Africa Finance Forum Blog

Pension funds can play a pivotal role in African aspirations for 2063

19.06.2017Gerald Gondo, Business Development Executive, RisCura Africa

African equities have recently faced strong headwinds, despite the positive fundamental growth prospects presented by the continent, writes RisCura Africa's Business Development Executive, Gerald Gondo.

If one considers the negative return profiles of a number of the African equity indices over the last two years, it would not be surprising if investors questioned the much-vaunted tag-lines of "Africa rising" and "demographic dividend". Should they retain their confidence that Africa will master its short-term challenges and look to the long-term prospects?

An important element of the African investment case is the oft-cited demographic dividend - referring to a period where a country's workforce is young, willing and able to be integrated into the economy and thus continue its economic growth. But, other elements such as rising disposable income, urbanisation, untapped resources and agriculture also reinforce the need to look beyond short-term challenges and rather to calibrate one's expectations towards the long-term. These drivers are set to continue to develop and arguably present the prospect of compelling organic growth waiting to be unlocked.

The questions investors should be asking are who and how will Africa unlock this growth?

African governments and policy-makers appear quite clear and resolute in their outlook. Evidence of this is the 28th African Union (AU) Summit held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia in January 2017 whose theme was, "Harnessing the Demographic Dividend through Investments in Youth".

This was perhaps a clarion call by Africa's leadership to revisit its investment case by focussing on possibly its most durable and resilient growth proponent - its youth.

Turning to the AU's "African Aspirations for 2063" - six aspirations aimed at realising the continent's potential by 2063 - Aspiration 1 reads as follows:"A prosperous Africa based on inclusive growth and sustainable development. We are determined to eradicate poverty in one generation and build shared prosperity through social and economic transformation of the continent."

Critical to making in-roads in achieving this aspiration requires African governments, policy-makers, and regulators to undertake a critical review of inhibitors to effective inclusive growth and sustainable development. Deepening, integrating and developing African capital markets is an obvious and immediate area to target.

According to a Milken Institute - Centre for Financial Markets study, "Capital Markets in the East African Community - Developing the Buyside", these markets are fundamental to economic growth because they help to channel domestic savings in a more productive way. Thereby enabling the private sector to invest, produce and create jobs. African pension funds have been cited as a growing pool of assets that can and should be channelled towards deepening capital markets.

At RisCura, we continue to observe and record the growing asset bases of African pension funds due to rising incomes, with emphasis on the need for these funds to look to diversify their investments away from traditional investments. Particular focus is given to the continued elevated levels of exposure that many African pension funds still have to government fixed income securities, which could largely be attributed to static regulation.

A separate Milken institute study in East African pension funds found that "preferential treatment generally given to government securities through regulatory approaches - specifically, relatively high portfolio ceilings - may induce funds to over allocate to this asset class at the expense of others."

If Africa is to progress towards achieving Aspiration 1, alongside the remaining six and equally important Aspirations, the pace of capital market reforms needs to be accelerated. RisCura has previously noted several major African countries have revised pension regulations in recent years, with many either considering or actually revising rules around investments such as allowing investments into private equity and non-traditional asset classes. However, the pace of revision remains slow.

Deepening of capital markets may take time, but the channelling of savings towards productive sectors of the economy is not limited only to listed capital markets. Allocations to private equity and infrastructure as alternative assets classes through the burgeoning African private equity and infrastructure funds, will serve as critical interventions to accelerating economic development in Africa.

Regulatory reform will serve as a powerful driver for increased investment that deepen and develop African capital markets. African pension funds and institutional investors have an important and critical role to play in assisting Africa (through prudent channelling of savings) with projects and initiatives that can accelerate the fulfilment of Aspiration 1.

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About the Author

Gerald Gondo serves as an Executive within RisCura Africa and is responsible for Business Development. Prior to joining RisCura, Gerald was also a founding partner of a specialist investment advisory and investment management business (Atria Africa) based in Mauritius. Gerald's passion to have first-hand experience in investing in Africa led him to join a leading pan-African asset manager (Imara Asset Management) where he had dual responsibility of being lead analyst on listed equities in Egypt, Morocco, Zambia and Mauritius whilst also building the fixed income capability of Imara Asset Management in Zimbabwe. He started his career in private equity investment in Sub-Saharan Africa (Business Partners) and has also worked as a credit analyst for a highly-rated specialist institutional fixed income boutique (Futuregrowth Asset Management), where he was responsible for credit analysis for corporate credit and securitisation issuances within South Africa.

