By Teri Sequeira:
Malawi has a thriving financial services industry, as evidenced by the expansion of services across country. Let us not forget First Merchant Bank, which has expanded to over five countries in the region and has now been re-branded as First Capital Bank.
We should be proud that a Malawian bank has thrived in this industry in less than 20 years from conception Congratulations, First Capital – may you continue to grow and improve your services.
Africa, is being described as the Silicon Valley of banking due to the innovative digital approaches being made to ensure its services reach a varied market.
Banks have looked at the regional market carefully and have identified a number of characteristics.
First, and especially in reference to Malawi, the majority of the population is unbanked and live in rural areas.
Secondly, existing infrastructure tends to be unreliable or non-existent – highlighted by the considerable transportation and utility challenges we face. Let us not forget the considerable security issues with regard to the transportation and storage of cash to remote areas.
Thirdly the growth of access to smartphones is the highest in the world, as devices become cheaper and access to digital services via the internet becomes easier.
This has led to the exponential rise in the development and use of financial technology, also known as fintech – defined as “computer programs and other technology used to support or enable banking and financial services.”
What we are talking about, really, is mobile banking or mobile money. Once again, the lack of existing infrastructure has allowed African banks who are flexible and responsive enough to capture new market share by leapfrogging other existing technologies and going straight to the mobile solutions on offer.
You may recall similarities in the early days of the internet where we moved straight from dial up internet access to wireless – and cut out other evolutions of the service – such as ADSL connectivity and the like.
So, successful banks in Africa have used these characteristics to seize opportunities available through modern digital technology, to get closer to its customers. I, for one, have hardly visited my bank in months – most of my transactions are electronic, including paying bills and access cash.
I envision the truly paperless bank in the future – where cheque books and paper statements, amongst others, become history. Growing investment and development in the Internet of Things (IOT) and Artificial Intelligence (AI), biometrics and voice activation, and cloud security, play essential roles in this transformation.
Imagine a semi-literate rural farmer being able to access the full range of bank services that was once only available by a time consuming and expensive trip to a local branch?
Regulation of such services, and user security will always be a challenge – but which innovative technology, that crosses regions and borders, isn’t? Kenya and Uganda, amongst many of our neighbours, are already looking at this carefully.
Now, combine this with crypto currency, developed on blockchain technology – which I have written about previously in detail. Well, in December this year, the first African crypto-currency, known as Afri Union Coin, will be launched from South Africa.
Competing directly with Bitcoin, it will be an internationally recognised currency and is aimed at linking various African countries and easing cross border trade and transactions. The face of banking and financial transactions will probably be revolutionised here in Africa – over the next decade.
In a related development in Malawi, mobile money accounts are estimated to have reached over 5 million – and the Reserve Bank has not been slow to recognise this. They have announced plans to make it mandatory for businesses to have at least one digital payment channel available.
Due to be issued by December, these regulations seek to make it mandatory for every business operating in Malawi to have at least one digital payment channel including mobile money, mobile banking, point of sale devices and internet banking for payments of goods and services. As I have often repeated – interesting times indeed!
Teri Sequeira is Managing Director of SyncIT Solutions Ltd. He can be reached on teris@SyncITAfrica.com or firstname.lastname@example.org
A vibrant writer who gives a great insight on hot topics and issues