Opinion: Seismic shift underway in Nigeria's digital banking

By Hany Fekry, Regional President, Northern and Sub-Saharan Africa, Network International
Having remained stagnant for decades, Africa's digital payments ecosystem has now truly been ordained, says Hany Fekry, Network International

Many in the payments industry have been predicting so for years. That digital payments are inevitable for the future.

It's only a matter of time, the experts said over and over again.

But while the technology has continued to take over commerce worldwide, digital payments in Africa have not neared anywhere close to global adoption rates.

The challenges with developing the digital payment sector in the sub-Saharan continent are well catalogued. Challenging infrastructure, low income levels and the well-established virtues of cash – immediacy, ubiquity and trust – have all constrained the development of electronic payments in African countries.

In Nigeria, cash has remained king and financial services have remained stagnant despite decades of efforts to do away with old-fashioned paper money.

That was, until COVID-19 hit. In the aftermath of the virus outbreak, we have seen digital banking emerge across Nigeria with heightening consumer demand for efficient ways to access banking records and complete financial transactions outside physical branches and traditional card payments.

The fear of paper currency as a carrier for coronavirus has jolted the banking sector into massive digital disruption, signalling a powerful inflection point for payments in Africa. And we see this as just the start of the shift in how consumers, merchants and issuers choose to transact.

At Network International, we remain committed to fostering agile innovation by deploying our best-in-class technology to support digital and financial inclusion of Nigerian consumers and businesses

Online deposit, mobile banking apps, cards and e-bills payment have become the norm overnight, with card and virtual card payments becoming one of the most important non-cash transaction channels.

With the power to oust physical currency, the potential of plastic as a medium of exchange is unrivalled. Banks that build their Issuance business now not only contribute to the foundation on which this transition can take place, but also position themselves to reap the rewards of this seismic fundamental shift.

As banks work to respond to the increased demand for digital payments induced by the pandemic, banks needed to tap into the considerable advantages held by our African markets including our youth demographic.

While the rest of the world is ageing, the median age of the population in Africa is just 19, compared to Europe at 42, for example. The young people of Africa have been increasingly engaging with financial products in different ways, ready to trail blaze the use of modern payment services.

This proliferation of digital banking prompted Network International to gain first mover advantage and lead the transformation in Nigeria by partnering and providing issuance solutions to financial institutions to help them respond to the changing needs of their customers.

Additionally, in the current economic climate, banks in Nigeria have been able to tap into our experience and expertise in creating virtual card solutions (VC) for emerging markets. Issuers also benefit from Network's advanced digital infrastructure and robust security protocols, avoiding the need to invest in expensive card management infrastructure.

As we power digital transactions with the capability to issue virtual cards through API Integration connected to existing channels of financial institutions such as mobile, Internet banking and ATMs, we believe the potential exists for banks to multiply returns from virtual card Issuance. Banks that incorporate virtual payment cards into their business strategy also gain greater opportunity to cross-sell other products and services.

Virtual card issuance has the potential to transform into a strategic, high value generating asset for banks, while allowing bank customers to enjoy the convenience, flexibility, safety and security of cashless payments to fulfil their financial and lifestyle needs.

We remain committed to fostering agile innovation by deploying our best-in-class technology to support digital and financial inclusion of Nigerian consumers and businesses. Because, ultimately, furthering digital adoption is going to be dependent on the people, platform and partnership.

Cash may not be gone just yet. But with this fundamental change accelerated by Covid-19, our payments ecosystem has now truly been ordained and will have profound implications for people, businesses, and society.



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