Banking Survey 2020: Banks, fintechs and digitization: how the relevant institutions are responding to COVID-19

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…Banks and institutions that seek to revamp their digital frontiers with bouquet of digital platforms will cruise with efficiency, speed, consistency and appreciable returns

The world is evolving and things happen when you are not looking (interesting). Leadership researchers affirm that we are living in constant crises. Thus we live in a VUCA world (Hughes et al 2015). The world is constantly getting VOLATILE, interestingly becoming UNCERTAIN, unimaginably getting COMPLEX and mysteriously becoming AMBIGUOUS.

Covid-19 confirms the assertion that we live in VUCA times. It is basically a disrupter shaking the foundations of work, relationships and life in general. For me, I see covid-19 as a novel megatrend. It is a transformative force which will remodel the working landscape. In these current times, corporate leaders must not only manage the times. It won’t work. They must lead.

In order to lead in these times, Banks and Fintech Companies must innovate and leverage digitization with a focus to zero distances to customers especially in these times where social distancing protocols keep breaking the power of emotional connection between service professionals and customers who feel isolated. With the onset of Covid-19 and all the challenges and restrictions associated with it, there are beautiful opportunities within the crises.

So the Chinese didn’t get it wrong if their character for crisis depicts danger and opportunity. Back to the question. Can fintech and digitization respond to Covid-19 threats? My candid answer is YES! Banks and Fintech Companies must turn the threat into opportunities and discover their strengths and subsequently renew their pace by investing in digital Banking tools and wide-ranging Fintech Solutions.

Digital banking tools and general fintech solutions

Digital banking tools and all-purpose Fintech solutions, without a single doubt, have been very positive to banks and Fintech Institutions in these Covid-19 times. Institutions that have invested in relevant technology to facilitate banking, financial services and product sales have benefitted immensely in quality and standardized service delivery.

Such banks and financial services institutions have succeeded in offering banking and financial services to customers at their convenience while maintaining all the Covid-19 related protocols of restrictions, staying at home and social distancing etc. Banks and institutions that seek to revamp their digital frontiers with bouquet of digital platforms will cruise with efficiency, speed, consistency and appreciable returns. Internet Banking platforms for example bring individuals, commercial and corporate customers closer to their Banks.

The introduction of mobile banking apps, mobile money transactions, USSD services and general Fintech solutions have been deepened by prepared banks and institutions that intend to remain relevant. Main strategies are centred on understanding the customer journey and key customer activities aimed at mobilizing deposits and generating incomes through transactional fees among other activities for Banks and financial services providers.

During the ‘locked-down’ period in Ghana for example, several church programmes and gatherings were carried out online. Banks and SDIs with robust digital details found a way to collect church offerings, pledges, and tithe payments among others via Banking apps and mobile banking platforms.

The rise in the use of contactless cards where users tap and pay is currently trendy and thus receiving patronage. Additionally, Cardless transactions on ATM terminals that support less contact with ease of cashing out, meet Covid-19 protocols. The coronavirus pandemic will obviously push for a more contactless banking regime in Ghana.

It has always been somewhere in the air that digitization and the rise in Fintech solutions will peak in Sub-Saharan Africa although the major issue of digital divide persists. The conviction is hinged on the financial inclusion agenda embraced by leaders across the globe.

The 4th Ghana Economic Update report on enhancing financial inclusion produced in June 2019, hinted that the financial sector in Ghana has grown rapidly since 2010 and has increased the share of Ghanaians with access to formal financial services which is a measure of financial inclusion. Total financial sector assets grew from 53% to GDP in 2010 to 78% in 2017. Over the past 5 years access to financial service points have increased tremendously which also contributed massively to the country’s financial inclusion agenda.

Currently, Fintech is a ‘good’ driver on a highway. B&FT captured on February 10, 2020 that mobile money transactions have dominated financial inclusion drive to the extent that mobile money transactions have doubled cheque transactions. Data from BoG confirms that mobile money transactions recorded GHs32.8 billion in value as at the end of 2019 which is 45% in value from 2018.

Even before the onset of the Covid-19, the best move for any forward-looking bank was to be positioned and well aligned to the opportunities that Fintech provides. With the current Covid-19 threats or opportunities (depending on where you stand), the value proposition of Digital Financial Services- DFS- has been given emphasis in Virtual and Digital Banking roadmap of every good Banking institution. If government institutions and private businesses are inclined and positioned towards Fintech solutions and e-payments for products and services, Banks do not have any excuse.

Increase in fintech and digital banking patronage

Before Covid-19, Banks had digital banking patronage as well as Fintech and mobile money transactions which are part of the common financial services transactions. The trade secret remains that fintech and digital banking must learn to grow together. I call it the Strategic collaborative competition; which is why I always like to marry the two. Mobile money for example is highly patronized in Ghana. The use of the mobile money agent distribution network has been a successful concept in Ghana. Active distribution agents increased from about 6,000 in 2012 to more than 150,000 in 2017 across the country.

According to the World Bank, Ghana is the fastest growing mobile-money market in Africa increasing its customer base to almost 12 million as at year end 2019. Government’s facilitation of interoperability across payment instruments by establishing mobile money switching solutions provided a resurgence and great enthusiasm among users in augmenting phone-to-phone transactions where customers controlled daily cash dealings from their palms. When Ghana Interbank Payment Settlement Systems (GhIPPS) introduced the first mobile switch platform in Africa in May 2018, the opportunities within the Fintech space were heightened.

