Fintech Middle East & Africa

The global pandemic has created an even more compelling context for Fintech solutions

OPINION-ED BY MR. MAHMOOD AHMADU – An article published at the end of Q1 2018, in the Raconteur – the business, technology and finance insights publication of the Times group in the UK – noted that instances of customers using banking apps in the UK had risen by 354%, in the previous 5 years. A little over a year later, in July 2019, The Guardian was reporting that 71% of customers, in the UK market, could be expected to be mobile banking app users by 2024.

Compare these unequivocal statistics to those from a very different cross section of users in India, one of the most rapidly changing of all emerging markets, and the numbers are equally staggering. According to TechSci Research, digital banking will  grow at a CAGR of over 22% in India, between 2019 and 2024. Taking a global view of the trend towards digital Fintech solutions confirms that the UK and India are not peculiar examples of enthusiastic digitization over the period in question. EY’s Global FinTech Adoption Index 2019 report found that 64% of digitally active consumers across 27 countries were already using digital banking solution – a near doubling of the figure within the previous two years.

However, with the Covid-19 pandemic transforming the economic climate around the world, in very fundamental ways, these reports and estimations – optimistic as they already were, at the time – might well fall short of the real world changes we witness.

An agile solution, for the most vulnerable market segments

Given the social distancing and self-quarantining practices, which have come to be the foremost defence against the spread of the virus, some of the advantages that Fintech solutions present to customers are obvious. However, it’s the post-pandemic reactivation of the global economy that may end up being an even more appropriate context, for a further surge in the adoption of digital banking and payment solutions.

Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) represent in excess of half the GDP of most countries and seven out of every ten employment opportunities. Due to their dependence on physical shopfronts and minimally automated production, these have been some of the hardest hit businesses, because of the extended lockdowns the world is currently experiencing. Government relief packages notwithstanding, the long term survival of the crucial section of economic activity depends on the creation of a viable new model, which is compatible with the inevitable limitations the world will be forced to operate within. According to the International Finance Corporation (IFC), a humungous $5.2 trillion per year is required to address the unmet financing needs of SMEs worldwide. Given the existentialist threat that the Covid-19 pandemic represents to these businesses, the urgent need to bridge this gap cannot be overstated.

The need for Fintech and legacy banking to collaborate

Although they were see as disruptors to the status quo until recently, the efficacy of Fintech innovations is not solely restricted to giving individual customers and SMEs access to capital and financial inclusion. On the contrary, according to Capgemini’s Open X Readiness Index – which benchmarks the capability of traditional banks to collaborate with startups – 48% of Gen Y and tech savvy customers are likely to switch their banks, in part due to their inability to integrate well with digital payment platforms. The inability to adopt some of the more flexible and leaner banking and payment options, which Fintech service providers are making available to their customers, could spell disaster for traditional banking. At possibly the most delicate time for the global economy in more than a century, any such upheaval could have catastrophic real world consequences.

However, such integration had already come up against challenges, even prior to the very sensitive economic environment precipitated by the pandemic. According to the annual World Fintech Report 2020, also issued by Capgemini, there were several hurdles to the closer integration of established banks and Fintech innovators, prior to the pandemic. For instance, the study found that a mere 21% of banks thought their existing digital systems were agile enough to collaborate with the new breed of innovators, and 70% of Fintech companies expressed serious reservations about the culture and organizational structure of their bank partners.

Nevertheless, for the global economy to remain resilient in the face of the current disruption and its aftermath, the wholesale integration of digital payment platforms and banking solutions, into the existing financial system, is inevitable. In a recent report, Amsterdam based VC Finch Capital projects that while some initial pain will be involved for both Fintech disruptors and traditional banks, a very significant upsurge in the digitization of the global banking services will be integral to restoring some semblance of normalcy, post Covid-19.

Agile, low cost, accessible and egalitarian

In the road to recovery, post Covid-19, if those most vulnerable at the bottom of the economic pyramid were to fall down, the entire edifice would collapse. With 36 million unemployment claims reported in the US – ostensibly the world’s leading economy – such a possibility cannot be dismissed as alarmist. At such a time, the sizable injection of liquidity, which governments around the world have initiated, needs to be bolstered by blanket financial inclusion and flexible payment options. It is in this context that Fintech has emerged as an enabler of the most appropriate solutions for navigating the current crisis, as well as ushering in a world of empowered new possibilities, beyond these immediate concerns.

 

 

As the Chairman of Innovate 1 Pay and Online Integrated Solutions, Mr Mahmood Ahmadu’s entrepreneurial vision has empowered financial inclusion across Africa. Under his stewardship Online Integrated Solutions has emerged as a ‘one-stop-shop’ for Caribbean and African businesses, and a point of contact between these regions and global markets, particularly the Middle East and Far East Asia.

Views in this opinion-ed are those solely from the guest author 

Author

  • Richie Santosdiaz, Contributing Reporter for Middle East and Africa

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