AfricaNenda Advocates for Regulatory Harmonization and Date Sharing

Deepening Financial Inclusion in Africa: AfricaNenda proposes regulatory harmonization, data sharing

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Deputy CEO of AfricaNenda, Sabine Mensah has called on financial sector regulators in Africa to begin to move towards harmonizing regulations around cross-border payments to deepen financial inclusion and set the tone to make AfCFTA even more meaningful.

She also made an urgent appeal to central banks and payment switches across the continent to make relevant data readily available to ensure proper analysis and richer reports that will lead to more data-driven inclusive payment policies and systems on the continent.

Sabine Mensah made the call in an exclusive interview with Techfocus24 on the sidelines of the launch of the second edition of the State of Inclusive Instant Payment Systems (SIIPS) in Africa Report in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

The report was put together by AfricaNenda, a team of African experts in digital payment and financial inclusion, providing technical assistance, capacity building and bringing all the Africa and global industry benchmarks to help stakeholders fast-track the development of inclusive payment systems on the continent.

AfricaNenda taps on data from the various payment switches and industry regulators, where such data are available, and also conducts consumer research in putting together the SIIPS Report as a guiding document towards achieving mature inclusive instant payment systems on the continent by the year 2030.

Regulation Harmonization

Sabine Mensah noted that payment systems industry regulators across Africa have a critical role to play in Africa’s journey to full inclusivity by 2030, saying that even at the domestic level, interoperability of payment systems requires the regulator to be at the centre.

“The regulator also exists to ensure balance between the private sector operators (bank and non-bank) and consumers, to ensure that the schemes that are set really favours and pushes inclusion,” she said.

Sabine Mensah noted that a more critical role for the regulator now is in the area of facilitating cross-border payments, particularly within the context of the AfCFTA (Africa Continental Free Trade Area) agreement, where businesses are expected to serve customers beyond their domestic borders and therefore make and receive payments across borders.

“The regulators have an opportunity now to enable a seamless cross-border instant payments system across Africa. The complexity now is that there are regulations at the national and sub-regional levels but there is a need for regulation harmonization at the continental level, where there is a guiding principle that aligns the various domestic and sub-regional regulations to ensure instant payment is seamless across the continent,” she said.

This, she believes, will give rise to the emergence of Pan-African payment service providers that will key in into that enabling environment and serve businesses and individuals do seamless cross-border payments.

Areas of Harmonization

The AfricaNenda Deputy CEO said regulatory harmonization is required around licensing of financial service providers, taking into consideration proportionate risk licensing mechanisms, particularly for FinTechs, which provide agile solutions but do not take deposits from consumers.

Indeed, some FinTechs recently raised concerns about the fact that it takes two to three years to get one license in just one African country to serve just a single domestic market, as opposed to just three months to get a license in an European country to serve the entire EU market.

Whereas, regulators insist that the delay is part of strategies to protect the stability of the financial systems in African countries, such a delay is also counterproductive to the rollout of fintech innovation to bridge the financial inclusion gap.

Innovation Regulation

But, According to her, the biggest role for regulators in the harmonization matrix, is around innovation regulation, particularly in the face of over 400 million Africans being denied inclusive instant payment services because the relevant solutions to rope them in have not been enabled in many countries.

“Innovation is fast coming and we need to enable more customer-centric and instant payment solutions to bridge the huge gap. Regulators need to quickly find a balance between how to catch up with these innovations, create the enabling environment for experimentation of these solutions so that we can balance the benefit of financial inclusion with the risk of maintaining financial stability,” she said.

The Bank of Ghana has for instance launched a Regulatory and Innovation Sandbox, where various yet-to-be-licensed FinTech solutions are being experimented to ensure they do not pose any risks to the financial stability of the country before they are allowed to launch full scale.

Sabine Mensah also mentioned the need for harmonization of KYC (knowing your customer)  regulations and identity confirmation regulations, which ensure that it can be across borders to facilitate instant payments.

Data transparency

Beyond the critical role of regulatory harmonization, Sabine Mensah said regulators also have a duty to make data readily available to ensure comprehensive analysis and richer reports that will provide the basis for data-driven policies in the march towards financial inclusion on the continent.

She said, out of 32 payment systems currently active on the continent, AfricaNenda obtained data from only 22, with 10 of them sharing zero data, either because the data is not available or the system does not even meet the basic inclusive levels and so the data could not included in the analysis.

Out of the 22, only five central banks – Ghana, Rwanda, Kenya, Madagascar and Mozambique readily made data available, while 12 payment systems also made some data available and the rest were data obtained from the public domain.

 

The AfricaNenda Deputy Boss make particular mention of the Ghana Interbank Payments and Settlements Systems (GhIPSS) and the Bank of Ghana and how they each provided rich and properly disaggregated data, which AfricaNenda leveraged for the report.

Indeed, the GhIPSS CEO, Archie Hesse, stated during the launch of the SIIPS report that GhIPSS has eliminated the “centre only” fees for consumers based on data which indicated that banks could afford to bear that cost because they keep the float on the GhIPSS platform and they can invest that money and make some profit instead of burdening consumers with fees to GhIPSS.

Sabine Mensah expressed the hope that come next year, all 32 systems captured this year, plus others will make data readily available to ensure a richer report for the benefit of the ecosystem.

Gender Data Disaggregation 

 

Speaking of data sharing, Sabine Mensah also urged central banks and payment switches to impress it upon operators within their space to begin to disaggregate the data on the basis of gender to ensure that there is clarity on how many women are being left behind and what can be done to bring them along.

She said, this is important because over 60% of the 400 million Africans who are financial excluded are women, adding that, that is a huge gender gap in access and usage of financial services.

“For us to really assess the gap proper, we need to determine how many women have access and how many are actually using those service. Not many central banks and service providers in Africa are disaggregating their data by gender to enable a better understanding of the situation,” she said.

Sabine Mensah argued that if regulator mandates service providers to disaggregate their data by gender it will help stakeholders and policy to know, on a regular basis, the gender gap and therefore formulate data-driven policies to bridge the gap.

She noted, for instance that, per AfricaNenda’s consumer research, women raised concerns about access to devices, access to identify to open a digital account, lack of digital skills to use the service, and access to credit.

These concerns, she said, if properly captured in the data provided by operators, will drive policies around affordable devices, digital literacy programs, capacity building for agents to assist women navigate the digital finance space and providing other incentives to bridge the gender gap

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