According to the Official Ghana Demand Side Survey 2021, Ghana has achieved its financial access target of 85 percent set by the National Financial Inclusion and Development Strategy 2018 – 2023 ahead of the end of the target year – 2023.
As noted by the survey, by the end of the year 2021, Ghana had attained financial access rates of 95 percent for formally served and 94 percent for other formal (non-bank) of its adult population from 2010 rates of 41 percent and 20 percent, respectively. These impressive results pushed Ghana to the 2nd position of Africa’s least financially excluded countries, having reduced its financial exclusion rate from 44 percent in 2010 to 4 percent in 2011.
What is driving these remarkable levels of financial access are innovations deployed by financial sector players, such as banks, telecommunication, and financial technology (Fintech) companies, over the years. And leading such innovations is mobile money, which has been shown to have made the highest contribution to the attainment of the current rates of financial access.
While ‘access’ to financial services or tools is the first step in the pursuit of financial inclusion and necessary for sustainable economic growth, social inclusion and poverty reduction, it is imperative that one’s financial access is attained. Efforts must be made to drive other critical elements of financial inclusion, such as the use of the financial services, retention of users in the financial sector, and their continuous participation in the use of new financial tools. And emerging innovations pioneered by Fintech companies offer an opportunity to accelerate the achievement of holistic financial inclusion, where end-user participation is enhanced and sustained.
Therefore, the purpose of this article is to discuss how some toolkits in the Fintech innovations space can be leveraged to drive the next level of financial inclusion beyond financial access in Ghana.
Financial inclusion and emerging innovations
Largely, an agenda for financial inclusion is pursued to enable or create access to financial services or tools for the hitherto population that did not have access to financial services – called the unbanked population. And as the vision of the National Financial Inclusion and Development Strategy illustrates, the aim of financial inclusion in Ghana has been “increasing the availability of a broad range of affordable and quality financial services that meet the needs of all Ghanaians and are provided by sound, responsible and innovative financial institutions”.
In line with this vision, several private and public sector initiatives have been promoted over the years to create avenues for the onboarding of the unbanked population in Ghana – including the roll-out of regulations for payment system innovations, leading to the deployment of mobile money services, electronic payments, merchant payment services, remittances, among other Fintech innovations.
The influence of emerging Fintech innovations on driving financial access is obvious and notable. Mobile money, a payment vehicle which was absent in 2010, contributed a whopping 87 percent, according to the Demand Side Survey, to the 94 percent access rate recorded for the other formal (non-bank) channel in 2021. Further, mobile money has virtually opened financial accounts in the palms of Ghanaians and at the end of February 2023, according to the statistics from the Bank of Ghana, e-money user accounts stand at 56,679,032 for a population of approximately 32 million Ghanaians.
Clearly, these impacts demonstrate the growing influence of new innovations particularly within the payment ecosystem, and the opportunities for the roll-out of new verticals on the existing payment rails to drive full financial inclusion in Ghana.
Emerging innovations, such as digital wallets, mobile banking, Insurtech, remittances, micro-lending, peer-to-peer lending and credit, credit scoring, etc., have the potential to unlock the full participation of the underbanked population and promote the inclusion of the unbanked population in existing and emerging financial services.
At the forefront of the development of these innovations are banks and Fintech companies. While traditional banks continue to champion known retail banking services with technological upgrades, Fintech companies are emerging to provide digital solely versions of traditional banking services – such as lending, payments, transfers, remittances, etc. – on a scale, speed, convenience, etc. reaching the underbanked and unbanked population due to high mobile phones penetration and Internet connectivity.
Leveraging these new innovations, banks and Fintech companies are enabling easier, more convenient, and more efficient ways to transact and participate in the financial services sector either by way of payments, credit, investments or savings – a demonstration of the new possibilities of financial service tools.
Despite the attainment of the current high financial access rate, barriers still exist to the continuous use of existing financial tools, adoption of varied financial services, and participation in the use of new tools. This is reflected in the low patronage rates recorded for financial verticals, such as savings & investments, transactions, credit, insurance and remittances, in the Official Ghana Demand Side Survey 2021.
