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Banking on Africa’s unbanked

There is a massive latent demand for financial services across Africa. This currently involves around 40% of the population, despite the significant progress that has been made across the continent so far. Previously, uncertainty on consumer engagement compounded with high technology prices prevented governments investing in the sector. But, a lot is already changing – the question is where can we make it better?

All over the continent, governments are gradually seeing the value of financial inclusion, with a direct correlation between uptake in financial services and GDP growth having been clearly demonstrated. We’re now seeing African governments piloting different schemes to connect people to some sort of banking channel. For instance, the Central Bank of Jordan has recently commissioned a system involving the buy-in of 20 banks – an E-Government portal through which consumers can pay their bills electronically, with large Jordanian billers expected to join, including the Government itself. Jordan has made great headway in implementing this system during the last few months; however we cannot forget that there are other African countries whose progress at this scale will probably accelerate in the next few years.

Ethiopia is a good example in this case. At the Ethiopia Mobile Financial Services Conference in February, government ministers announced their country’s commitment to developing its mobile and digital financial services ecosystem. This means there are now real opportunities to have certain conversations in the region that were previously unimaginable.   

“Cashless Lagos” is another example of an initiative by the Central Bank of Nigeria which, after a successful pilot, is currently being rolled out throughout the rest of the country - a population where formerly 46.3% of residents were excluded from financial services. There is an on-going discussion about how rural communities across Nigeria will react to this cashless policy, but other countries, such as Ghana and Kenya, have already made giant strides in implementing alternative payments systems with positive results. Kenya’s government, for instance, has pledged to upgrade its financial services systems in line with “Vision 2030” – a blueprint that lays out how it intends to develop over the next 15 years or so, bringing the country in line with more established Western economies.  

A lot is already changing then, but a lot does still need doing. Sub-Saharan Africa still has one of the world’s lowest percentages of banked individuals and across the continent; more dialogues need to start with banks and merchants to ensure populous areas have access to banking services. When we talk about the uptake of financial services in Africa, it’s now no longer a question of ‘if’, but ‘when’. For those willing to get involved and make the investment, there is still plenty of work to be done but even greater rewards to be won.


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