Financial Inclusion 2.0: The role of FinTech innovation
According to the Official Ghana Demand Side Survey 2021, Ghana has achieved its financial access target of 85% set by the National Financial Inclusion and Development Strategy 2018 – 2023 ahead of the end of the target year – 2023. As noted by the survey, by the end of the year 2021, Ghana had attained financial access rates of 95% for formally served and 94% for other formal (non-bank) of its adult population from 2010 ratesof 41% and 20% respectively. These impressive results pushed Ghana to the 2nd position of Africa’s least financially excluded countries having reduced its financial exclusion rate from 44% in 2010 to 4% in 2011.
What is driving these remarkable levels of financial access are innovations deployed by financial sector players such as Banks, Telecommunication, and Financial Technology (Fintech) companies over the years. And leading such innovations is Mobile Money, which has been shown to have made the highest contribution to the attainment of the current rates of financial access.
While “access” to financial services or tools is the first step inthe pursuit of financial inclusion and necessary for sustainable economic growth, social inclusion, and poverty reduction, it is imperative that once financial access is attained, efforts must be made to drive other critical elements of financial inclusion such as the use of the financial services, retention of users in the financial sector, and their continuous participation in the use of new financial tools. And emerging innovations pioneered by fintech companies offer an opportunity to accelerate the achievement of holistic financial inclusion where end-user participation is enhanced and sustained.
Therefore, the purpose of this article is to discuss how sometoolkits in the fintech innovations space can be leveraged to drive the next level of financial inclusion beyond financial access in Ghana.
FINANCIAL INCLUSION AND EMERGING INNOVATIONS
Largely, an agenda for financial inclusion is pursued to enable or create access to financial services or tools for the hitherto population that did not have access to financial services – called the unbanked population. And as the vision of the National Financial Inclusion and Development Strategy illustrates, the aim of financial inclusion in Ghana has been “increasing the availability of a broad range of affordable and quality financial services that meet the needs of all Ghanaians and are provided by sound, responsible, and innovative financial institutions”.
In line with this vision, several private and public sector initiatives have been promoted over the years to create avenuesfor the onboarding of the unbanked population in Ghana – including the rollout of regulations for payment system innovations leading to the deployment of mobile money services, electronic payments, merchant payment services, remittances among other fintech innovations.
The influence of emerging fintech innovations on driving financial access is obvious and notable. Mobile money, a payment vehicle which was absent in 2010 contributed a whopping 87% according to the Demand Side Survey to the 94% access rate recorded for the other formal (non-bank) channel in 2021. Further, Mobile Money has virtually opened up financial accounts in the palms of Ghanaians and at the end of February 2023, according to the statistics from the Bank of Ghana, e-money user accounts stand at 56,679,032 for a population of approximately 32 million Ghanaians.
Clearly, these impacts demonstrate the growing influence of new innovations particularly within the payment ecosystem, and the opportunities for the rollout of new verticals on the existing payment rails to drive full financial inclusion in Ghana.
Emerging innovations such as digital wallets, mobile banking, insurtech, remittances, micro-lending, peer-to-peer lending and credit, credit scoring, etc. have the potential to unlock the full participation of the underbanked population and promote the inclusion of the unbanked population in existing and emerging financial services.
At the forefront of the development of these innovations are banks and fintech companies. While traditional banks continue to champion known retail banking services with technological upgrades, fintech companies are emerging to provide digital solely versions of traditional banking services such as lending, payments, transfers, remittances, etc. on a scale, speed, convenience, etc. reaching hitherto underbanked and unbanked population due to high mobile phones penetration and internet connectivity.
Leveraging these new innovations, banks and fintech companiesare enabling easier, more convenient, and more efficient ways to transact and participate in the financial services sector either by way of payments, credit, investments, or savings – a demonstration of the new possibilities of financial service tools.
Despite the attainment of the current high financial access rate, barriers still exist to the continuous use of existing financial tools, adoption of varied financial services, and participation in the use of new tools. This is reflected in the low patronage rates recorded for financial verticals such as savings & investments, transactions, credit, insurance, and remittances in the Official Ghana Demand Side Survey 2021. To upscale usage to the comparable levels of financial access as the next level of driving holistic financial inclusion – version 2.0, the innovations that have helped achieve the incredible access rates within the shortest possible time must be leveraged to unlock the use, retention and upgrade potentials for the existing banked population and new ones joining the financial sector.