Understanding investment and financial flows in Africa

19.06.2017Kudzai Goremusandu, Financial Consultant, Africa Leadership Insights Institute

This post was originally posted on the NewsDay website.

According to the African Economic report 2016, Africa attracted an estimated $208,3 billion of external finance - foreign investment, trade, aid, remittances and other sources in 2015, the figure was 1,8% lower than the previous year. Falling commodity prices, particularly for oil and metals, were one of the key causes for the 2015 fall.

The total sum was projected to rise again to $226,5 billion in 2016. Portfolio equity and commercial bank credit flows dried up, reflecting tightening global liquidity and a market sentiment wary of risks. Rising remittances and increased official development assistance largely kept the figure up. African governments have to stabilise financial inflows in the short term and use them for sustained economic diversification for the longer term.

Flows of finance into Africa - foreign direct investment, portfolio equity and bonds, commercial bank, bilateral and multilateral bank credit, official development assistance and public domestic revenues - have remained broadly stable despite weak conditions in other parts of the world. Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) into Africa grew steadily from 2007 to 2013. In 2014, however, FDI fell back to $49,4 billion, but increased to $57,5 billion in 2015, according to International Monetary Fund (IMF) report 2015 estimates. Africa has attracted investment from industrialised countries such as France, the United Kingdom and the United States and emerging economies such as China, India, South Africa, and United Arab Emirates. Investment is still mainly directed at resource-rich countries, but non-resource-rich countries are becoming more attractive. The extractive sector, infrastructure and consumer-oriented industries are the main draws for investment.

Africa's pattern in foreign direct investment (FDI) inflows

While the European Union countries and the United States remain the largest investors in Africa, the emerging economies are a vital source too. Foreign investment into Africa increased by 16% from to $57,5 billion in 2015, according to IMF figures. Flows to North Africa reversed a downward trend, as investment increased by 20% from $17,2 billion in 2014 to $20,7 billion in 2015. East Africa has seen higher FDI since 2010. In 2015, the figure rose 16% to $8,9 billion in 2015 from $7,7 billion the previous year. For West Africa investment rose from $9,3 billion to $9,7 billion.

Central Africa saw a decline from $6,6 billion in 2014 to $5,4 billion. Southern Africa received $12,9 billion of FDI in 2015 against $8,7 billion in 2014, and $11,4 billion in 2013.

The leading African investment destinations in 2015 were: Egypt ($10,2 billion), Mozambique ($4,7 billion), Morocco ($4,2 billion), South Africa ($3,6 billion), Ghana ($2,5 billion), the Democratic Republic of the Congo ($2,5 billion), Zambia ($2,4 billion), Tanzania ($2,3 billion), Ethiopia ($2,1 billion), Guinea ($1,9 billion), and Kenya ($1,9 billion).

Without Egypt, investment to North Africa would have dropped. FDI to Egypt increased from $5,5 billion in 2014 to $10,2 billion in 2015. United Arab Emirates investors have played an important role in Egypt's recovery. Flows into Morocco fell to $4,2 billion in 2015 from $4,7 billion in 2014. But Morocco became the third largest recipient of foreign investment in Africa in 2015.

Potential growth areas of foreign direct investment (FDI) in africa

Consumer-oriented sectors in Africa attract growing foreign investment

Resource-rich countries still get the most foreign investment, but countries with no major commodities to rely on are taking a larger share of FDI. Countries that are not resource-rich received an estimated 37% of Africa's FDI in 2015, compared to 30% in 2010. Several countries without significant resources are attracting investors, including Kenya, Tanzania and Uganda, reflecting the shift towards consumer goods. Kenya is becoming an East African business hub for manufacturing, transport, services and information and communications technology (ICT). Investment is starting to diversify into consumer-market oriented industries, including ICT, retail, food and financial services.

African cities are future hubs of investment

With urbanisation, African cities are growing consumer markets increasingly targeted by foreign investors.

