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Opinion & Analysis

Smart policies will push digital banking in Africa

Mobile phone subscriber penetration in sub-Saharan Africa in 2016 was 44 per cent with a projected growth of six per cent in the next four years. file photo | nmg
Mobile phone subscriber penetration in sub-Saharan Africa in 2016 was 44 per cent with a projected growth of six per cent in the next four years. file photo | nmg 

From Ras ben Sakka in Tunisia and Cape Agulhas in South Africa, there is a wind of technological change blowing across Africa.

The agents include telecoms and financial technology or ‘fintech’ companies.

Twenty years ago, the level of mobile penetration in Africa was falling behind the rest of the world.

While the other regions were making major advancements in this area, Africa had barely started.

Now the continent is a leader in mobile banking through landmark innovations such as M-Pesa and other ways of e-commerce.

Sending messages and money is as simple as typing a command on a smart phone or keying in a few digits.

According to the Mobile Economy 2017 report by GSMA, by the end of 2016, two thirds of the world’s population had a mobile subscription — a total of 4.8 billion unique subscribers.

Mobile phone subscriber penetration in sub-Saharan Africa in 2016 was 44 per cent with a projected growth of six per cent in the next four years.

However, smartphone adoption in sub Saharan Africa in 2016 was as low as 28 per cent compared to 77 per cent in North America.

The good news is that this is expected to double in the next four years to top at 50 per centin 2020.

Africans are getting tech savvy at a rapid rate. It depicts a bright future for the continent.

This potential can only be unlocked with the right policies supporting tech start-ups and the promotion of technology in key services especially in the public sector.

Many countries have already envisioned this and their blueprints are carefully being crafted with the above in mind.

A physical bank requires eight tellers working 8-4 to serve about 800 customers in a day, but digital banking through mobile phones can serve the needs of the same number of customers more quickly and in the comfort of their homes, cars or wherever they are and at a reduced cost.

Adding to this convenience are other innovations. Ecobank, for example, has launched a mobile banking app that provides coverage across Africa, making transactions simple and fast and can be accessed from anywhere around the continent where Ecobank has a presence and there is access to Internet.

The bank also has Masterpass QR (Quick reader) that enables smart phone users to scan codes from their phones and shop, send money or make payments directly from their bank account without exchanging hard cash.

These innovations in addition to Kenya’s pioneering role in mobile money transfers mean that the number of mobile phone subscribers is growing as well as the number of people with access to a bank account and other financial services, creating greater financial inclusion.

In terms of economic development, this creates a huge opportunity for the region and allows Africa to compete on a par with the rest of the world.

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