Isaac Kamuta, group head of Cash Management and Client Access at Ecobank, explains how technology is helping Africa provide the next level of financial services.
Global Finance: What is Ecobank’s strategy for partnering with telcos and fintechs, and why is this so important in helping deliver new and cheaper financial services and products?
Isaac Kamuta: Ecobank has a banking network that spans 33 countries in Africa—the largest of its kind. From the onset, the bank was created to help make financial transactions easy, not just in each country in Africa but also with intra-Africa payments.
Africa is part of global commerce and therefore we are extremely focused on helping the outside world access Africa for settlement purposes. This means that our proprietary pan-African banking network that connects directly to each of the local clearing systems is available to all those that need it. This includes not just global clients doing business in Africa, but also fintechs and telcos. For this reason, Ecobank today has partnerships with many of the leading fintechs and works very closely with the telcos on the mobile money space.
GF: Mobile technology increased financial inclusion in Africa. What are the next steps in serving both the unbanked and underbanked in the region?
Kamuta: Mobile technology has helped increase financial inclusion in Africa and we are proud to have helped in our own small way in making this happen, especially in our West and Central Africa markets where we are one of the largest banks. However, there is still work to be done.
First, the economies in Africa are growing quickly and the middle class is rising, hence the need for next-level financial services including structured lending products. Poverty in the continent is decreasing, although from a very low base, and therefore there’s a need for more structured banking needs like asset finance.
Also, despite the impressive financial-inclusion figures, cash is still prevalent in the continent. This is an issue we are extremely focused on and well-positioned to solve across Africa, given our pan-African presence.
GF: What other banking technologies will have the greatest impact for African businesses?
Kamuta: I think blockchain technology could be impactful in Africa even though there is lot of work required from the regulatory side. There is so much change coming through at the moment, and I think regulators are struggling to separate what’s real and will provide value-add to the African continent from what is just hype.
As you know, mobile money sort of sneaked in unnoticed by regulators until it was too late to stop the winds of change, but I don’t think anything else will manage to sneak in again. Regulators are wide awake!
GF: There has been an increase in intra-Africa clearing and trade and a rise in the use of local currencies. How interconnected are cross-border payments across Africa, and how might greater interoperability be achieved?
Kamuta: We are beginning to see a significant increase in intra-Africa trade, and with this comes payment transactions for settlement. With the signing of the African Continental Free Trade Area [CFTA] agreement, this can only increase.
Thankfully, most of the countries have implemented electronic clearing and settlements, including regional clearing systems for EAC [East African Community], SADC [Southern African Development Community], CEMAC [Central African Economic and Monetary Community] and UEMOA [West African Monetary and Economic Union]. This has laid the foundation required for seamless cross-border settlement in Africa with the possibility for interoperability as it matures.
Ecobank connects directly today to each of the domestic clearing systems in 33 countries in Africa, and already switches local currency transactions across our affiliates and for our cross-border products like Ecobank Rapid Transfer and Ecobank Omni.