Disposable income and spending power in Africa's major cities will grow according to Oxford Economics, 2015, Future Trends and Market Opportunities in the World's Largest 750 Cities. Forecasts show that the gross domestic product of major cities is increasing. The most important ones will be Cairo, Cape Town, Johannesburg, Lagos and Luanda. This ranking reflects the quality of the business climate, infrastructure and logistics, and availability of skilled workers.

A recent surge in infrastructure investment indicates that states are investing in transport corridors to connect urban agglomerations and transform them into urban clusters. Examples include the Greater Ibadan-Lagos-Accra urban corridor, the Maputo Development Corridor, and the Northern Corridor between East and Central Africa. These investments will surge with deeper market integration through reduced transport and trade costs. They will also foster competition and productivity, which will make African hubs more attractive for foreign investors.

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About the Author

Kudzai Goremusandu is a strategic, innovative, dynamic, goal getter, enterprising management and financial consultant. He is the founder of Africa Leadership Insights Institute. Kudzai holds an award for effective media communication from the University of Zimbabwe. Kudzai is based in Harare, Zimbabwe. He can be contacted at kgoremusandu[at]gmail.com.

The Supervisory Challenges of Financial Inclusion

06.06.2017Dr. Bryan Barnett, Banking Advisor US Treasury, Office of Technical Assistance

This post was originally posted on the AFI website.

In pursuit of their mission to ensure the integrity of financial systems, regulators have two distinct tasks. The first is developing the rules and regulations that govern the authorization and operations of financial institutions. The second is supervising those institutions to ensure that regulations are followed and risks are identified and addressed.

Over the last several decades, the drive to include populations formerly excluded from the formal financial system has introduced new kinds of financial products, service providers and digital technologies that have improved the lives of millions, but pose challenges for regulators on both the policy and supervision fronts. Though these developments have generated a significant amount of interest in regulatory policy, the impact of new policies on the task of actual supervision has received relatively little attention. And while there is still work to be done on the policy front, there is now an urgent need to address the practical impact of these policies on actual supervision of financial service providers (FSPs). In a rapidly changing environment, a definitive account of these impacts may not be possible, but it's not too early to consider some of the major issues and the resulting need for capacity building among financial supervisors.

Most apparent among these issues is the dramatic expansion of the number and types of financial institutions that regulators are required to supervise. Once responsible for supervising a limited number of banks, they are now increasingly expected to supervise an array of non-bank financial institutions (NBFIs), including microfinance institutions, cooperatives, SACCOs, mobile money issuers, and others. In contrast to traditional banks which are relatively few and relatively large, NBFIs are for the most part numerous and small. A supervisor formerly responsible for at most a couple of dozen institutions may now be responsible for hundreds. And whereas all banks are broadly similar, there is now much greater heterogeneity among the types of institutions and products subject to oversight.

At the same time, the increasing use of agents that may number in the tens of thousands poses special challenges. Though it is widely accepted that principals are responsible for oversight of their own agents, the task of ensuring that principals are fulfilling this requirement adequately is generally a new and different responsibility for many financial regulators. To this must be added rapid evolution in electronic payment systems, involving a host of new types of payment service providers and payment technologies. Gone are the days when it was enough to keep an eye on things like check clearing, cards or the ACH.

Since the global financial crisis of 2008-09, there is everywhere a heightened concern for consumer protection. It is a concern of special significance to financial inclusion programs that aspire to reach customers with limited literacy (financial or otherwise). Enhanced supervision under new consumer protection rules is for many regulators a largely new domain of responsibility, again multiplied by the large number of service providers concerned.

Related to all these issues is the requirement that license applications for new entrants be reviewed prior to approval and increasingly a requirement also that all new financial inclusion products be pre-approved by the regulator before being introduced. This process is exceedingly labor intensive, often requiring multiple iterations of a cycle of feedback and re-submission before a final decision is reached. Workloads are directly proportional to the pace of expansion and change in a financial services marketplace where innovation and expansion in the name of greater inclusion is often strongly encouraged. That means that workloads are expanding rapidly, threatening careful review or timely decisions or both.

