It may seem like a faraway prospect at the moment, but through a combination of breakthrough science, global collaboration, and collective grit, we will get through this pandemic and reach the other side.
But what will “the other side” look like? Predictions abound in every sector, many of them painting a grim picture.
Not so in my world. I see opportunity ahead for the fintech sector, and especially for the people who rely on it: people on the margins of developing economies, ignored by traditional banking structures and, these days, disproportionately impacted by a deteriorating global economy. We have the tools and the technology to help them.
In Kenya, for examples, the leading mobile money operator has added one million new subscribers to its platform since that country’s lockdown began in March. That means that three-quarters of that country’s population are using at least some digital financial services. All over the world, similar surges are demonstrating a growing demand for services that do more than traditional banks, and do it faster and better.
As fintech innovators, we are uniquely positioned to deliver relief where it’s needed most during the crisis, and to rethink how we design and deliver impactful financial services once this crisis is behind us.
Brick-and-mortar banking is neither nimble nor scalable enough to service the vast needs of today’s global population. If this was clear before the pandemic, it’s absolutely irrefutable now, especially in areas of the world where pandemic-related social interventions have made it difficult to get and use cash.
Governments are responding. By the end of May 2020, over 90 countries had introduced more than US$10 trillion in fiscal support for those impacted by COVID-19, with fintech playing a key role in channeling that aid into the households that need it most. In Africa, where 85% of workers rely on the informal sector, this aid is a vital lifeline to so many; disbursing it through mobile phones, which are many times more prevalent than bank accounts in much of the developing world, only makes sense. In Togo, for example, the government distributed emergency financial support to 500,000 people in need in less than two weeks, using mobile phones as its disbursement mechanism.
Meanwhile, other countries are leveraging digital tools to eliminate or reduce roadblocks that have kept people from accessing financial services. In Ghana, for example, the government is using its existing biometric ID and digital addressing systems to allow its citizens to open mobile money accounts remotely. Such e-KYC policies, which make account ownership an easier and safer prospect for many, will become ever more important as the world finds its way through this crisis and into the other side.
This attitude of innovation and accessibility will likely continue as central banks reinvent and expand their relationship with mobile money operators, uncovering new opportunities to foster innovation, encourage economic growth, and support their citizens through disaster and recovery with the day’s best available tools and technologies.
Mobile money has long played an active role in driving financial inclusion for women. Today, that role is more important than ever; research shows that women have been more economically hard-hit than men during this pandemic, mainly because of its disproportionate impact on the sectors (like service and hospitality industries) that employ far more women than men.
This is mobile money’s big opportunity to close the gender gap in financial inclusion once and for all. For that to happen, though, mobile money operators and banks need to move quickly to reverse a troubling backslide into inequality and to co-develop recovery strategies which eliminate—rather than exacerbate—gender-based exclusion from financial services.
The good news is that we’re seeing this succeed in some parts of the world already. Earlier, I mentioned Togo as an example of a government moving quickly to disburse emergency aid via mobile phones; what’s especially interesting about that story is that 65% of that program’s beneficiaries were women, which suggests a breakthrough in terms of accessibility. Meanwhile,
political leaders in Latin America have recently created the “a post-pandemic Latin America Coalition for the economic recovery of women.” In a continent where 78% of women work in badly hit job sectors, this initiative will ensure positive transformation going forward, using the latest in fintech innovation and policy development to advocate for more equal access to financial services.
Moving forward, on-the-ground initiatives like this one will continue taking root, shaping a future in which women have equal access to the digital tools they need to build financial resilience and independence. As fintech innovators, we will play a vital role in this shift.
Perhaps the most significant opportunity before us today, which runs through every positive initiative now emerging from the fintech sector, is the call to become as agile and as responsive as possible in the face of constantly shifting factors and challenges.
This means using the technical breakthroughs we’ve already achieved in our sector to drive change and support more people, while always striving for more and better solutions—and taking those solutions into new places.
Where I see this happening in a big way is in deepening relationships between mobile money operators and small- and mid-sized-businesses. In many areas of the world, mobile money is a well-established service for individual users; its next frontier will mean embedding our platforms as a must-have tool for business owners, particularly as those owners strive to recover from the fallout of COVID-19. Access to digital payments will help business owners develop data-driven approaches to managing risks and managing cashflow, which will play a key role in rebuilding and stabilizing regional economies in the post-pandemic world.
As we push through to the “post-pandemic world,” mobile money will continue doing what it has done from the beginning: connecting more people to a more modern and nimble financial platform, designed to meet the needs of those traditionally left out of banking infrastructures.
The real difference is that we’ll do more of that, and faster. Merchant payments, business and consumer lending, health and life insurance—all of these services and more, the cornerstones of mobile money, will become increasingly vital in the “new normal.” And so will our role as fintech innovators.