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Is Africa heading towards a cashless society?

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Cash may have traditionally been king, but Covid-19 has contributed to a faster pace of digital payment adoption. Recently on AlphaCode’s monthly Industry Insights webinar, two global fintech players discussed the emergence of a plethora of digital payments and debated if cash is on its way out.

Omosalewa Adeyemi, Head of Global Partnerships and Expansion at Flutterwave (a technology company that helps businesses in Africa and across the world send and receive payments) and Nicolas Vonthron, co-CEO of Mama Money (a rapidly growing international payment operator using mobile technology to reach new markets and underserved communities with a key focus on financial inclusion and social upliftment); explored the future of payments and banking in an increasingly digital world.

Sending money home during the lockdown

Vonthron says Mama Money’s digital offering grew five times during lockdown as users look for ways to send money home online following sudden border closures. “There are 5 million migrants in South Africa who came to find a better future for their families. At Mama Money, we help them access financial services and enable them to send money home to over 50 countries in Africa, Asia, and Europe at a fair price.”

The digital identification challenge

Digital identification still remains a key requirement of regulators. It is also a major challenge for fintechs. With Mama Money, migrants can easily use their passports, foreign ID, or asylum documents for identity verification, as opposed to the more rigorous verification requirements by banks and other financial institutions. Reacting to their seamless verification and compliance mechanism, Vonthron says, “On the receiving side, we partnered with companies such as Flutterwave and mobile money fintechs who do due diligence and have reliable identity mechanisms.”

Vonthron points out that since no off-the-shelf identification system that does not require a physical document exists, the digital identity challenge has yet to be solved.

Adapting to consumer behaviour

According to Adeyemi of Flutterwave, Africa has more than 300 types of digital payment methods that don’t speak to each other, making it difficult to pay across countries and even within a country. However, this is the problem Flutterwave presently solves by partnering with fintechs like Mama Money.

She continues, “Flutterwave has focused on innovation and partnerships because it is difficult to change consumer behaviour in each country.”

South Africans prefer credit cards and electronic fund transfers for payments and therefore Flutterwave built a solution to allow for these payments, and integrated with local fintechs. Flutterwave’s payment platform unites various niche and local payment systems available on the African continent.

With the popularity of mobile payments on the continent, Flutterwave and Mama Money have simplified the process for a South African to support a Nigerian, by tapping a few buttons on a phone. Small and medium businesses are included in the race to go digital.

Businesses are going digital

The pandemic and the resultant lockdown, made consumers more willing to try online methods of payment. Additionally, some central banks across the continent asked players in the financial industry to reduce transaction rates. In hindsight, the lockdown has been generally positive for digital transactions, with many more businesses opting for digital payments as movement ceased. This was the key motivation for the Flutterwave Store. This product is helping SMEs sell and deliver products conveniently.

On the general verification requirements for Flutterwave, Adeyemi says, “Flutterwave registers businesses, but also solopreneurs who have a verifiable identity. We request different information for each vendor and with individuals, we require identification such as a selfie, passport or identification document.

Cryptocurrencies

While Flutterwave and Mama Money see the advantages of cryptocurrency, they are not yet ready to delve into the market.

“Crypto is not a good medium of exchange and is rather used for investments and speculation, but blockchain could enable more efficient high-value settlement,” says Vonthron. He believes it is not really feasible for Mama Money’s customers to use crypto for cross border transfers because most of its customers are not sufficiently literate in cryptocurrency and many regulatory frameworks do not permit it.

“We are watching what is happening, but we have not yet seen anything working at scale,” Adeyemi says.

Is cash really on its way out?

Vonthron and Adeyemi agree that digital banking is on the increase, but believe that it can only gain prevalence if infrastructure issues, such as the requirement of identity for onboarding, are fixed. Adeyemi does not believe we will have a world without cash, although we will use it less. For her, cash may continue to be king for the foreseeable future.

Their views on traditional banking align, as they still see the need for traditional banking, but agree that there is a need for collaboration between traditional banks and fintechs.

For the fintech space in Africa to continue to grow, Adeyemi believes that the conversation between innovators and regulators will help to solve many problems. “We need engagement around the possibilities and the risks for regulation to protect both fintech and consumers. Regulation is a big deal and we should see the regulator as our friend, not the enemy.”

Watch the webinar here: https://event.webinarjam.com/replay/2/lp343smi4ini53

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