These challenges are uniformly driven by policies that are here to stay and the major implications are now clear. First of all, there will never be enough staff to meet these challenges using traditional approaches. For many FSPs on-site examinations will necessarily be cursory, relatively rare or both. Moreover, with very limited human resources (relative to the scale of the task), the adoption of a risk-based approach to supervision will cease to be merely a desirable goal and will become an absolute condition of effective supervision. Given the need to develop risk profiles on numerous FSPs and products, it will be necessary to concentrate on the development of sound sector-based risk assessments and validated risk indicators that can be monitored remotely. This in turn suggests that the traditional separation of on-site and off-site supervision will need to be overcome and individual supervisors will have to be equipped to employ both approaches as and where indicated without regard for geographic proximity or any sort of programmed schedule.

Beyond sheer numbers, the heterogeneity among types of institutions and products suggests that greater specialization among available staff will be essential. This is especially acute in the case of payment systems which have significantly different mechanics and operating rules from one to the next. Moreover, the risks associated with these systems are generally not the credit or market risks associated with prudentially regulated institutions, but are primarily operational and liquidity risks that need special attention. In particular, this applies to the complex technology upon which all modern payment systems rely. There is no possibility of adequate supervision of these payment systems absent properly specialized expertise on the part of individual personnel.

Thinking about possible means to address some of these challenges, a few things are clear. First, regulators will have to rely much more heavily on information technology and develop the ability to effectively gather and analyze large amounts of remotely-collected data. This means careful attention to the structuring of data collected in monthly or quarterly reports. It means the end of reports submitted as spreadsheets that are manually consolidated and the universal use of web-based report submission backed by automated preprocessing to ensure accuracy and completeness. There will need to be a much greater use of statistical techniques to establish what is normal among a particular set of providers so that anomalies can be isolated and investigated quickly.

With respect to licensing and pre-authorization of products, it will be essential to develop simple efficient systems whereby applications can be entered electronically, workflow can be tracked, and routine communications can be automated. Where regulators are granted discretion to judge the appropriateness or adequacy of an applicant's proposed businesses or products, it will be necessary to articulate clear expectations and guidelines for the exercise of that discretion in order to alert applicants and reduce the volume of deficient applications that needlessly consume staff time.

For agents, the assignment of a unique ID for each agent and the creation of national agent registries will be necessary to provide principals with critical information about a prospective agent's prior history as an agent (if any) allowing them to avoid the cost of taking on agents with a questionable background. The same registry will facilitate consumer protection if each agent's ID number is displayed at its place of business, allowing customers to make complaints without having to otherwise collect identifying information on the agent in question.

Such a registry and ID system will also enable the development of apps allowing customers to easily rate agents or file complaints directly from their phone. That also means that supervisors will need to be prepared to process a potentially significant volume of customer complaints, some of which will be referred to a provider for resolution, others which may involve escalation of complaints that a provider has failed to address. Basic systems for tracking and analyzing these complaints will be necessary. Such systems are a common feature of many businesses, but will be very new to most regulators.

Finally, with regard to the rapidly evolving and ever more complex world of technology supporting financial inclusion, regulators will have to move away from the practice of directly inspecting provider's IT infrastructure using the regulator's own staff and will instead have to rely on a variety of qualified independent auditors and recognized international standards for certification of systems and the management of IT systems. At the same time, if not themselves conducting IT audits, supervisory staff will nevertheless need to be able to read and understand the recommendations contained in auditors' reports in order to ensure that recommendations are followed and issues are addressed.

These are surely not the only changes to traditional regulatory practice that will ultimately be required. And there can be no expectation that the changes required will be easy or quick to achieve. But it is vital that regulators begin to contemplate the future and start to plan for it. At the same time, it is critical that technical assistance and capacity building help regulators adapt traditional supervisory approaches to the new environment. The needed changes will take time and inevitably proceed in stages. But with careful prioritization and a commitment to continual progress it will soon enough be possible to look back and wonder what it was that originally seemed so daunting.

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About the Author

Dr. Bryan Barnett is an advisor for banking and financial services with the Office of Technical Assistance of the U.S. Department of the Treasury. He works with financial regulators in developing countries to help them modernize and strengthen their financial systems. A major focus of his work is helping regulators adapt regulations and processes to support expanded access to financial services to underserved populations.

