Digitalisation and financial empowerment


by Brian Richardson, CEO of WIZZIT International
FEBRUARY 20, 2018

financial inclusion and mobile networks

Financial inclusion is a key enabler of sustainable economic and social development. Initiatives by the United Nations and the World Bank Group continue to drive financial inclusion and it has become a priority for regulators and policymakers worldwide.


Out of 7.5 billion people and a mobile phone in almost every pocket, two billion adults worldwide are unbanked. Financial service providers (FSPs), FinTechs and mobile network operators (MNOs) offer superior solutions to bridge the gap. However, despite the size, reach and power of banks and MNOs, little impact is being achieved on the number of unbanked. The numbers remain essentially unchanged over the last decade which is shameful.


Regulation is often blamed as a major barrier. What doesn’t help either are statements from European Central Bank executive board member Yves Mersch, who has given a spirited defence of cash, praising its ability to facilitate privacy, equality and security, insisting there is "no viable alternative". India have spent over $1billion to acquire 500 million mobile wallet users – the majority of whom are previously unbanked. A tightening of compliance regulation means that 40% of these accounts will be closed. PayTM have allocated $500 million to get the KYC (Know Your Customer) correctly done for 280 million customers. Maybe most of the customers will simply say – “it is easier to stick with cash”.


Digitalisation is the key to financial inclusion. Basic transactional accounts should be a birthright, together with a concerted effort by governments to remove cash and to support every effort towards financial inclusion. Illegal and illicit activities such as money laundering and funding of terrorist activities are facilitated predominantly through cash. The sooner we accept this fact, the better. What is urgently required is the removal of cash and the enforcement of policies that promote simple and seamless access to bank accounts for all. This provides full audit trails of every single transaction. Digitalisation will go a long way to making a meaningful difference. Does this mean the creation of digital only banks.


McKinsey believe that there are 5 routes to digitalisation that a bank can adopt:


    - Go it alone and transform existing operations. Not easy to do. Very expensive and time consuming.


    - Build a digital bank – It has cost Virgin Money £38,3 million to date. For other the cost is closer to $100 million.


    - Partner with a fintech. This can be achieved in a matter of months at nominal costs if you partner with a company like WIZZIT International with a 13 year global track record.


    - Partner with a telco/MNO – there are very few success stories and  failures have been very expensive.



Telco’s/MNO’s have the reach and understand the power of marketing. Banks understand compliance and systems. As a leading global FinTech, WIZZIT International works effectively with all leading MNOs and banks in providing digital financial services. However, instead of embracing mutually beneficial partnerships, MNOs in some countries refuse to give banks access to their Unstructured Supplementary Service Data or USSD gateways.


The bulk of mobile phones in developing markets are feature phones and the USSD channel provides functionality that is quick, safe and easily accessible from all mobile phones. For the vast majority, USSD will remain the clear channel of choice for many years to come. To date, it is the most successfully integrated and widely adopted technology for financial services in emerging markets and the lower end of the market.


MNOs in some countries seem to think that by denying banks access, they can create a bigger market for their own financial service offerings. This is most evident in countries like Angola and the Democratic Republic of Congo where the unbanked populations are 71% and 89% respectively. This abuse of power is tantamount to anti-competitive behaviour and is creating a major barrier to financial inclusion, something communication regulators should be aware of. The lack of progress in these and other emerging markets may well be the result of the prejudiced practices of Telcos gatekeeping access to the USSD gateway.


As smart phones become more affordable, so will the popularity of app-powered platforms as a channel for financial services. However, until there is a dramatic decrease in the cost of smart phones, the number of feature phones will remain at around 70% in the developing markets. USSD is still therefore critically important and banks will depend on MNOs for access – unless as has happened in some markets, banks get their own MNVO licence and control their own destiny.

It will be argued that banks cannot be all things to all people and effectively service all segments of the market. It will also be argued that bank regulators are not there to protect banks from innovative competition from non-banks such as MNOs, Apple, Samsung, Google, Amazon, Pay Pal and Alipay. However, governments and global agencies are putting enormous pressure on banks to drive financial inclusion and this is taking on increasing importance.


To collaborate or not to collaborate


The Mobile Banking industry globally started some 12 years ago with WIZZIT (South Africa), Mpesa (Kenya) and GCash (Philippines) recognised as the early pioneers. It is interesting to note that there has not been a single successful partnership between banks and MNOs despite numerous attempts.


Perhaps a truly strategic collaborative model is still a ways off and competition between banks and MNOs is here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future. The question is whether or not this competition is supporting global efforts on financial inclusion through digital financial services.  


Customers are demanding digitalisation. Customers want a safe place to keep their money; they want to be able to access it; they want to be able to make payments; they want to be able to build a financial track record so that they can avail of credit as and when they need it. To do this, the certainly do not need to go into a branch! As someone said –“Banks are dead – long live banking”. If banks do not respond the chances are, much like the Post Office, they will have great infrastructure with very few customers and relevant products. Some opinion leaders are giving the banks a life san of 5 years if they do not re-invent themselves and embrace the digital age.


The way forward


Digitisation and mobile penetration will continue to drive the growing trend of MNOs and FSPs infiltrating each other’s space to gain traction in new services. However, these rapidly blurring lines are bound to spark territorial claims regarding customers. This could impede financial inclusion if it lacks the required consumer protection measures and regulations.


The next major wave is around e-commerce and on line shopping. Retail stores globally are closing rapidly. Almost 50% of the world’s population are totally excluded from this convenient and cost effective way of shopping because they do not have the means to pay. E-commerce and on line shopping simply does not work with cash! However, of the currently banked people with access to credit cards, 50% of this segment do not shop on line because of the fear of fraud and their credit card being skimmed. Hence the introduction of a virtual card gives Banks and FSP’s (Financial Service Providers) a massive opportunity. Please have a look at a video on the Virtual card on the following website - http://www.wizzit-int.com.


The Bank that moves first and fastest will have an enormous opportunity.


Governments must regulate competitive behaviour amongst all role players and promote cross-sector collaboration towards financial inclusion. It is essential for countries to enforce policies that promote responsible financial access, financial capability, innovative products and delivery mechanisms. Any initiative that promotes financial inclusion should be praised and much work needs to be done.


McKinsey go on to claim the benefits of financial inclusion include:


- An additional 1,6 billion financially included people

- An Increase in deposits of $4,2 trillion

- An increase in credit of $2,1 trillion

- Creating 95 million jobs

- An increase of $3,7 trillion in GDP = 6%


An opportunity that banks quite simply cannot ignore – or if they do – others certainly will not.


For further information please contact Brian Richardson – BrianR@wizzit-int.com



Brian Richardson is the co-founder and group CEO of WIZZIT International. Brian is recognised globally as a disruptive innovator in the financial services space. He's fostered powerful partnerships with major FSPs around the world to advance mobile banking technology.