Will the West African Cocoa nation emerge at the forefront of the Fintech Race?
The spotlight is not new to Ghana. Famed for its cocoa and gold mines, the country is equally discussed for its heavy debt/GDP and economically underdeveloped status. However, according to some reports, Ghana is now on the cusp of an upswing as economic numbers and a few emerging trends portend an impressive turn in the economic curve of the country.
Key positive observations on the prevailing economic conditions
- Ghana is one of the fastest growing nations on the West African Its 2019 GDP grew at 6.5% with non-oil GDP growing at 5.8%. For 2020, GDP is expected to grow at 1.50%.
- With a sizeable population, the country is one of the biggest recipients of foreign direct investments with total inflows of about $3bn.
- The positives from reduced inflation and improved interest costs are eclipsed by the high debt/GDP ratio.
- The government’s commitment to leveraging innovative technology is evident in the introduction of a digital address system and the ongoing registration for the biometric national identification cards
However, it is important to note that the positive trends were visible only pre-COVID. The landscape has now decidedly changed. Thus, it is important to create a future agenda through the prism of COVID-19 ramifications. Having said that, the vaccine drives currently ongoing in several parts of the world bring with them a promise to restore what is lost. This is likely to create an opportunity for Ghana to build a robust ecosystem on foundation of technology innovation and bring its dreams of growth to fruition. For a country like Ghana, FINTECH is both a challenge and an opportunity – one that can act as a catalyst for its growth.
Ghana and Technology
Interestingly, Ghana was the first state in the continent of Africa to have embraced the internet far way back in 1994. Additionally, the country’s mobile penetration is relatively high with mobile telephony at 136.79%. An interesting observation here is that most individuals in urban Ghana carry more than one mobile phone or at least subscribe to dual SIMs. At the same time, internet usage is fast burgeoning to the point of saturation.
However, internet stays an expensive affair in the state. This needs a rapid correction in order to improve financial inclusion. The good news again is that banks have been cognisant of the provision of banking and financial services through technology. Payment technology is the knight in the shining armour for Ghana with mobile money services topping the charts and putting Ghana in number one position in the mobile money market across Africa.
Fintech in Ghana
The Central Bank has played a leading role in these modernization efforts, which have been mainly driven by increased financial activity as evidenced by growing volumes and values of digital payment transactions. The Fintech sector is one of the youngest sub-sectors of the Ghanaian Economy with a significant number of companies operating in the payments arena. Mobile money is the headliner in the Ghanaian digital finance and fintech industry. Currently, there are a few companies offering digital payment platforms to customers and businesses through various channels such as USSD, mobile applications, websites, offline point of sale devices, etc.
Improving payment systems is at the heart of the Central Bank and Government’s agenda to lead Ghana into a cashless economy, which can’t be achieved without Financial Technology — FinTech. In March 2019, Ghana passed the Payment Systems and Services Act to boost digitization processes, liberalize payment systems, and regulate electronic money businesses and institutions that provide payment services. The Central Bank also launched a five-year strategy for improving payments to foster the growth of electronic payments and increase financial inclusion
Financial inclusion, access to efficient credit system, use of insurance products to alleviate financial risks, improved business costs, inculcating a savings habit, and improving livelihood promise opportunities which are bigger and the net only gets wider.
However, as mentioned previously, there are also several challenges that need to be addressed. Apart from exorbitant telecom charges, high-cost inputs, lack of financial and digital illiteracy, increasing cybercrime, etc. there have been a few basic gaps in the current fintech space. Many of those who are rushing to provide payment system solutions do not understand the base problem faced by businesses and individuals. On the other hand, those who do understand, are still working on traditional methods and focusing on easy and potentially huge margins. This leaves behind a sizeable gap which needs to be addressed by Fintech.
This needs a rapid correction if the augmentation of Fintech needs to break ceilings in the country. We need to believe and act upon the maxim, “seize the opportunity as it might not come again”.
This also reminds me of Chris Skinner’s words, “Ignoring technological change in a financial system based upon technology is like a mouse starving to death because someone moved their cheese.”
Well! Will Ghana embrace the changes with open arms and rush to take the first spot in Fintech in Africa?
Time is rolling and Ghana will certainly put more than positive results on the table.
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The writer is the Vice President Finance | CFO – Ghana & MBTN (WAF3) at Olam International Limited,
Angel Investor and a Fintech enthusiast