) has revived optimism for many, including South Africa?s President Ramaphosa. In the meantime, regional banks and tech investors have joined the race to ease intra-regional payments and transfers.

Before discussing regional issues however, let?s start with some challenges consumers face at home and the innovative solutions making headlines.

The Rise of Mobile Wallets

The dream of fintech is a cashless future where we apply for loans, pay bills, and buy groceries at the local market all through our mobile phones. However, these activities often happen on different apps that draw from different accounts. As the industry evolves, many of these solutions will likely consolidate but until then mobile wallets seem to be the best solution.

While Visa claims to be ?everywhere you want to be?, if you?ve ever had your card turned off while travelling in Africa, you know this isn?t the case. In the meantime, growing mobile payment apps are slowly expanding their footprint by negotiating with merchants, utility companies, and banks to further accelerate adoption. Thus, mobile wallets are often the best solution for consumers to use whichever credit card or mobile money service a given vendor is willing to accept.

Ghana?s Zeepay started a POS solution for merchants to accept mobile money payments from different telecom providers, and then built a mobile wallet app for consumers to receive international wire transfers and immediately transfer funds to their MM accounts. Zeepay?s recent partnership with MoneyGram is an interesting example of how a global giant facing disruption can stay relevant and enable wire access to several mobile money platforms.

Nigeria?s leading mobile money company, Paga, also launched a mobile wallet earlier this year and helped solve unique, local challenges. For banked Nigerians, the Paga wallet enables users to add their local and international credit cards, and make free transfers to their bank accounts. Having raised another $10 million from investors, Paga?s already looking ahead to adding savings and loan services through partnerships with banks.

Yet another challenge Africans often face is how to make credit card payments on international websites. Thus, Wallet.ng has quickly gained traction for their solution which leverages partnerships with international hotels, airlines, and ecommerce sites. The app has also become popular among foreigners who face a similar challenge using their internationals credit cards locally.

Rather than compete with fintech start-ups on-the-ground, Visa and Stripe recently led an $8million Series A round into Nigeria?s Paystack. This announcement came just months after Alipay?s parent company, Ant Financial (China), signed a multi-country partnership with Coral Pay (Nigeria). Further proving the immense potential African fintechs might realize, as well as the daunting barriers to entry foreign competitors face.

But how long will these barriers?and the resulting competitive advantages?last?

Crossing Borders?

Last year, fintechs pulled in roughly a third of all start-up funding in Africa ($195M), and have kept pace thus far in 2018. What makes these start-ups so attractive is in part the unique, local challenges they?re able to solve; however, could this also be their limitation?

Beyond payments and mobile wallets, there are several B2B fintechs working in the background supporting banks and merchants. Flutterwave, which recently raised $10 million, builds the underlying infrastructure merchants need to accept a broader variety of digital payments in one place. On the bank side, Mines raised $13 million to further develop their credit-as-a-service platform which has helped open up entirely new revenue streams for local traditional banks.

The promise of the CFTA however, requires solutions at a much larger scale. While many of the above payment and infrastructure solutions might support most consumer payments and credit needs?think t-shirts and plane tickets?big business still desperately needs solutions that don?t require paying a small fortune in fees and exchange rates.

For this reason, Afreximbank has launched an initiative to build a Pan-African Payments and Settlements Platform which aims to formalize intra-African trade, estimated at over US $40 billion, while significantly reducing dependence on US dollars and other foreign currencies. Starting with six West African countries by the end of this year, Afreximbank hopes to soon support trade transactions across the continent in African currencies.

However, this won?t be the continent?s first multi-national settlement system. That honour belongs to the SADC Integrated Regional Settlement System (SIRESS). Since 2013, the South Africa-based system has settled over one million cross-border transactions worth over ZAR 4 Trillion (~US$280 Billion). At the same time however, despite serving 14 southern African nations, SIRESS has thus far only transacted in South African Rand and only recently announced that it will now accept US dollars.

Crossing Continents?

With so many challenges facing each banking jurisdiction, payment platform, and transfer settlement system, certainly no one expects fintech start-ups to solve all of them. But the number of innovative companies tackling these issues from the bottom up is certainly encouraging. It is equally encouraging to see Afreximbank launch such ambitious platforms to tackle some of these interconnected issues from the top down.

When describing the challenges African financial markets face, it?s important to remember that these challenges are not as ?unique? as they seem. During their recent announcements, both Paga and Mines alluded to their plans to expand their services to Mexico, South America, and Southeast Asia. Thus, while some worry what Alipay?s expansion means for African fintechs, perhaps we should expand our own expectations for just how far our homegrown innovations might find greater opportunities to compete.

