Cryptocurrencies and the future of financial systems in Africa
Marius Reitz is the General Manager of Africa at Luno. Luno is a leading cryptocurrency company on a mission to upgrade the world to a better financial system. Luno ensures safety when buying, storing and learning about cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin and Ethereum. Marius joined Luno in 2016 and helped the company grow from a team of 8 to a diverse global team of 230 people. Here he provides commentary on the state of the cryptocurrency market in Africa.
Cryptocurrencies and the future of financial systems in Africa
The notion that people who have less appear to take greater financial risks is widely acknowledged. When money is vital to securing what you need for yourself and your family, and not just a ‘nice to have’, people spend more time understanding it, managing it, preserving it and to an extent being creative with how to maximise the use of it. They are more willing to make moves that would be considered as too risky by other people.
This is why I believe that the large-scale adoption of and application of cryptocurrencies will initially be driven from developing economies, many of which are in Africa.
Enabling a better financial system
In many economies across the world, where consumers are crying out for a better financial system, if a cryptocurrency can provide a secure and cheaper means of exchanging value, better than the existing system, it will be used. For example, if we look across a broad range of financial applications, it is incredible to see how individuals in these markets effectively get taxed for using their money. In most parts of Africa, ATMs charge fees for withdrawals, foreign remittances incur transfer fees, bank-to-bank transfers incur fees, paying vendors with PayPal incurs fees and the list goes on.
It may be difficult to come up with the exact value that an upgraded financial system will generate but we do know that it’s a very big number, certainly billions and potentially trillions of dollars’ worth over a longer period. The reason why it’s so hard to conceptualise is because individuals lose this value in very small increments over time – a high transaction fee here, a bit more inflation there – you never feel the pain in real time, but over time it all adds up. The good news, however, is that a better financial system will allow most of this value to flow back to consumers, whether directly or indirectly.
Inherent characteristics make Africa primed for cryptocurrencies
Another important factor is the inherent characteristics of many developing economies that makes adoption more likely. For example, there is already relatively low trust in governments and currencies, creating a strong potential mental catalyst for change. And most people in these markets already own mobile phones and are connected to the internet, and are used to being early adopters of various technologies – to a large extent also a reflection of the youth in these markets – for example nearly 60% of people in Africa are younger than 25.
Most importantly, many of these markets have a strong track record in grassroots level change, given that there is usually very little political will to drive change. A good example is the use of mobile phones and the internet, which has arguably done more for democracy, transparency and freedom of speech than almost any African government or policy has. The same is likely to happen with a better financial system.
Africans have been discussing a common currency for a while
We also have to remember that the suggestions of a common African currency has been around for many years. This change, if it does happen is likely to come from the bottom-up, rather than from the top down. And the impact of this could be much larger than the internet.
This is in fact one of the key competitive advantages cryptocurrencies have against other
financial systems, and a reason why I believe they will be a core part of the future of finance. Because cryptocurrencies are generally decentralised, it means that they are open for anyone to use, similar to the internet, and this results in quicker adoption by consumers and businesses when a bottom-up approach is more feasible. Not only could crypto systems provide lower transaction costs and a better store of value versus some sovereign currencies, they can also address the cost structure of the traditional financial system which often makes it difficult to acquire unbanked customers. An open financial system that anyone can access, however, in theory makes it easier to acquire previously unbanked customers.
- Standard Chartered accelerates digital strategy across Africa
- DPO Launches EA payment card
- How OpenSooq is transforming the classified advert market with AI
- Read the latest issue of Business Chief, Middle East Edition, here!
A recent study of 7,000 respondents across Africa, Europe and South-East Asia also found that Africans are potentially more open to adopting cryptocurrencies than people from other continents. When asked the question "Do you think a single global currency would make the current financial system better or worse?" almost three times as many respondents from Nigeria and South Africa said it would make it better compared to the UK.
At a more philosophical level, I believe that money is a way for value to be communicated between people. Like the sharing of personal information online, over time this will transition to systems that are global in nature, in order to take advantage of the huge economies of scale this delivers in an increasingly connected global world. In short, we believe a move towards more common forms of money or shared financial infrastructure is something that is inevitable in Africa, and cryptocurrencies are uniquely placed to deliver on this.
