Fintech, as its name suggests, does exactly that: it fuses together the worlds of finance and technology in ways that hardly seemed possible 15 years ago. Fast-forward to today, and Artificial Intelligence, Blockchain and Big Data are so woven into our daily lives that they no longer seem ground-breaking. Think about mobile payments, taking a cab without having to hand the driver cash or investing in the stock exchange through an app. That’s Fintech.
To most, depositing a check or wiring money are basic transactions. But to over 2 billion people worldwide, unceremoniously known as “the unbanked”, having a bank account represents quite the life hurdle. It excludes them from the financial ecosystem, making it hard for them to get a loan or even save money. Fintech has altered the landscape of the financial industry in a way that makes sure nobody gets left behind—and this applies to both individuals and countries.
The African continent and Indian Ocean region, who have long lagged behind the rest of the world in access to finance, have been the biggest winners in the Fintech story. In a continent where 60% of adults are unbanked, Fintech has emerged as a major shaping force in Sub-Saharan Africa, resolving fundamental problems in industries beyond financial services, like healthcare, transportation and agriculture. Perhaps the old adage “necessity is the mother of invention” explains the explosion of innovative financial solutions originating on the continent.
Reunion Island’s SumUp came up with a simple, but brilliant, idea: many small businesses struggle to either procure card machines from banks, or to pay the costs associated with these card machines (monthly contracts and the mandatory 5-6% transaction fee on card swipes). SumUp promises consumers an easy-to-use payment system in which a card machine connects to the merchant’s smart device and enables him/her to accept card payments for less than half the transaction fee imposed by banks. Its resounding success has catalyzed entrepreneurship across the island and stimulated the growth of a wave of small and medium enterprises, who now have lower barriers to entry.
Similarly, Orange Money is leveraging its decade-long experience in mobile money solutions to serve the Malagasy population. Beyond allowing 40 millions of Africans to perform instant financial transactions through their phone, Orange Money and PAMF Madagascar have introduced micro-lending services in Madagascar: through M-Kajy, customers can open a digital savings account and apply for a loan in mere seconds, offering them a valuable lifeline to emerge from poverty and build financial resilience.
Policymakers have been quick to play their part in its development, creating enabling frameworks to regulate Fintech activities, all while making them thrive. In Mauritius, incubator and accelerator schemes, a regulatory sandbox and an 8-year income tax exemption for businesses that develop intellectual property assets have helped to fuel the growth of Fintech across the island. In similar fashion, The Government of Seychelles is quickly filling the existing infrastructure gap to lay the foundation for a bright future. Bilateral agreements are being forged between the Indian Ocean Islands to remove trade barriers, increase the sharing of technology and improve the business environment—all with the goal of executing common projects.
One thing is certain. Indian Ocean islands, their strategic location and enabling ecosystem are giving rise to serial innovators and entrepreneurs, all of whom are proving that the future of finance is already a reality in emerging countries today.
As the General Manager of Harel Mallac Technologies, Shateeaum Sewpaul shares his vision on technological innovation in Mauritius.
What is the country’s progress in the digitalization of its services?
Mauritius started its digitalization process with the desire to become a strategic hub for new technologies. The Covid-19 crisis has been an accelerator, pushing many sectors to jump on the bandwagon and digitize their services, using the latest digital innovations. With a young population & quite comfortable with new technologies, it is a huge hit. Internet banking started years ago but now non-banking players have joined the ecosystem with payment applications for phone, Internet, TV and mobile bills, fuel bills directly from your smartphone or by scanning a QR-code. One critical sector, health, has also seen the emergence of apps that offer 24/7 consultations without having to leave home. A real benefit for the population in times of health crisis, thus avoiding unnecessary displacement and risks. Finally, another key sector, education, has also become digitized with courses & classes being taught online.
“Mauritius needs to adopt a FinTech-first mindset to achieve its destiny” Does Mauritius have the capacity to innovate technologically?
The country has the required talents & resources, but we should also open up to onboard foreign specialist resources with key expertise to further accelerate innovation. It has to be driven through a common platform with key stakeholders to reinforce & sustain the efforts required to create new avenues for economic growth by leveraging on emerging technologies such as Fintech, blockchain, IoT or AI—in existing and emerging sectors.
Which perspectives does fintech open to our economy?
Mauritius needs to adopt a FinTech-first mindset to achieve its destiny in Africa as a forward-looking international financial centre. While Covid-19 has had an impact on economic growth, it has also created opportunities by accelerating digital growth. It has underlined the importance of offering safe & conducive platforms for FinTech products globally.