To upscale usage to the comparable levels of financial access as the next level of driving holistic financial inclusion – version 2.0, the innovations that have helped achieve the incredible access rates within the shortest possible time must be leveraged to unlock the use, retention and upgrade potentials for the existing banked population and new ones joining the financial sector.
Fintech innovations to drive financial inclusion 2.0
- Artificial intelligence (AI) & machine learning – The functional ability of AI to collect, process and analyse large quantities of data has been utilised by many service providers, particularly in the finance sector, to enhance their products and services. This developing capability can be used by financial service providers to recognise consumer patterns, forecast market trends, understand customer behaviour, and offer more customised financial products and services. By providing more personalised solutions, financial institutions can increase customer loyalty and raise their customer lifetime value.
Equally, while AI has been employed by most financial service providers to enhance customer experience through the adoption of virtual assistants and chatbots, the technology can be further leveraged by financial service providers to identify opportunities to upgrade their existing products and services through the analysis of customer feedback from their interactions with these virtual assistants and AI-powered chatbots. This can help financial service providers create better products and services that meet the evolving needs of their customers.
Additionally, AI-driven algorithms can process vast amounts of data to deliver tailored financial advice and services to customers. This can assist customers in making better-informed decisions about their finances and enhancing their overall financial well-being. For instance, AI-powered chatbots can offer personalised financial recommendations based on a customer’s spending patterns and financial objectives.
Fintech firms can harness big data and machine learning to develop novel credit-scoring models that facilitate access to credit for underprivileged populations. The conventional credit-scoring systems typically depend on traditional credit histories, which may impede individuals with no credit history or poor credit scores from securing credit. By employing alternative data sources like social media activity and mobile phone usage, Fintech companies can establish innovative credit-scoring models, which can enable a broader range of individuals to access credit.
In terms of risk management, AI can help financial service providers manage risk through real-time consumer and market data analysis as well as harnessing its predictive tools in identifying potential market and consumer risks before they escalate. This can help reduce the risk of financial losses and improve overall financial stability, as financial service providers are well-positioned and equipped to deal with any shortfalls which may arise. An instance is the enhancement of AI to identify potential investment portfolio risks to divert any investment losses.
Issues of cyber-security have become very crucial in this digital age considering the varied digital payment and transactional solutions designed by Fintech companies as well as the ease of access to consumer data. Through its efficiency in analysing data in real-time as well as its diagnostic ability, AI can detect suspicious patterns and flag potential cyber-attacks. This is very critical considering the proliferation in the digital activities of consumers as well as easy accessibility to such data. Financial service providers must explore this advantage for enhanced service delivery to curtail avoidable losses.
- Regulatory Technology (RegTech) – Given the wide range of regulatory requirements placed on Fintech companies and the complex regulatory environment governing the solutions offered by these companies, this technology can be adopted by the regulator to create a uniform compliance, monitoring and evaluation tool for these companies.
This technology uses machine learning (ML), artificial intelligence (AI), and other technological tools to automate regulatory compliance, reporting, transaction monitoring, and risk identification. Thus, it will aid Fintech companies in lowering operational costs and improve regulatory oversight by the various regulatory institutions having regard to its ‘one-stop-shop’ functionality.
It is important to remember that an inclusive financial sector is unlikely to exist in one with poor prudential supervision. Fintech companies and financial institutions alike will be able to offer affordable and accessible financial services if the regulator consciously adopts and implements this RegTech solution.
Also, the technology will facilitate compliance by Fintech companies and financial institutions with anti-money laundering and Know Your Customer regulations which can increase financial consumers’ confidence in the financial sector and promote financial inclusion.
- Blockchain – The blockchain technology operates to enable secure and transparent transactions without the need for intermediaries. The technology can promote financial access and inclusion by enabling peer-to-peer transactions and allowing low-income populations to participate in the financial system through payment solutions – such as remittances, cross-border payments, and proof of digital identities.
Furthermore, blockchain technology can be utilised to develop new financial products and services that are more accessible and affordable for individuals and communities. An example of this is the establishment of blockchain-based platforms which simplify cross-border transactions, providing a more efficient and economical alternative for individuals who are unable to access or have difficulties operating on traditional financial services. Fintech companies are encouraged to work collaboratively with the relevant regulators and other ecosystem stakeholders to adopt strong regulatory and operational frameworks that support the creation and adoption of blockchain-based financial solutions.
