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Next Generation Digital Financial Services Will Drive Internet Use in Africa

August 30th, 2016 Posted by Central Banks, Cryptofinance technologies, Mobile money 0 comments on “Next Generation Digital Financial Services Will Drive Internet Use in Africa”

Last week, the Internet for All initiative by World Economic Forum (WEF) presented their objectives in Nairobi, Kenya. Over the next 3 years, they plan to incorporate an additional 25 million internet users in Northern Corridor East African countries (Kenya, Uganda, Rwanda, South Sudan) and bring total internet adoption to 70%.

The group determined to make this ambitious goal a reality by including stakeholders from Information and Communications Technology ministries, mobile network companies, hardware manufacturers, software and content producers, multinational NGOs, entrepreneurs and innovators. Their approach is to target broad sectors that are helping to drive demand for internet access and lobby infrastructure providers to help curtail high barriers to entry.

So, why is the WEF focused on increasing internet usage in countries that are also busy trying to increase food security, gender development, and basic healthcare?

Well, the internet is more than cat memes and a way to follow your favorite celebrity on Instagram. The internet democratises communication, education, and enables even the poorest and most vulnerable to be heard. Not long ago, information was held in libraries and universities. Only those with the privilege and means had the ability to access that information. The internet, however, opens the library doors and allows anyone to benefit from the knowledge humanity has created over thousands of years. Now, a girl in a remote village in Kenya can use her smartphone to stream a lecture at MIT to learn computer science and a mother in rural Uganda can learn about proper nutrition without have to spend money or time traveling to a health center to talk to a nurse.

The projects underway in the Northern Corridor are impressive. Many aim at increasing digital literacy across all segments of the population. To generate demand and gain awareness for those not yet connected, new programs teach students how to access the internet for things as simple as opening a social media account. A Facebook profile piques youth interest and teaches the value of the internet at a young age. The interest gained from gratification on social networks can be leveraged to learn job skills, e.g., software coding via gamification.

In a digital world, national borders dissolve and people become more connected. The global nature of the internet shatters location and geographic glass ceilings. As more citizens of the world learn to utilize digital skills, the ability to access education materials and make income from global sources becomes less of an ambitious goal and more of a reality.

The WEF released a favorable and forward-thinking report 2 weeks ago titled, “The future of financial infrastructure: An ambitious look at how blockchain can reshape financial services”. The key takeaways are very much in-line with the vision ofMonetas:

Distributed Ledger Technology (blockchain) is not a panacea. Instead, it should be viewed as one of many technologies that will form the foundation of next-generation financial services infrastructure.

Cryptofinance consists of many different technologies that utilize and complement different technologies in order to deliver an optimal final product for the end customer. The hammer isn’t the ideal tool for every job, and blockchain technology isn’t ideal for every user story. At the WEF, many people spoke about the use of  cryptofinance and blockchain tech in various cases from digital identity management to better sharing health records. Even though I was the only person in the room from the cryptofinance sector, I sat back and listened to an array of stakeholders speak about what is needed to allow for widespread uptake of digital financial services. The three factors consensually agreed upon were straight forward:

  1. Interoperability is vital. Today, users in most markets can’t send value from one mobile network to users of another. We need to unify financial service providers so users can send money to anyone they want, regardless of what bank or mobile network they use. Sending and receiving money internationally will also further increase usability.
  2. Low value payments must be able to be made at affordable levels. With 50% of payment volume taking place below USD 1 in Kenya, users today face fees in excess of 10%. With the inability to complete day-to-day transactions, all mobile money platforms today require users to immediately withdraw funds and leave the digital medium.
  3. Mobile money today barely qualifies as financial inclusion. Financial inclusion isn’t just payments; it’s financial products, savings, loans, investments, and more. Products like M-Shwari offered by MPesa are a start, but users only receive between 2%-5% in interest in a market with +7% inflation.

The speakers at the WEF who thought they were addressing mobile money needs were actually (perhaps not even to their own knowledge) describing the benefits of cryptofinance. It’s encouraging to know that a product our engineers have been making for the last 3 years fulfils these requirements plus much, much more. Monetas looks forward to further participation in working groups at the World Economic Forum to help drive awareness of the capabilities and benefits of cryptofinance amongst the stakeholders, central banks, and financial service institutions.