Automation of repetitive tasks leads to higher value work
Two-thirds of global office workers feel they are constantly doing the same tasks over and over again. That’s according to a new study (2021 Office Worker Survey) from automation software company UiPath.
Whether emailing, inputting data, or scheduling calls and meetings, the majority of those surveyed said they waste on average four and a half hours a week on time-consuming tasks that they think could be automated.
Not only is the undertaking of such repetitious and mundane tasks a waste of time for employees, and therefore for businesses, but it can also have a negative impact on employees’ motivation and productivity. And the research backs this up with more than half (58%) of those surveyed saying that undertaking such repetitive tasks doesn’t allow them to be as creative as they’d like to be.
“When repetitive, unrewarding tasks are handled by people, it takes time and this can cause delays and reduce both employee and customer satisfaction,” Gavin Mee, Managing Director of UiPath Northern Europe tells Business Chief. “Repetitive tasks can also be tedious, which often leads to stress and an increased likelihood to leave a job.”
And these tasks exist at all levels within an organisation, right up to executive level, where there are “small daily tasks that can be automated, such as scheduling, logging onto systems and creating reports”, adds Mee.
Automation can free employees to focus on higher value work
By automating some or all of these repetitive tasks, employees at whatever level of the organisation are freed up to focus on meaningful work that is creative, collaborative and strategic, something that will not only help them feel more engaged, but also benefit the organisation.
“Automation can free people to do more engaging, rewarding and higher value work,” says Mee, highlighting that 68% of global workers believe automation will make them more productive and 60% of executives agree that automation will enable people to focus on more strategic work. “Importantly, 57% of executives also say that automation increases employee engagement, all important factors to achieving business objectives.”
These aren’t the only benefits, however. One of the problems with employees doing some of these repetitive tasks manually is that “people are fallible and make mistakes”, says Mee, whereas automation boosts accuracy and reduces manual errors by 57%, according to Forrester Research. Compliance is also improved, according to 92% of global organisations.
Repetitive tasks that can be automated
Any repetitive process can be automated, Mee explains, from paying invoices to dealing with enquiries, or authorising documents and managing insurance claims. “The process will vary from business to business, but office workers have identified and created software robots to assist with thousands of common tasks they want automated.”
These include inputting data or creating data sets, a time-consuming task that 59% of those surveyed globally said was the task they would most like to automate, with scheduling of calls and meetings (57%) and sending template or reminder emails (60%) also top of the automation list. Far fewer believed, however, that tasks such as liaising with their team or customers could be automated, illustrating the higher value of such tasks.
“By employing software robots to undertake such tasks, they can be handled much more quickly,” adds Mee pointing to OTP Bank Romania, which during the pandemic used an automation to process requests to postpone bank loan instalments. “This reduced the processing time of a single request from 10 minutes to 20 seconds, allowing the bank to cope with a 125% increase in the number of calls received by call centre agents.”
Mee says: “Automation accelerates digital transformation, according to 63% of global executives. It also drives major cost savings and improves business metrics, and because software robots can ramp-up quickly to meet spikes in demand, it improves resilience.
Five business areas that can be automated
Mee outlines five business areas where automation can really make a difference.
- Contact centres Whether a customer seeks help online, in-store or with an agent, the entire customer service journey can be automated – from initial interaction to reaching a satisfying outcome
- Finance and accounting Automation enables firms to manage tasks such as invoice processing, ensuring accuracy and preventing mistakes
- Human resources Automations can be used across the HR team to manage things like payroll, assessing job candidates, and on-boarding
- IT IT teams are often swamped in daily activity like on-boarding or off-boarding employees. Deploying virtual machines, provisioning, configuring, and maintaining infrastructure. These tasks are ideal for automation
- Legal There are many important administrative tasks undertaken by legal teams that can be automated. Often, legal professionals are creating their own robots to help them manage this work. In legal and compliance processes, that means attorneys and paralegals can respond more quickly to increasing demands from clients and internal stakeholders. Robots don’t store data, and the data they use is encrypted in transit and at rest, which improves risk profiling and compliance.
“To embark on an automation journey, organisations need to create a Centre of Excellence in which technical expertise is fostered,” explains Mee. “This group of experts can begin automating processes quickly to show return on investment and gain buy-in. This effort leads to greater interest from within the organisation, which often kick-starts a strategic focus on embedding automation.”