Piggybacking the fintech wave to revolutionize financial inclusion in Ghana
Fintechs in Africa have grown exponentially over the past decade with a few becoming household names across Africa.
Specifically, in 2021 the number of fintech startups in Africa increased by 81per cent.
Existing fintechs are also experiencing significant growth in Ghana, Egypt, Nigeria, and some Francophone West Africa nations all achieving growth between 10-20 per cent.
As a result, Africa has the second-largest growing fintech (payment and banking) market after Latin America.
This growth has been driven by the increase in the adoption and use of smartphones and other mobile devices, and the government’s aim to achieve financial inclusion among citizens in these countries.August, 2023
The recent collaborations between communication and technology firms and the financial services sector, and declining internet cost has compounded the growth of fintech activities.
The services rendered by fintechs include mobile payments, digital lending and credit, mobile banking, insurtechs, cryptocurrency, financial advisory and wealth management, blockchain technology and trading.
There has been an increase in access to fintech products along with the rise in fintech organizations regionally and globally, fueled by government investment in improved tech infrastructure to support technological progression.
Fintech activity has been on the rise, attracting significant investment in the last decade.
Flutterwave, (a Nigerian-based fintech firm) has raised about US$475 million in funding and has an estimated valuation of US$3 billion.
The performance of these fintechs has been phenomenal. Flutterwave that is reported to have processed over 140 million transactions worth over US$9 billion in 2020.
M-Pesa has over 42 million users across Africa and has processed over US$33 billion transactions in 2020. Zeepay has also expanded its operations beyond Ghana and now operates in several other African countries including Tanzania and Zambia.
Zeepay processed over 2 million transactions in 2020 worth over US$200 million.
This performance has attracted increased investment into African fintech startups.
This is due to the massive potential for growth attracting investors worldwide as a result of the sizable proportion of unbanked population, growing demand for financial services, and moves towards a more supportive regulatory environments that encourages financial innovation.
The explosion of fintech activities comes with numerous benefits such as convenience in conducting financial transactions (payments, transfers, and withdrawals), a significant reduction in the timelines of financial transactions on the continent and most importantly financial inclusion. Financial inclusion across the world has grown.
The growth is in line with increases in digital technology, financial innovation, favorable government policies, private sector initiatives and support from international organizations such
as the World Bank and the UN.
In Sub-Saharan Africa, the financial exclusion rate fell from about 77% of the population in 2011 to about 45% in 2021.
Clearly, having almost half of a region’s population outside the financial system would stymie the flow and allocation of funds among lenders, borrowers, and investors.
It also limits governments’ ability to influence positively the levels of poverty and financial resilience of Africans via government agencies. More can be done to get people to be part of the banked population.
If fintechs are leveraged and utilized properly, they show great promise in achieving these outcomes.
The transformational potential of fintech is evidenced by the results achieved so far. For instance, in Kenya, M-Pesa has made it possible for people in rural areas to have access to traditional banking services.
It has also contributed to women’s empowerment in rural fishing communities such as Migori County by providing women with an accessible platform to save their earnings and further expand their operations.
On a national scale, transfers via mobile devices in Kenya compares to more than a quarter of the Gross National Product. Flutterwave has established a payment solutions platform which helps boost e-commerce in Africa.
Businesses can now trade in a secure way across the region via the platform. In Ghana, monthly e-money transactions have increased from GH¢32.8 billion in December 2019 to GH¢122 billion in December 2022.
Also, the number of registered users has increased from about 17.5 million to about 20.4 million between 2020 and 2022.
Although fintechs have grown rapidly in recent years and made progress towards reducing the unbanked population, the business ecosystem within which these firms operate has not evolved nearly as fast.
The sector has grappled with many challenges including weak corporate governance systems, navigating an uncertain environment, difficulty integrating regionally and globally, and low literacy levels.
The fintech wave presents an opportunity for Ghana to include more individuals into the fast-developing financial system. This will require deliberate and systematic interventions at all levels by the various actors and industry stakeholders.
Firstly, fintechs thrive in friendly enabling environments. Support on a macro level reduces risk and enhance competitiveness.
Recent policy interventions by the Government of Ghana in this direction are commendable.
The creation of Ghana.gov payment platform is a transformational digital infrastructure aimed at facilitating digital payments for government services.
Additionally, the government has invested in building its broadband infrastructure, with the aim of providing universal access to high-speed internet by the end of 2023.
South Africa's forthcoming 10-year plan to focus on widespread broadband and digital literacy, Kenya’s aims to achieve universal broadband access by 2030 alongside strengthened digital payments, Egypt’s investment in a 5-year roadmap for broadband expansion and digital payments, and Nigeria’s plan to invest over US$3 billion in broadband, innovation hubs, and egovernance all point to the growing interest of Governments in fintech and its enabling role in financial inclusion.
Much more is required to bridge the policy and infrastructure gap, given the immense market potential.
The evidence suggests that poor or lack of government policies and support mostly have the unintended consequence of cutting short the opportunities for growth and self-sustenance.
Policy execution is crucial as, failure to push further on these efforts would have dire consequences such as erosion of existing gains in financial inclusion, slowed technological innovation, and less global competitiveness.
Also, support from non-governmental, international, and other private partners can be used to maximize the benefits fintech for Ghana.
In the past, such support has been provided for the government to achieve a broad digitalization strategy and goals.
The World Bank has committed US$ 200 million in support of Ghana’s efforts towards developing resources required to establish a conducive environment that supports the growth of technological infrastructure.
Private individual and institutional investors in Ghana can also participate by investing pre-seed or seed funding into upcoming fintechs to position them to receive larger external funding.
Another way to maximize the benefits of fintechs is to improve the security infrastructure and ecosystem.
It is critical that we strengthen the country’s cybersecurity in readiness for a more robust fintech activity to transform financial inclusion in the country.
Significant investment in cybersecurity will reduce the frequency of fraud and grow trust in the financial system. Strengthening cybersecurity infrastructure can be approached from several equally important fronts.
Fintech firms must improve their Anti Money Laundering (AML) and Know Your Customer (KYC) rules.
Also, government agencies should develop comprehensive cybersecurity guidelines, rules, regulations, and best practices to ensure a general economic climate of cybersecurity compliance and resilience.
Lastly, there should be focused and intentional skill development. It is important that Ghana invests in the production of fintech professionals.
Through public-private partnerships government can set up schemes that encourage and support technology transfer and other relevant skills.
Also, governments must ensure that the Ghanaian ecosystem is attractive enough to retain these professionals in the country.
Private entities in Ghana can play a significant role in skill development by collaborating with universities and training centers to design and offer specialized fintech-related courses.
The potential for growth of fintech is enormous.
More tailored and innovative products and services are required to achieve the intended spillover benefits of financial inclusion.
Fintechs can be used as one of the many arrows in Ghana’s poverty reduction efforts and enhance financial stability by eliminating or significantly reducing the systemic exclusion of the unbanked and the underbanked from accessing beneficial financial services.
Overall, the fintech wave presents massive opportunities for diversification of the African economy, financial inclusion, and economic growth, and fintech companies in Africa can be well positioned to lead the way in driving the continent’s economic transformation.
The writer is an Analyst and sector specialist in charge of C-NERGY's financial sector desk.