- Biometric authentication – Biometric authentication, such as fingerprint or facial recognition, can help improve security and simplify the user experience for financial services. By replacing traditional passwords and PINs, biometric authentication operates to reduce the risk of fraud and improve access to financial services for those who may have difficulty remembering passwords.
Importantly, it enhances eKYC procedures, which is a critical step in the customer onboarding process. This can help Fintech companies to onboard customers quickly and efficiently, especially those who may not have traditional forms of identification.
Also, it provides improved access to financial services by allowing individuals who may not have access to traditional banking services to have such access. An instance is where individuals who do not possess or may have misplaced their government-issued identity cards go through the biometric authentication route to access financial products and services.
- Cloud computing – Cloud computing provides on-demand access to computing resources over the Internet, offering a cost-effective solution for Fintech companies to deliver financial services. Fintech companies can avoid expensive infrastructure and software development costs by using cloud-based solutions on a pay-per-use basis. This allows them to offer affordable financial services to low-income and underserved communities.
Fintech companies can also easily scale their operations to meet changing market conditions or customer demand and expand their services to new customers and regions without incurring additional infrastructure costs.
Cloud computing also provides robust security measures to protect against cyber threats and data breaches, which is crucial for Fintech companies handling sensitive financial data. In terms of operations, acquiring and working with data is a top priority for financial service providers. Companies can use cloud technology to securely gather and store large quantities of data and make it accessible at any time.
5G and Voice Over LTE (VoLTE) – The convergence of 5G and VoLTE, two emerging technologies, is progressively taking place, forging formidable partnerships that actively reshape the landscape of financial services. This integration paves the way for a multitude of fresh opportunities, profoundly transforming the industry. The imminent arrival of 5G networks, distinguished by their low latency, high data capacity, and unparalleled reliability, is positioned to establish an inventive foundation for delivering financial services, surmounting geographical limitations, and reaching customers virtually anywhere.
The integration of these technologies with the Internet of Things (IoT) operates to create seamless connectivity across multiple devices, enriching and facilitating the consumer experience. Notably, wearable digital devices are experiencing a surge in popularity and represent a significant channel for mobile payments. The utilisation of cloud authentication technology provides a greater advantage than the initial reliance on biometric data, such as fingerprints, for permitting accessibility.
In terms of security, 5G-based connectivity provides a comprehensive end-to-end security infrastructure to counteract cyber-attacks and manipulation. Additionally, the advanced authentication mechanisms offered by 5G ensure that only authoriesd users can access financial applications, further fortifying the security of customer accounts and transactions.
With 5G, Fintech applications can offer immersive user experiences exemplified by augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies. These experiences – such as e-commerce and in-store purchases – are enabling customers to visualise and interact with their financial data in novel ways. Furthermore, the high-speed and low-latency characteristics of 5G allow for real-time access to personalised financial information, empowering users to monitor their accounts, track investments, and make prompt, well-informed decisions.
The seamless customer experience facilitated by the integration of these technologies fosters a frictionless environment that motivates customers to persist in utilising the financial solutions provided by Fintech companies.
Fintech companies have become essential in facilitating financial inclusion goals by leveraging innovative solutions that promote the adoption of technology. Improved innovations in Fintech can drive financial inclusion by meeting the specific needs of the unbanked and underserved populace through enhanced upgrades to existing solutions and the continuous use of these financial solutions by financial consumers. This will effectively work to boost economic growth and development in the country.
>>>Richard Nunekpeku is a Fintech Consultant and the Managing Partner of Sustineri Attorneys PRUC (www.sustineriattorneys.com), a client-centric law firm specialising in transactions, corporate legal services, dispute resolutions, and tax. He also heads the firm’s Start-ups, Fintech, and Innovations Practice divisions. He welcomes views on this article and is reachable at [email protected].
Cecilia Antwi Kyem is a Trainee Associate at Sustineri Attorneys PRUC. Cecilia specialises in FinTech and Innovations, Start-ups/SMEs, Corporate & Commercial Transactions, and Dispute Resolution. She welcomes views on this article via [email protected].