Weather-Indexed Insurance: Why Isn't It Working?

05.06.2017Sonja Kelly, Director of Research, Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI)

This post was originally posted on the CFI-Blog Website.

Weather-indexed insurance is brilliant. It's just not working.

It's brilliant because it solves one of the basic challenges of insurance: moral hazard. Under the principle of moral hazard, having insurance tends to make an individual's behavior riskier, increasing the likelihood that the product will be used. If I have fantastic health insurance, for example, I may be more likely to make riskier life decisions because I don't feel the financial effects of the consequences of those decisions quite so acutely. If insurance is tied to the weather, however, nothing an individual does (unless you believe in the efficacy of a rain dance) will "trigger" the insurance.

Weather-indexed insurance is not a new phenomenon. Over the last decade we've heard exciting stories about weather-indexed crop microinsurance and the lifeline it offers to farmers given our world's quickly-changing climate. Weather-indexed insurance was bundled with agricultural inputs like seeds or livestock, and the product was lauded as a way to increase the inclusion of poor people in insurance.

Amazing, right? So why, after a decade, aren't customers buying? In India, for example, only 5 percent of farmers have taken it up where available.

  • It's complicated. Insurance is incredibly complex to explain to a consumer. There are no easy examples for consumers to reference in their mental maps of products. The concept has no analogues in the local culture.
  • It costs a lot. Low-value insurance is very expensive for companies to offer, and weather-indexed insurance is no exception. While the weather-based trigger makes it cheap to determine when claims are valid, the product requires a critical mass of people to break even, and it is costly to acquire all of those customers.
  • And it's undervalued. At the same time, customers often under-value insurance. In experiments looking at whether insurance products are priced appropriately vis-à-vis customer perception, there is skepticism regarding the price of premiums for an intangible product. A number of years ago, some researchers discovered that even when subsidized so that insurance would yield an expected return of 181 percent, only half of households offered the product decided to purchase it.
  • Making an insurance claim is annoying, and recourse mechanisms are not great. Weather-indexed insurance targets individuals living in remote areas who might lack experience with insurance claims or formal financial services. Moreover, available weather data has been a limiting factor for the scope and accuracy of the services' automation. Recourse mechanisms are often a struggle with financial services for the base of the pyramid, and there have been documented incidences of similar issues in the weather-indexed insurance segment.
  • "Freemiums" can give insurance a bad rap. A "freemium" is an insurance product offered for free alongside another product that the customer is paying for. For example, rental car insurance comes with a credit card. Credit life insurance comes with a microloan. Health insurance comes with a mobile wallet. The problem is that customers often don't know they have the product, which can reduce the offering's credibility. The freemium approach has been met with success in some cases, but to achieve this, it's essential that customers have a strong awareness and understanding of the product.
  • Governments aren't really on board, even though the product would increase economic growth. Noteworthy exceptions to this are the governments of Canada, India, and the United States, which subsidize premiums by at least 50 percent. However, such involvement by many governments in Africa, for example, would likely not be affordable.

These results are not new. It's just that the industry has not found compelling solutions to these problems.

It's no wonder weather-indexed insurance for low-income populations continues to limp along, even though it is one of the financial sector's greatest inventions (in this blogger's opinion). The best way forward for weather-indexed insurance is either providing it for free (which is why Shawn Cole advocates so strongly for public-private partnerships) or bundling both the price and the service with existing financial products. And ensuring that individuals sufficiently understand the products and their benefits, and that the products work well - i.e. making a claim or a complaint is as seamless as possible.

But I'd love to be proven wrong-do you know an example of a weather-indexed insurance that's working?

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About the Author

Sonja Kelly conducts and facilitates financial inclusion research at CFI, directing the CFI Fellows Program, developing frameworks to understand critical concepts like financial health and financial capability, and facilitating the Global Microscope research. She serves as research lead on many topics related to financial inclusion. In her own research and work, Sonja focuses on regulation and policy, the role of banks in financial inclusion, and especially vulnerable populations. Sonja has a doctorate in international relations from American University, where her dissertation focused on financial inclusion policy and regulation. She has previously worked at the World Bank, the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor, and Opportunity International. Sonja is currently a member of the board of directors of People Reaching People, and has held volunteer positions as president of the Washington DC chapter of Women Advancing Microfinance, and as president of the steering committee for Northwest Chicago Young Life.

