East Africa currently is home to some of the quickest growing economies in the world. This, plus the current pandemic crisis, means that digital transformation and innovation is both imminent and necessary in this region.
It is East Africa’s financial services companies who will be leading this charge, but to do so in the post-Covid-19 environment, they are reliant on the fiscal policies implemented by governments and regulators.
Finnovex East Africa
With this in mind, Finnovex East Africa 2021 took place this week. Hosted by Exibex, this virtual event was intended as a platform for ‘Devising Transformational Strategies for The New Normal’, with financial service & banking representatives presenting their own potential roadmap to recovery from the aftereffects of the pandemic.
Topics of interest discussed during Finnovex East Africa 2021 included the roles of banking and non-banking institutions, financial organisations, fintech companies, and other stakeholders in developing inducements to the paradigm shift in this sector.
Working towards a new Digital Economy
One of the most interesting panels that took place was a discussion on Building a Cyber Resilient and Digitally Empowered Economy, moderated by Varghese Thambi, Managing Director, Diamond Trust Bank Uganda.
The speakers included; Abeer Khedr, Information Security Director at National Bank of Egypt; Chresta C. Kaluba, Chief Risk Officer, Atlas Mara Zambia; Hartnell Ndungi, Chief Data Officer (CDO), Absa Bank Kenya; and Daniel Adaramola, Chief Information Security Officer (CISO), Unity Bank Plc.
When it came to exploring the digital transformation of banks, Hartnell Ndungi pointed out that first we need to understand “Why people still prefer to use their phones for financial activities.” It’s a good point – in much of Africa mobile phones have been the entry point into banking for people who were being underserved by the current banking solutions. Therefore, to win back their custom, banks will have to offer a compelling reason to modify their habits.
So, how to do this? Well, Mr. Ndungi thinks that “regional banks need to learn agile operating practices from the local fintechs”, so that they can keep up with the ongoing innovation in the mobile and fintech sector.
In order to do so, of course, banks are going to have to embrace the digitisation process and become more forward-thinking. Daniel Adaramola highlighted that this may actually be quite a challenge. To illustrate his point, he referred to the combination of legacy platforms and long-standing cultural norms. Those banks that have been historically successful don’t necessarily feel the need to change – away from the physical and formal towards the virtual and more strict way of handling such processes.
An apt comparison with Mr. Adaramola’s point is the introduction of credit scores in the late 20th century in countries such as the US and the United Kingdom – a shift in culture from an informal lending decision process, to a numerical, algorithmic one that can be combined with digital, online tools.
To help speed up this process, Mr. Adaramola says that this “needs to be driven by the Central Bank, with framework & regulation provided with assistance from the Government.” This will take an awareness from all parties that digital-first is now the only way forward.
Female Inclusion in Banking
Finally, they also broached the important topic of the financial inclusion of women in East Africa. Specifically, solving the issues surrounding female economic empowerment and digital literacy.
Abeer Khedr wanted to draw attention to the fact that “a large portion of women are the primary care-takers, or single mothers,” which she believes will influence the approach that should be taken to offering them products and services, “for these women, there is an initiative to empower them and allow them to handle their finances digitally – selling any of their products that they make themselves online.”
This, Abeer Khedr explained, would need to be coupled with similar online processes for accepting & banking payments received.