With the World Economic Forum warning of a deepening digital divide that will ultimately exacerbate global inequality, the role of intuitive digital financial services platforms in bridging this divide is becoming more important than ever before. Indeed, next-generation tools that provide essential financial services - savings accounts, global money transfers, loans, etc. - to customers in an accessible way, are becoming a powerful force for change by driving financial inclusion in developing economies.
The global COVID-19 health crisis and national lockdowns have illustrated this point – and revealed that when informal cash-out services became less accessible to communities, for instance, people were able to turn to intuitive digital financial services platforms, supported by physical distribution infrastructures, to send and receive money when they needed it most.
Having interacted with these digital channels for the first time, many users discover that they can fulfill other financial aspirations and needs simply by following the user journey and providing ongoing feedback.
Today, it is these seamless and increasingly digitized user journeys, supported and driven by incremental, customer-led fintech innovation, that are disrupting the financial services ecosystem, effectively banking the unbanked…and elevating financial literacy where it is most needed.
Simply by looking at recent trends in remittance flows, one can grasp the growing role of digitized banking services in empowering marginalized communities and people with new financial tools. For instance, despite predictions by the World Bank that global remittance flows would dramatically decline in the wake of the pandemic, evidence in countries such as South Africa, Zimbabwe, Malawi, and Zambia suggest that formal remittance flows across African borders have increased – and in fact, are proving to be more resilient than many other financial services.
The GSMA also stated that ‘remittances are expected to retain or even exceed their current levels of importance with Foreign Direct Investment flows into LMICs expected to decline by as much as 35% over 2020.’
Yet remittances are only the beginning of a digitized and customer-led journey to financial inclusion and upliftment in many of these economies. Importantly, when fintech banking platforms cannot only provide multiple channels - USSD, an app, WhatsApp, live chats, etc, whereby customers can transact, but also the ability to sign up without having to physically interact with a bank or branch, then the opportunity for self-empowerment and financial emancipation is further amplified.
At Mukuru, we listened to customer feedback and provided this opportunity in the form of self-sign-up channels. This was met with a phenomenal surge in interactions with Mukuru’s next-generation financial services platform: in South Africa, up to 30% of users are engaging with the platform by signing up to the service via self-help channels, up from 0% this time last year. Added to this, over 86% of money transfers generated on the Mukuru platform are self-service initiated transactions. The Mukuru app, which has recently been relaunched with new features and capabilities, demonstrates how digitized user journeys are a powerful and equalizing force within global financial services.
Meeting customers where they are
As we have seen across our digital banking channels, grassroots financial services innovation is about meeting customers where they are – and providing intuitive ways to transact, save and send on various channels, and with any device. When users engage with an app or tool that provides a highly visual, multi-stranded presentation of financial information, they are immediately empowered by the decision-making capabilities that this type of engaging interface engenders.
Over the long term, this is essentially about going beyond fintech and providing an ecosystem that empowers users on a gradual but progressive journey to financial inclusion. For instance, as customers embrace elements such as self sign-up and digital onboarding, they begin to build up a comprehensive and detailed financial transaction profile. Over time, diaspora remittances and this increasingly robust digital footprint can be harnessed as a strong indicator of creditworthiness – and in many instances, these profiles could be leveraged to gain access to credit for capital accretion (vs consumption).
The security aspect of emerging digital banking platforms is also becoming more of a focal point as financial crime and cyber theft spikes worldwide.
Mobile money electronically records all transactions, which radically improves the security of payments as well as their transparency (the consequences of which are far-reaching for every economy). Providing this layer of safety, transparency, and accountability to users for everyday transactions is paramount to both financial upliftment in the short term, as well as the longer-term goal of greater financial inclusion.
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