I recently participated in the Africa Frontiers Forum, a panel discussion hosted by Frontier Advisory, which focused on how technology is changing financial services in Africa. While the panel discussion was robust, a few salient themes emerged.
The electronic payments market in Africa is still in its initial growth phase. However, the adoption of technology innovations on the continent and the lack of legacy systems is allowing countries to leapfrog traditional infrastructure thanks to the ubiquity of mobile phones.
For example, Africa saw a 36% growth rate in mobile subscriptions between 2011 and 2013, with a 52% penetration rate in 2012. This mobile evolution has almost become synonymous with emerging markets, and developments in this space are going to facilitate the reduction of cash, with countries such as Kenya already leading the way with M-Pesa.
Despite regulatory challenges, it is clear that governments, financial institutions, telecos, merchants, and technology companies need to work together to create interoperable services and solutions in order to truly transform the payments industry. MasterCard is actively taking the lead in building bridges of communication between these players, sharing knowledge and best practice, investing and expanding in payments infrastructure, and developing and launching locally relevant payment solutions.
The transition from cash to electronic payments must continue as this will support the much-needed development of African economies, some of which are growing at more than 20% a year. Electronic payments extend the benefits of financial inclusion to citizens who are limited by their dependence on cash, they encourage transparency, reduce fraud and make it possible for governments to save the 1.5% of GDP that cash can cost each year.
While the journey to a cashless – even cash-lite – society is still in its infancy, we are seeing how it is fast gaining momentum as the public and private sector works together to introduce technology and payment programs that add impetus to the realization of a world beyond cash.
The Frontier Advisory team created a report capturing the salient points raised at the Forum – you can read it here.