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Africa is last growth frontier for fintech companies

Samuel Mungadze
By Samuel Mungadze, Africa editor
Johannesburg, 15 Aug 2019

Sub-Saharan Africa is one of the fastest-growing investment zones for financial technology companies, according the trade body that represents the interests of global mobile network operators.

The GSM Association (GSMA) says in its Mobile Economy, Sub-Saharan Africa 2019 report that the region will remain the fastest growing worldwide.

Predicting a total subscriber base of over 600 million by 2025, which represents approximately half the population, Sub-Saharan Africa will become a flagship for mobile disruption.

According to Mike Smits, co-founder of the uKheshe micro transaction platform, the unbanked are one of the driving forces behind this growth.

“Mastercard reports that while around 1.2 billion adults opened bank accounts for the first time over the past decade, 1.7 billion remain outside the formal banking sector worldwide,” Smits says.

“Our challenge, as a continent, is to reach these ‘unbanked’ individuals and better understand, as financial service providers, why they opt to stay in the informal sector.”

Smits says since the launch of uKheshe 10 months ago, the plight for financial inclusion has become glaringly obvious. “While progress has been made in terms of mobile money, it’s become imperative that we move beyond that and look into digital payment solutions.

“What we have realised is that financial inclusion is not just about technology disruption, but more about solving greater economic problems.”

He says consumers need simpler, more cost-effective ways to do simple tasks, such as sending or receiving money and buying airtime.

Mobile operators on the continent have over the past few years been entrenching themselves in the financial services sector to cover the unbanked and make transactions simpler.

Last week, MTN Group announced its fintech transactions reached R666 billion ($44 billion) in the six months to June.

The JSE-listed telco says its fintech strategy is starting to pay off, reporting a 30.7% hike – customer growth went up 8.9% to 30 million, while active Mobile Money (MoMo) users and average revenue per user is pegged at R19.60 ($1.30).

The total value of fintech transactions in the first half of the year to June reached a peak of $44 billion and the company processed 9 193 transactions per minute.

The mobile operator has been actively pushing to be a dominant force in the financial services space on the continent.

M-Pesa in Kenya remains the mobile money business case study of payment innovation in emerging markets. It was launched 12 years ago.

In Southern Africa, EcoCash is a success story in Zimbabwe. It is a mobile payment platform hosted by local telco Econet. EcoCash is an offshoot of Cassava Smartech, an entity that offers more financial services than mobile money, including remittances, digital banking and all kinds of insurance.

The GSMA report adds that in 2018, mobile technologies and services generated 4.6% of GDP globally, a contribution that amounted to $3.9 trillion of economic value added.

“The mobile ecosystem also supported almost 32 million jobs (directly and indirectly) and made a substantial contribution to the funding of the public sector, with more than $500 billion raised through general taxation”

According to the GSMA report, by 2023, mobile’s contribution is forecast to reach $4.8 trillion (4.8% of GDP) as countries around the globe increasingly benefit from the improvements in productivity and efficiency brought about by increased take-up of mobile services.

Further ahead, the report says 5G technologies are expected to contribute $2.2 trillion to the global economy over the next 15 years, with key sectors such as manufacturing, utilities and professional/financial services benefiting the most from the new technology.

At the end of 2018, 3.6 billion people were connected to the mobile Internet, the report says, representing an increase of just over 300 million compared to the previous year. However, more than four billion people remain offline.

Further, it says around a billion of these are not covered by mobile broadband networks (the ‘coverage gap’), while around three billion live within the footprint of a network but are not accessing mobile Internet services (the ‘usage gap’).

“Over the next few years, as the enablers of mobile Internet adoption (infrastructure, affordability, consumer readiness and content/services) continue to improve, millions of people will start using the mobile Internet for the first time. By 2025, five billion people across the globe (more than 60% of the population) will use the mobile Internet,” reads the report.