Across Africa’s over 1.3 billion people likes an emerging economy in the west of Africa that not only as a whole has shown potential but also in its fintech space.
Ghana in recent memory has been a market to watch in terms of its economic development in the African continent as a whole. Beyond just recent memory, it has an interesting history. In Sub-Saharan Africa, Ghana was the first place where Europeans arrived to trade – which initially included gold and then later in slaves. According to the United Nations Development Programme, it was also the first black African nation in the region to achieve independence from a colonial power (the United Kingdom) by declaring independence in 1957; later in 1960 it became an independent commonwealth with Kwame Nkrumah as the first President of the country.
Its journey towards being a middle-income economy is remarkable, as much of Africa as a whole lies below that. Some of its key exports includes cocoa (world’s second largest producer after the Cote D’Ivoire (Ivory Coast)) and gold (second largest gold mine in Africa after South Africa). Its current gross domestic product (GDP) per capita, according to the World Bank, is at over $2,000. Its aspirations to grow have been noted, being one of the the fastest growing economies in the African continent and trying to alleviate poverty – being the first Sub-Saharan African nation to achieve the Millenium Development Goal 1, which is the target to halve extreme poverty.
The country, according to the same UNDP source, discovered a large oil reserve in 2007. Despite its opportunities the country has had wider aspirations to continue to grow. In terms of a wider economic development strategy, it underwent its own national strategy titled Ghana Vision 2020, which in its scale was extraordinary for the continent, where “by the year 2020, Ghana would have achieved a balanced economy and middle-income country status and standard of living, with a level of development close to the present level of development in Singapore.” It was a 25-year development plan that aimed to transform the country.
Despite potentially not achieving all of its aspirations at the time, the country has developed from an economic development perspective and has become a hub in particular in West Africa. It is usually regarded as a fast and stable economy in the continent and this is reflective in its growing financial and fintech sector. Much of its financial services activity and wider tech as a whole lies in its capital and largest city of Accra.
Ghana’s financial services industry can be categorised into three main sectors: Banking and Finance (including Non-Bank Financial Services and Forex Bureaux); Insurance; and Financial market/capital markets. According to Ghana Investment Promotion Centre, the Government of Ghana has shown strong commitment to financial sector development. For instance, in 2002 the Cabinet approved the Financial Sector Strategic Plan (FINSSP) in 2003, which aims at broadening and deepening the financial sector. Improved governance in the financial markets remains an important focus for the continued reform agenda.
Some of the largest banks that operate in Ghana are a mixture of international global banks, some of the top ten largest banks in the African continent, and native-born Ghanaian banks. They include Ghana Commercial Bank Limited, Ecobank Ghana, Zenith Bank Ghana, Barclays Bank of Ghana, Agricultural Development Bank and UniBank Ghana.
In terms of fintech, according to Modern Ghana, payment solution companies such as mobile money services operated by telcos, smartphone applications such as zeepay and expresspay, crowdfunding apps like GoFundMe and Kickstarter, Insuretech, distributed ledger technologies such as blockchain and cryptocurrencies are key components of the country’s fintech ecoystem. The same source says that telcos are leading the pack in terms of payment solution fintechs. Wider ecosystem support such as the Africa FinTech Network are helping to promote not only Ghana’s fintech space but the continent as a whole. Research from The FinTech Times estimates that there are around at least 70 fintech solutions in the country and from a wider startup as a whole as high as around 500 startups.
Last year, Ghana also launched a digital financial services (DFS) policy as well, which has been years in the planning but also given the current coronavirus pandemic can help aid in wider digital transformation across DFS.
The country is clearly trying to foster and promote its fintech and wider tech and digital ecosystem. For instance, last year the Bank of Ghana announced the establishment of a new fintech and innovation office and this will help the Bank’s cash-lite, e-payments, and digitisation agenda. The emergence of fintech solutions has introduced significant complexities that require the sector supervisor’s focus, to understand and supervise effectively and the justification behind the new office.
In addition, Ghana is currently (and expected) to pass a new Startup Bill which is currently under consultation by Ghanaian startups. It is expected to pass early this year and be a Startup Act, and Ghana will join the other ranks of countries such as Rwanda and Tunisia, the ladder being the first in Africa to pass such a law. Recent announcement by the Bank of Ghana also will see its regulatory sandbox being pilot in collaboration with EMTECH.
In terms of the African continent, besides the big four countries of Nigeria, South Africa, Kenya and Egypt, Ghana is often a country categorised as a strong hub in the continent as well, including research done as well with The FinTech Times. Through time its efforts and economic development can ensure it becomes an established emerging fintech hub.
Despite the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic, which as in the rest of the world also has had an effect in various ways in Ghana, there remains optimism and tech, financial services and fintech can bring that. It will help put the country and economy to help bring more highly skilled work and innovation and hopefully bring the economy above its middle-income achievement. With an Overview of Fintech in Africa in 2020 and Predictions For 2021, Ghana will most likely see further digital transformation as a whole and other accelerations in its fintech ecosystem – from a growth in contactless payments to other initiatives that will help grow its fintech and wider tech ecosystem.
In wider economic development, particularly in international trade and investment, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) can bring further benefits to the country, especially as the country has become a strong regional hub not just for West Africa but is becoming across the African continent as a whole and the Middle East and Africa (MEA) region. Therefore, Ghana is a market to watch not just in 2021 but beyond.