Industry players had no option than to leverage the platform and the whole mobile money, fintech and other solutions to develop products and services.  For example, retail loans within certain thresholds were disbursed via mobile money in some banks. In 2020 and in these Covid-19 times, Banks have invested in Omni-channels to increase banking options and platforms for customers.

Before Covid-19, Universal Merchant Bank Ghana Limited- UMB- for example in branch to monthly digital patronage revolved around 79% – 82%. During Covid-19 and presently, the Bank recorded a spike with over 92% digital uptake. The Bank still records in branch transactions of remittances, momo cash out and Cheque payments.

The highest transacting digital service is the Mobile app, ATM, I-bank among other services. With this take-off, the Bank can only drive more innovations to ensure that customers’ expectations are met if not exceeded, as a progressive Bank. What’s more? Banks are currently moving towards WhatsApp banking, social media banking and very soon digital account opening (which will require a more reformed means of addressing KYC issues).

Gaps not a snag

As an emerging economy with issues of digital divide, general gaps and challenges are anticipated, which require immediate remediation and constant dialogues.  Apart from network connectivity issues, Banks and institutions in general need new Senior Management Regimes (SMR). The customer base of banks are changing.

Active customers of Banks are digital natives or millennials if you like. These customers are progressive and ready for change. Thus, Banks and institutions must be agile, ready to adapt and digital all the way. There is the need for enhanced Technological platforms. Most existing technologies deployed do require some levels of upgrades. Banks and financial services institutions must stop playing catch up! Digital adoption is also not easily attractive especially for the moderate to low levels of masses.

Hence, flexibility, constant learning, technology and basic digital literacy are crucial for users too. There are also the issues of investing in Cyber security by Banks and institutions as well as the cost of using internet – data bundles, Wi-Fi etc by customers. Cyber fraudsters are currently cloning ATM Cards to loot cash and also resorting to the old school tricks of impersonation in various real cybercrime stories. Digitization goes with education. Banks and relevant institutions must note this!

Going forward

Digital transformation and innovation will remain the fulcrum around which digital banking will twirl. Most banks around the world have adopted omni-channel banking and this would be inevitable to ensure that about 90% of banking services are carried out by customers on their own and at any time without necessarily walking into physical banking halls.

There will be more branchless banking and that is the way to go in the immediate inexpressible future. Banking operations will therefore involve customer self-service points. Banks will additionally generate and increase their income lines, fees and commissions from Banking App transactions, internet banking, use of multiple aggregating platforms, scan and pay, cardless and contactless payments and other service touchpoints.

Conclusion

I know some families have lost their loved ones in these times. My deepest condolences. I know some businesses also went down during these trying times and I am also aware of persons and professionals who lost their jobs. You may be down but not out. I would like to encourage you to get up and remain resolute because life has a way of rewarding the bold. To Banks, don’t cower. I see this period presenting a golden opportunity. If Banks lead the march to be digital transformers, they wouldn’t only survive, they’ll progress in these times and beyond Covid-19.

With the good regulatory rigor by the Bank of Ghana towards the promulgation of payment systems and services Act, 2019 Act 987 to foster digital transformation and drive financial inclusion, good collaborative engagements between all the e-money players in Ghana will promote some level of trust in e-transactions and banking activities shared between major players like banks, Telcos, Fintech, regulators, customers and more.

Some regulatory interventions such as the launch of the three policies (National Financial Inclusion and Development Strategy, Digital Financial Services Policy and Cash lite Roadmap) are to enhance greater collaborations to drive innovations and the financial inclusion plan. These interventions have become even more relevant to Banks and Financial Institutions in these Covid-19 times.

Given the emergence of Artificial Intelligence and other innovations, Banking is moving to a higher echelon and the Banking institutions that will survive will need higher improvements in their capacities and competencies to drive the next level of banking revolution. Here, predictive analytics will be critical to pre-empt and provide services to customers before they request. Big data analytics, heightened artificial intelligence and machine learning will make it possible to excite customers and ensure that promises are consistent with services.

To this end, the future is digital and very promising, the opportunities are endless and interesting, technology is available and predictive, human resources requirements are evolving, learning, relearning and unlearning are critical and most importantly Leaders of Banks and relevant institutions must not just manage in these Covid-19 times, they must Lead and be excited about the future of Banking and Fintech solutions.

I am a realist and I always embrace change. Change must be purposeful and deliberate for corporate leaders to lead in the order of things. Banks and relevant institutions must directly get involved in technological innovation deployments to control and define change destinations in response to Covid-19 disruptions. Covid-19 is not turning events upside-down. Covid-19 is asking us to think ahead of disruptions.

>>>Richard Kwarteng Ahenkorah is a Member of the Chartered Institute of Marketing Ghana and an Honorary Fellow at the Chartered Institute of Credit Management, Ghana.  He participated in the 2018 Harvard Business School’s Global Executive Programme on Driving Corporate Performance in Boston Massachusetts, USA.

He is an adjunct Lecturer in Strategic Leadership & Management and a Member of the Governing Council at the Accra Business School.  He is the Career Author of the Bestselling Corporate Leadership Development book: YOUR JOURNEY TO THE TOP, a Columnist on Leadership with Business & Financial Times and the Vision Bearer of the Eagle Knowledge Institute. Richard has a knack for Change Management, Leadership, Business Development, Corporate Communication, Strategy, Workplace structures, People Development and Culture. Richard is currently the Director of Strategy & Growth at UMB.

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