People 'n' Issues

Connecting the bank of tomorrow

June 7th, 2016
Africa has the capability to approach banking in a whole new manner. In fact, today very few Africans have access to traditional banking accounts. The issue that arises is a lack of infrastructure, writes RESHAAD SHA, Chief Strategy Officer at DFA.
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Mobile banking is quickly becoming Africa’s bank of the future. With its largely untapped possibility, the platform has the capacity to enable people to make instant payments, transact directly, transfer money internationally, and manage savings in real time. According to Bill Gates in his 2015 Annual Letter, by 2030, two billion people who don’t have a bank account today will be storing money and making payments with their mobile digital devices. In fact, according to the recent Ericsson Mobility Report, Africa is expected to reach 100% mobile penetration by 2021 and is, therefore, one of the largest markets for mobile subscriptions. With the growing rate of mobile penetration in Africa, mobile banking will be the ideal solution to reach the unbanked market within the fourth industrial revolution.

The shift from brick and mortar to always-mobile

The traditional brick and mortar branch model of African banks poses a challenge when attempting to reach large populations in geographically dispersed towns and villages in Africa. Reaching the un-banked through the traditional model presents logistic, infrastructure, and distribution challenges, which raises the cost of banking services that are intended for a price-sensitive market.

Africa has responded to this challenge by leveraging mobile penetration to put the bank in the user’s hand. Add to that the enhanced user benefits of increased convenience, i.e. the ability to bank and transact anytime from anywhere, reduced risk associated with holding physical cash, and an ecosystem of vendors, applications, and e-wallet-related services, and the stage is set for sustained future growth in mobile banking.

With this in mind, banks have started to implement mobile money systematically throughout sub-Saharan Africa. The GSMA (Groupe Speciale Mobile Association) has mentioned that 52% of all mobile money services are in Sub-Saharan Africa, making it the leading region worldwide. Already almost half (19 million) of Kenya’s 44 million population subscribe to M-Pesa mobile money services, and the rest of Africa seems to be on a similar trajectory.

For example, a survey conducted by World Wide Worx found that cellular banking leaped ahead by a significant 9% in a year, up to 37% in 2013. App-based banking also demonstrates the popularity of mobile banking, increasing to 37% in the same time period. Clearly, users like the idea of effectively having their banking services in their pocket, and this trend will only grow.

Potential pitfalls

Despite positive projections for the uptake of mobile banking, there are a number of barriers that may delay the development of the bank of the future. These include the digital divide, a lack of complex regulatory frameworks that will protect consumers from cybercrime, and a lack of broadband infrastructure. Pervasive high-speed connectivity needs to be the backbone of the bank of the future.

Enabling the bank of the future

Moving towards a vision for the bank of the future is more than just an ideal for someday—it is now quickly becoming a necessity. Banks are no longer facing competition from similar financial institutions with the same legacy systems to contend with. Current business models can be disrupted in an instant by other companies that may not even be in banking itself but that have leveraged digital technology to serve a traditional bank’s customers in new ways.

One example of this is Apple, Samsung, and Google, who have developed their own e-wallet technologies. Another is Bitcoin, which operates on the block chain platform, eliminating the need for banking intermediaries and enabling direct, peer-to-peer transactions that don’t incur traditional banking transaction fees. Telecommunications companies similarly have a keen eye on new ways to extend their reach and garner new revenue with mobile-payment and money-transfer offerings. Banks’ business models are already being disrupted in much the same way as technology has disrupted the those of other sectors, e.g.  Uber’s disruption of the taxi industry. If a lesson is to be learnt from all of this, it is to anticipate competition from non-traditional sources.

Banks, therefore, have a choice to make: become content with serving as transaction engines for new innovators that are able to offer more compelling services efficiently, and conveniently, or become disruptors in their own right by innovating their service offerings and leveraging the mobile platform.

While the former path may well lead a bank to assuming the role of understudy to innovative new upstarts, it is the latter which assures that the bank of the future can become a reality and continue to help its customers manage and build their personal wealth. This reality will of course not be possible without the foundation of high-speed connectivity.

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