 


Mutoni Karasanyi is a marketing and communications expert, and a member of the Africa Fintech Summit Advisory Board. He has managed campaigns for The World Bank Group, Corporate Executive Board, MTN, and others; and is currently based in Washington, DC.

Follow Mutoni on Twitter at @Karasanyi.


 

Cracking the mobile money nut

Has Nigeria found the right formula to crack it?

Mobile money is Africa?s most well-publicized fintech innovation. Though often hailed as the gateway to financial inclusion, many have begun to lose faith in its promise.

The solution has been deployed in over 90 countries across the world, attracted over 690 registered accounts, and processes over US $1 billion in transactions on an average day. However, only a quarter of registered accounts remain active (30 days).

While M-Pesa?s well-known success story is alluring, 80-90% of launches are considered failures. In most countries, mobile money is often viewed as a wire transfer services, rather than as a digital currency for payments and other financial services.

However, mobile money, ?the gateway to financial inclusion?, is only that. To realize its full potential for financial inclusion, the platform must also enable a full range of financial services?savings accounts, financial credit, pension contributions, insurance services, etc.

In Nigeria, where less than 6% of adults use mobile money, consumer protection has taken precedence over enabling innovation. The Central Bank (CBN) recognizes the importance of the mobile payments; however, it has so far banned telecoms or their subsidiaries to apply for mobile money operator license.

For the first time since 2012, the CBN is reviewing and refreshing its National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS) to remove foundational constraints, better leverage technology, and create an enabling environment for innovation.

Admittedly, Nigeria is far from meeting its financial inclusion target of 80% by 2020, and in some measures, the country has regressed in recent years. However, the draft NFIS exemplifies a new mindset around leveraging innovative digital financial services (DFS).

Here are a few reasons why we?re optimistic for the future of mobile money and fintech in Nigeria:

1. Improving the Value Proposition

In March, the CBN launched an aggressive plan to establish a network of 500,000 shared agents to deliver a portfolio of digital financial services, through close collaboration with mobile money operators and super agents. The agent network will reach further into Nigeria?s most remote villages; provide low-cost digital access to several products; and help accelerate the country?s financial literacy campaigns.

Then, in April, the Central Bank signed an MOU with the Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) to collaborate closely on developing a more robust payment system. Though the NCC has been a member of the Financial Inclusion Steering Committee since 2015, their joint-partnership might prove a critical step towards better collaboration with the telecom industry as a whole.

Though these efforts are still in very early stages, a wider network of agents offering more diverse products on a robust payment platform is a promising start.

2. Taking the lead on digitizing payments

For many consumers, there?s often a psychological barrier to switching from cash to digital accounts. Thus, the government is seeking to ease this transition by requiring digital accounts from all beneficiaries, employees, and customers.

Each year, Nigeria transfers over US $227 million to social program beneficiaries alone, including millions of unserved/underserved consumers who are paid in cash. To reach its ambitious target of 100% digitization of transfers and payments, the government will coordinate a cohesive effort with all relevant public and private sector agents.

3. Growing appetite for disruption

One of the biggest differences between the 2012 and 2018 Financial Inclusion Strategies is the Central Bank?s openness to testing out new fintech solutions and lowering barriers to entry. The CBN has developed a regulatory sandbox for fintech start-ups to test their solutions, and once again, collaborated closely with another agency, namely, the Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement Systems (NIBSS).

What?s still missing?

Nigeria is often cited as a case study on ?mobile money failures?, and as the continent?s largest economy, getting digital financial services right could mean a lot for the region. For those who have often lobbied against the ban on telecom-run mobile money platforms, the draft NFIS will likely fall short of their expectations.

However, change often happens gradually, and then suddenly. Where the previous NFIS was prescriptive, the revised strategy offers design principles and guidelines. For each initiative, the implementation plans seem light on details, focusing less on strict enforcement, and more on close engagement with stakeholders.

In the coming months, stay tuned for more updates and insights, as more details come into focus. And be sure to mark your calendars for the Africa Fintech Summit in Lagos, November 8th-9th to learn more from the bank leaders, regulators, and mobile money operators bringing this strategy to life.

 


Mutoni Karasanyi is a marketing and communications expert, and a member of the Africa Fintech Summit Advisory Board. He has managed campaigns for The World Bank Group, Corporate Executive Board, MTN, and others; and is currently based in Washington, DC.

Follow Mutoni on Twitter at @Karasanyi.


 

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