Banking Survey 2020: Fintechs and banks’ digitisation in response to COVID-19

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If there is any significant intervention that has changed the financial sector and landscape over the last decade in Ghana, it is undoubtedly the emergence of mobile money. This has been made possible through the collaboration of Fintechs, Mobile Network Operators (MNO) and the Banks.

It`s an undeniable fact that, today, banks that are sitting pretty good on deposits (liabilities) and those with bigger market share are lenders who have partnered with fintechs and telcos to take the game to the next level.

The 2019 audited financial statements released by the banks affirm this assertion. According to a report by Research and Markets, Ghana’s mobile money industry reached a transaction value of US$36.1billion in 2018 and is expected to reach a transaction value of US$204.3billion by 2024, growing at a CAGR of 32.5% during 2019-2024.

If the numbers we are seeing from Bank of Ghana`s payments statistics are anything to go by, that balance on float may hit some GH¢3.9billion by 2020. However, in the wake of the novel corona virus (COVID 19), how have the banks leveraged fintechs to improve innovation, digitize and maximize the opportunities thereof?

International developments on the global fintech scene

Globally, the fintech sector has been characterised by dynamic growth in its user base and range of products and services, as well as capitalisation and market valuation. This trend is supported by specific demand, supply and technological factors. The majority of fintech solutions are based directly on innovation in retail services, but, at the same time, there is an increasing number of innovative digital service development in the corporate segment.

In terms of the new and advanced technologies, the application of artificial intelligence may have the strongest impact on the financial sector in the short run. Progress in fintech solutions is also driving regulatory reforms and regulators are taking key interest to ensure that all fintechs are licensed globally.

Major global drivers supporting the growth of fintech sector

Source: MNB

Fintech landscape in Ghana

The last time I checked, there were over 40 fintech companies and start-up firms in Ghana. The number may even have increased by now. Looking at the fact that the numbers are increasing so fast, Bank of Ghana had no option than to establish the Fintech and Innovation Centre to regulate the industry and bring some sanity. This I believe is a step in the right directions.

Key players like Express Pay, Slyde Pay, IT Consortium, Emergent (Formerly Interpay), Hubtel, CoreNett, Digi teller, Pay Say, Bloom Impact, Inclusive, Accelerex, BTC Ghana, Bit Land-just to mention few have transformed and shaped financial services in collaboration with the MNOs and Banks in Ghana. Some fintechs have acted as payment gateways, banking tech, blockchain, investment tech, mobile wallet, lending and payroll management service providers.

Interestingly, most of the fintech solutions I have seen are more retail services led, but more innovative corporate products are also appearing on the market gradually. This is where the solutions such as Person to Person (P2P) or Business to Consumer (B2C) solutions they have provided during the pandemic become so crucial.

Beyond Ghana, almost half of the fintech solutions globally available on the market were produced for retail purposes in 2018. Few of these were for SMEs and large companies. The ongoingcorona virus pandemic has caused the need to focus on this niche market.

Moreover, recent developments in mobile money interoperability in Ghana have boosted the efficiency and accessibility to transfer money easily for various applications. It is as if we knew there was going to be a global crisis which will necessitate the need for interoperability.

The EMI (Electronic Money Issuers) Guidelines introduced by the Bank of Ghana has also contributed a lot to the growth of mobile money system in the Ghana. In addition to this, various other factors are also accelerating the growth of the market such as government support, rising internet penetration, implementation of interoperability and increasing financial literacy.

Picture 2: Banks and fintechs drive innovation

Digitisation of the banking system

Until recently, a lot of banks were seeing fintechs as competitors but thankfully that mindset has changed over time. Many financial institutions and bank branches were operating on standalone basis without the necessary connectivity within the bank branch network. For example, there were times customers were referred to their domiciled branches to undertake various amendments such us customer profile update information’s, cheque book request etc. This was because, most banks were using legacy core banking systems which were not agile, adaptable and scalable.

However, with the insurgence of fintechs, this has been made possible through the help of Application Payments Interface (APIs) and other connectivity options. The wake of COVID-19 has even made it worse and has necessitated banks to reimagine and rethink how to reach out to their customers.

Have banks responded to COVID-19?

As some people put it, COVID-19 has provided an opportunity in disguise for companies to reshape business models, work culture and technology. The good thing amid this pandemic is that, most banks have invested heavily in technology and deployed capital to work together with fintechs to reach their clientele base. Some of the new developments and trends in the wake of the pandemic is that most banks begun to place more emphasis on their retail and digital channels to serve their customers.

In fact, I would say the digital maturity of the banking system is at a medium level.  And it is on that basis that, digitalisation of internal operations show a more favorable picture. However, in terms of interactions with external stakeholders, several areas require development. Developments to ease digital access to products and modernise contact with clients need to be considered.

As banks may continue to face income risk and grapple with deteriorating credit conditions due to COVID-19, they must also deal with operational risks associated with disruptions in the workforce and service providers. But above all, these financial institutions will have to maintain sufficient capital to meet prudential requirements in light of higher risk-weighted assets (RWAs) from the uncertainty and heightened risks.

In spite of the ease of customer loan repayments, stimulus packages to relieve customers etc, I must say a lot of banks have responded so well in Ghana since the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of banks have been very innovative, leveraged technology and fintechs to drive the digitalisation and financial inclusion agenda.

For instance, some banks who hitherto had their Automated Teller Machines (ATM) not accepting cash had to upgrade to accept and dispense cash. This is to minimize customers visiting the branches where there is the possibility of spreading the virus. Some banks have recorded 99% uptime on ATMs. The need for the digitisation of customer interaction has increasingly become necessary and this should be seen in the light of medium to long time recovery plans.

The supports banks have given to their staff during this corona virus pandemic, isunprecedented! For instance, before the COVID-19, and the lockdown restrictions, I worked from home every Thursday and this is because my employer believes in a health andwellbeing of its employees. That said, a lot of banks have made provision for its staff to work from home, providing dongles and data bundles, Laptops etc. As industry watchers have said, life will not be the same after COVID-19. There is the need to for banks to continue the innovations.

Fintechs are undoubtedly part of the solution to the problem and banks should continue their commitment to strengthen ties with financial technology ecosystem, from which new opportunities for the financial sector will keep emerging.

Technological innovation, faster than ever

The truth of the matter is that, many activities have come to a halt due to the coronavirus crises. However, at the same time various levels of innovations have been happening at a much faster rate so that fintechs can find a solution quickly and probably inexpensive. This acceleration is happening much faster because fintechs are more agile and collaborating with banks to deplore ideas and solutions to the table.

To sum it up, the impact of fintechs and banks in response to the corana virus pandemic cannot be underestimated, the synergies between them must continue. The future is always uncertain, but coronavirus has even escalated this uncertainty further. We are moving towards a new paradigm in which customers are going to be more digital and volatile. Definitely, fintechs are going to be the big winners, and the banking sector must collaborate to remain relevant.

Credit:https://www.pwc.com/sg/en/publications/banking-industry-responding-to-the-impact-of-the-covid-19.html, ResearchAndMarkets.com, https://www.bbva.com/banks, Lawyer  Miriam Amoako (Opuni -Frimpong)

Disclaimer: The views expressed are personal views and doesn’t represent that of the media house or institution the writer works

About the writer

Carl Odame-Gyenti, PhD is Finance and Telecom enthusiast, managing Banks and Non-Bank Financial Institutions, local and global Custodians, Trustees, Pension and Asset Managers, Insurance and Fintech relationships with an international Bank in Ghana. Contact:  [email protected], Cell: +233-200301110

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