FINTECH INNOVATIONS TO DRIVE FINANCIAL INCLUSION 2.0
Additionally, AI-driven algorithms can process vast amounts of data to deliver tailored financial advice and services to customers. This can assist customers in making better-informed decisions about their finances and enhancing their overall financial well-being. For instance, AI-powered chatbots can offer personalized financial recommendations based on a customer’s spending patterns and financial objectives.
Fintech firms can harness big data and machine learning to develop novel credit scoring models that facilitate access to credit for underprivileged populations. The conventional credit scoring systems typically depend on traditional credit histories, which may impede individuals with no credit history or poor credit scores from securing credit. By employing alternative data sources like social media activity and mobile phone usage, fintech companies can establish innovative credit scoring models, which can enable a broader range of individuals to access credit.
In terms of risk management, AI can help financial service providers manage risk through real-time consumer and market data analysis as well as harnessing its predictive tools in identifying potential market and consumer risks before they escalate. This can help reduce the risk of financial losses and improve overall financial stability, as financial service providers are well-positioned and equipped to deal with any shortfalls which may arise. An instance is the enhancement of AI to identify potential investment portfolio risks to divert any investment losses.
Issues of cybersecurity have become very crucial in this digital age considering the varied digital payment and transactional solutions designed by fintech companies as well as the ease of access to consumer data. Through its efficiency in analyzing data in real-time as well as its diagnostic ability, AI can detect suspicious patterns and flag potential cyberattacks. This is very critical considering the proliferation in the digital activities of consumers as well as easy accessibility to such data. Financial service providers must explore this advantage for enhanced service delivery to curtail avoidable losses.
It is important to remember that an inclusive financial sector is unlikely to exist in one with poor prudential supervision. Fintech companies and financial institutions alike will be able to offer affordable and accessible financial services if the regulator consciously adopts and implements this RegTechsolution.
Also, the technology will facilitate compliance by fintech companies and financial institutions with anti-money laundering and Know Your Customer regulations which can increase financial consumers’ confidence in the financial sector and promote financial inclusion.
Also, it provides improved access to financial services byallowing individuals who may not have access to traditional banking services to have such access. An instance is where individuals who do not possess or may have misplaced their government-issued identity cards going through the biometric authentication route to access financial products and services.
Fintech companies can also easily scale their operations to meet changing market conditions or customer demand and expand their services to new customers and regions without incurring additional infrastructure costs.
Cloud computing also provides robust security measures to protect against cyber threats and data breaches, which is crucial for fintech companies handling sensitive financial data. In terms of operations, acquiring and working with data is a top priority for financial service providers. Companies can use cloud technology to securely gather and store large quantities of data and make it accessible at any time.
The integration of these technologies with the Internet of Things (IoT) operates to create seamless connectivity across multiple devices, enriching and facilitating the consumer experience. Notably, wearable digital devices are experiencing a surge in popularity and represent a significant channel for mobile payments. The utilization of cloud authentication technology provides a greater advantage than the initial reliance on biometric data, such as fingerprints, for permitting accessibility.
In terms of security, 5G-based connectivity provides a comprehensive end-to-end security infrastructure to counteract cyberattacks and manipulation. Additionally, the advanced authentication mechanisms offered by 5G ensure that only authorized users can access financial applications, further fortifying the security of customer accounts and transactions.
With 5G, fintech applications can offer immersive user experiences, exemplified by augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) technologies. These experiences (such as e-commerce and in-store purchases) are enabling customers to visualize and interact with their financial data in novel ways. Furthermore, the high-speed and low-latency characteristics of 5G allow for real-time access to personalized financial information, empowering users to monitor their accounts, track investments, and make prompt, well-informed decisions.
The seamless customer experience facilitated by the integration of these technologies fosters a frictionless environment that motivates customers to persist in utilizing the financial solutions provided by fintech companies.
Fintech companies have become essential in facilitating financial inclusion goals by leveraging innovative solutions that promote the adoption of technology. Improved innovations in fintech can drive financial inclusion by meeting the specific needs of the unbanked and underserved populace, through enhanced upgrades to existing solutions and the continuous use of these financial solutions by financial consumers. This will effectively work to boost economic growth and development in the country.