Revolutionary change is upon banking and finance

22.05.2017Arshad Rab, Chief Executive Officer, EOSD

"The industry of banking and finance is not only entering the age of algorithms but also the age of disintermediation."

In this exclusive interview, Arshad Rab, Chief Executive Officer, European Organisation for Sustainable Development (EOSD), spoke to Jide Akintunde, Managing Editor, Financial Nigeria magazine, on the disruption of conventional finance and the future of the financial services industry.

Jide Akintunde (JA): The disruption of the financial services industry is underway. Is this something that will prove ultimately evolutionary or revolutionary in the provision of financial services?

Arshad Rab (AR): For centuries, the provision of financial services was the sole domain of banks. But that is no longer the case. Financial services are now increasingly being provided by technology companies, heralding the tectonic shift currently taking place.

The industry of banking and finance, as we currently know it, will cease to exist and this will happen much faster than many of us think. So, if we look at the emerging big picture, we can conclude that the change in the financial services industry will indeed prove to be revolutionary.

JA: Why is this happening?

AR: The disruptive nature of technological change is reshaping every aspect of our lives. We have entered the age of algorithms and artificial intelligence (AI) and computer machines are taking over much of the work humans currently do, significantly, including decision-making. Therefore, the technology companies are in a much better position than the banks to take full advantage of latest innovations and make banking and finance their business domain.

On the demand side of financial services, we are also experiencing a radical shift in the customer behaviour. Today, we all expect things to be done much faster than say five years ago. For example, people have problems in understanding why in this digital age, banks need days to transfer money. We can of course offer reasons for the time lag such as regulations for clearing houses, but most people will not be satisfied with such explanations. The customers of today want money to be transferred instantly; they would like loan decisions to be made quickly; and they want to be able to enjoy banking services from any device, at any time and from anywhere.

Another factor influencing financial services is the growing population of young people who are tethered to mobile devices. The services that are not available on those devices are simply non-existent as far as the younger generation are concerned. This generation, quite often referred to as millennials - which generally means the people born between 1980 and 1997 - are becoming entrepreneurs, decision-makers and customers. They need technological and speedy solutions much more than the older generation. And the centennials, those born after the millennials, are now a big market for consumer electronics and IT products and services. In the next few years, they will be one of the largest customer groups for financial institutions.

And let me also underscore a very key point: The competitive edge that the algorithms and artificial intelligence-driven technologies enjoy is that they are much faster and less prone to errors than humans - including in making decisions - making them very attractive for the financial services they offer.

So, one could argue that what is happening currently, particularly the proliferation of algorithms, artificial intelligence and blockchain, will make banking more a business of technology companies than of the banks. Referring back to your first question, this is a revolutionary change in the history of banking and finance.

JA: What is the real hope of a better future of banking and finance that is deliverable by the disruption of conventional finance?

AR: There are two words that immediately come into my mind: Inclusive and democratic. First, through the use of technology, banking services are being made available to unbanked and underbanked customers at affordable costs. The massive and fast growth in inclusive banking and finance, to a large extent, is because of technological advances.

Secondly, I can see the emergence of banking for the people, of the people and by the people. For example, if we look at crowd funding or peer-to-peer real-time payment solutions, you can clearly see that the industry of banking and finance is not only entering the age of algorithms but also the age of disintermediation. The role of financial intermediaries, be it commercial banks, development finance institutions or other intermediaries, will continue to reduce. And as blockchain technology becomes real, the financial services industry will experience historic disintermediation. This will make banking and finance more democratic than ever before.

JA: We see that in e-payment there is tension between conventional banks and the telcos. Also, the regulatory and consumer protection frameworks for fintechs are, at best, work in progress. Should the efforts at resolving the issues assert competition or cooperation?

AR: The role of regulators should continue to be about protecting the public interest. There can and there should be no compromise on this issue as we transform from conventional to digital banking and finance. In the emerging scenario, there is a dire need for actions that can create a level-playing field for both incumbents and new players such as the financial technology companies.

