The digital currency revolution and its implications for SMEs


Cash they say is king, but the cash we have come to cherish may no longer be the printed paper and embossed coins decorated with the faces of dead statemen. Cash will become a string of codes recognised by highly sophisticated computer algorithms which we can either store in our mobile phone or download onto USB pen-drives and other offline cards. These changes will significantly affect how we think and run our businesses in the long-term.

While the wide adoptions of electronic payments like mobile money, e-zwich, visa, etc have improved business efficiency, challenges such as transaction cost, poor mobile network (internet) connections, limited/unstable electricity supply threaten the confidence of electronic payments in Africa hence the need for a new approach.

Central Bank Digital Currency (CBDC)

Inspired by the impact of Satoshi Nakamoto’s blockchain revolution of decentralising money, central banks across the world (83 percent) are experimenting the idea of creating money directly onto our phones. This new money is called the Central Bank Digital Currency. The Bank for International Settlements (BIS) forecasts that 20 percent of the world will live in a country with CBDC in just three years. China has already rolled it out, the Bank of Ghana and 5 other central banks across Africa are equally lacing their boots for this ‘stimulating voyage’.

The Status Quo

For over 250 years, the banking system revolved around the model where commercial banks take deposits and create new money as loans in a process called fractional reserve banking. This enabled governments to quickly respond to economic indicators (e.g., inflation, unemployment) by controlling interest rates and money supply through their central banks. CBDC will revolutionize the ancient banking model which will have the following implications for businesses:

  1. Reduced transaction costs

Under the current model, banks charge businesses (between 2-5%) for processing transactions on electronic platforms. Since central banks have a public policy objective and not profit objective, CBDC fees will be virtually free because the platform is owned by the central bank. SMEs who were reluctant to integrate electronic payments due to high transaction costs have another chance to do same for virtually free.

  1. Access to better credit

If CBDC were effective today across Africa, SMEs in Nigeria could pay a loan interest rate of less than 10 percent, whiles businesses in Ghana pay 14 percent interest rate for loans directly from the central bank. Unfortunately, we currently pay 25 percent to commercial banks in Ghana. This CBDCs in full swing, SMEs can grow with cheaper loans, create more jobs and generate more taxes.

  1. Instant settlement and flexibility

Unlike cheques, SWIFTs etc, CBDC settlements are instantly executed, this is even possible without internet connection, the currency can be transferred unto cards or USB drives and stored away in safe places for use in the future. This offline usage of CBDC is particularly important in Africa because of the limited access to internet connections. Instant settlements will improve the liquidity of SMEs because we no longer need to wait for long processing days (2 days for Visa & Mastercard) before receiving the cash.

  1. International Trade Made Easier

International payments for goods and services by local businesses largely require SWIFT transfer between banks in Africa and their counterparts globally, these transfers are expensive and take several days to settle. However, with CBDC, companies can instantly transfer their local digital cash for across border transactions. Currently some leading central banks (European Central Bank, UK, Canada, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland) in collaboration with BIS are comparing notes to ensure easy convertibility of their respective currencies. This means easier payment a quicker turnaround time for imports and exports.

  1. Cyber-Warfare is just warming up

With our growing daily dependence on technology, cybercrime is estimated to cost US$10.5 trillion annually by 2025 a whopping 10 percent of world GDP. Ceteris-paribus, this could cost Africa about US$300million and Ghana close to US$10million. Some SMEs are likely to be caught in this crossfire.

Entrepreneurs should begin to take issues like cyber security more seriously. Fortunately, we do not need to own expensive IT infrastructure anymore. Cloud is the way to go; providers like Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Vodafone Business have made it affordable to SMEs across the globe to securely host and process data.

Downside Risks

If you have ever driven at midnight through the city in search of a working ATM, then the mere thought of a future without physical cash sounds petrifying. This means a faulty server could trigger anxiety. Certain businesses strive based on the discrete nature of their operations and the possibility that payments received can be used to trace back their customers is unpleasant.

Businesses purported to be opposition-friendly and discerning voices with genuine causes could surfer some horrifying consequences in the hands of some African political actors who have little regard for the rule of law.

In conclusion

Even though CBDC implementation in some form is inevitable in the long-term, its rollout will only complement existing banking systems because of financial stability, privacy and culture. Nevertheless, there are gains for our collective security i.e., Anti-Money Laundering, terrorism financing, etc.

In all, the CBDC means better financial inclusion in Africa which has the potential to decrease transaction costs, improve the ease-of-doing-business and provide cheaper loans for a more sustainable growth and job creation.

>>>The writer is a serial entrepreneur, a consultant and a philanthropist. His passion is for the development of Africa through aggressive entrepreneurial initiatives. He runs a blog and video series called Consider., [email protected]


Leave a Reply