Since there is a real prospect that few big tech giants will dominate the financial services industry within the next few years, we need policymakers and regulators to act fast to ensure safe, fair and competitive markets and to avoid market domination by a handful of powerful players. A good regulatory framework, as always, will promote competition. This is in the interest of the society and in the long-term interest of all the current and future players.

Now, talking about cooperation, this is currently being led more by market dynamics than by regulatory pressures. A growing number of incumbent financial institutions are closely collaborating with small and medium-size fintechs to overcome technological challenges. In fact, this is one of the top trends happening today and some of the banks have even started to acquire fintech startups. Nevertheless, there will still be existential threats looming over the incumbents, including the big financial sector players.

Technology, market conditions, regulatory framework and socio-economic and political climate will continue to change extremely fast. However, the organizational structure and business processes of the incumbent financial sector players are not very responsive to the fast-changing environment, at least not in comparison with the fintechs.

JA: One issue that has been little highlighted is that disruptive finance can be zero-sum. While the fintechs are already helping to drive down the cost of financial transactions - especially remittances, aggregate labour in the financial services industry can be eroded. Do you have concerns about this trade-off?

AR: There is no doubt that a lot of work done today by humans will be done by robots in all sectors of the economy, and the financial services industry will not be exempted. But do we have a choice? Since we know that digitization of everything is unstoppable, it is time to move forward and meet the challenge head on. This means embracing the technological innovations and getting ready to benefit from the digital economy.

For instance, imagine if we could soon free up almost 50 percent of the world's human resources by taking them away from doing monotonous tasks and deploying them to do creative work. And imagine if we could enable majority of the world's workforce to unleash its true talent and potential, all because for the first time in human history, it is now possible to do so - thanks to technology. And let there be no doubt: All monotonous jobs can be and will be taken over by robots.

Nonetheless, my concern is not about the threat that technology poses to human labour. We cannot "undigitize" the economy or halt further developments, anyway. I am earnestly concerned that governments, regulators, businesses and society are not realizing the pressing need to take immediate and resolute actions to ensure a smooth transition to the age of algorithms and artificial intelligence. The danger of mass unemployment and destabilizing markets is real but preventable, provided we act fast and smart.

So, I am calling for urgent actions and inviting the stakeholders to work together to create a win-win outcome and not wait till the water runs dry.

JA: The EOSD has been encouraging financial institutions in the global South to embrace Sustainability. What would be your message to African banks on how they should continue to position for the future of banking and finance?

AR: This is a difficult question to answer in few words. However, I would like to suggest that banks must embrace technology and use it to its full potential. But let me hasten to add that investments in technology alone is not enough because it is very challenging to keep up with the fast pace of technological change. For the incumbents, it will be too tough to compete on the basis of technological edge with the tech giants and other fintechs entering financial industry.

In my opinion, the financial institutions, irrespective of their location, size and infrastructure - and in addition to full-scale digitization - need to focus immediately on true value creation for all stakeholders. The successful financial services providers will be those that deliver real socio-economic value in their communities and to society at large, while fully recognizing the natural environment as one of the key stakeholders. This is not only the right thing to do from a moral perspective. But, at the end of the day, this is where the battle for survival will be won or lost.

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About the author

Arshad Rab serves as the CEO of the European Organisation for Sustainable Development (EOSD) which is a dedicated body that has in its unique charter the purpose of developing strategies, programs and initiatives and undertaking projects that contribute in implementing the EU Strategy for Sustainable Development. Having his academic background in business administration, extensive work experience with private, public and multilateral organizations and wide-ranging in-depth knowledge, expertise and experience in the field of sustainability sciences, Mr. Rab today is a powerful voice on innovating for a sustainable future and leading with responsibility in times of disruptive change. His ongoing research interest include disruptive innovation in the financial services industry. In addition, he is the initiator of the Global Sustainable Finance Network that brings together about 70 financial institutions from over 30 countries.

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Pension funds can play a pivotal role in African...Gerald Gondo, Business Development Executive, RisCura Africa
Understanding investment and financial flows in AfricaKudzai Goremusandu, Financial Consultant, Africa Leadership Insights Institute
The Supervisory Challenges of Financial InclusionDr. Bryan Barnett, Banking Advisor US Treasury, Office of Technical Assistance

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