My Thoughts on Payments, Blockchain and new Technologies in the Philippines and other Emerging Markets

The following article appeared in the Zooz Industry Influencer and Q&A blog.

imagesCould you tell us a bit about the current state of payments in the Philippines? The Philippines is undergoing a tremendous change in terms of the payments space with new developments in the banking industry, fintech players entering the marketplace, a growing number of payment service providers, e-commerce marketplaces and a lot of interest among both the private and public sector to support a growing shift to electronic payments.

Why is the Central Bank Chief calling on bankers to help create a National Retail Payment System?
The Central Bank [Bangko Sentral ng Pilipinas (BSP)] is now calling on the banking sector as well as other regulated financial industry players to support the creation of a National Retail Payment System (NRPS). The NRPS is envisioned to help Filipinos have greater access to financial services primarily through electronic accounts to make payments, receive or transfer funds to other accounts anytime, anywhere and at a reasonable price from any digital device. As the BSP Governor recently pointed out, “Efficient retail payments contribute to the stability and efficiency of the financial system and the economy as a whole. Studies have shown that shifting from paper-based to electronic-based payment system can generate an annual savings up to 1% of gross domestic product (GDP).” As has been noted in the recent study by the Better Than Cash Alliance (BTCA), Filipinos make over 2.5 billion transactions a month worth over $74 billion but only 1% are done electronically with the other 99% made via cash or check. This fact, along with the ability to connect to almost all Filipinos digitally via a mobile device, allows for a tremendous opportunity for the payments industry to make a real difference not only from the standpoint of overall economic growth but it also serves as an excellent business opportunity. As the Governor summed up during the recent 25th anniversary of BancNet, “The NRPS initiative is a rare opportunity for all of us to work together to do something that can be a real positive game changer for the economy and for our people.”

What role (if any) is bitcoin playing in the emerging market regions that you follow?
Bitcoin and other virtual currencies are often talked about but transaction volumes are still quite small. Globally, there are only around 100,000 bitcoin transactions a day. If we compare mobile e-money in countries like Tanzania, we see that the number of transactions per day is now over 3 million. Central banks have taken a cautious approach to virtual currencies which is best summed up by the BSP warning issued last year, which cautioned the public about using virtual currencies. The recent move by the New York Department of Financial Services to license virtual currencies is most likely a trend that will be continued in other jurisdictions. Apart from virtual currencies, I think the more interesting development is the use of blockchain technology which potentially offers tremendous opportunities to support the development of payments. Banks and various regulators around the world are now starting to look into this technology to better enable a variety of financial transactions.

Which emerging markets do you see as being most receptive to mobile payments – and why?
Africa, especially East Africa, is still the leader in mobile payments primarily due to the lack of reasonable alternatives and the rapid expansion of agent networks that have provided enough touch points to make it even easier to cash-in or cash-out of accounts, and, more importantly, sufficient value added use cases.

Are there any new companies or technologies that you see transforming the payments space over the next six months to a year?
I previously wrote about the 8 trends that will impact both digital payments and financial inclusion earlier this year. While we are seeing several new players enter the marketplace in many countries and regions, I do think the changes to policies on national retail payments now taking place in several markets including the Philippines and active support from both the governments and private sector to shift to e-payments in several key markets will be the main drivers that will take advantage of the convergence of financial players including traditional banks, new payment service providers, and new technologies that will transform the payments space over the coming year.

To read the full article, please click here.

Related:

Eight Trends that will Impact Financial Inclusion in 2015

Developing a Safe and Secure Digital Payment Ecosystem to Promote Financial Inclusion

Digital Financial Services, Regulations and Financial Inclusion: Where Are We Headed?

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The importance of money transfer operators and the issue of de-risking in the Pacific Islands

Alliance for Financial Inclusion Blogs

John Owens

Dr. Sione Ngongo Kioa, Governor at the National Reserve Bank of Tonga (far right) and Ms. Maiava Atalina Emma Ainuu-Enari, Governor at the Central Bank of Samoa (second from right), discuss MTOs with John Owens, senior policy advisors at AFI (middle), and Robert Bell, founder at KlickEx (far left). Dr. Sione Ngongo Kioa, Governor at the National Reserve Bank of Tonga (far right), and Ms. Maiava Atalina Emma Ainuu-Enari, Governor at the Central Bank of Samoa (second from right), discuss the issue of de-risking and MTOs with John Owens, senior policy advisor at AFI (middle), and Robert Bell, founder at KlickEx (far left), at the launch of the Pacific Islands Regional Initiative in Dili, Timor-Leste.

The issue of de-risking and the related impact on remittances has arisen recently at a series of high-level conferences and forums across the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) Network. During the G24-AFI Policymakers’ Roundtable in Washington, DC, there was a clear reference to the threat to financial inclusion posed by de-risking strategies of international banks, especially in countries where remittances form an essential part of financial safety net. The G20 Global Partnership for Financial Inclusion has committed to lowering the costs of remittances…

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Innovative Financial Services that are Driving Financial Inclusion in the Pacific Islands

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New mobile money schemes extend banking reach in Ethiopia after NBE issues new guidelines

By EFOÉ KOUDADJEY AND JOHN OWENS

Mobile banking image in Ethiopia from PCTech magazine 

After AFI member institution National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE) finalized their guidelines on mobile and agent banking they continued to support the sector by encouraging the use of digital financial services by conducting a workshop in December 2014 entitled “How to Operationalize Digital Financial Service: Mobile and Agent Banking within the Ethiopian Context.”

The workshop brought together policymakers, financial institutions, government stakeholders and development partners to establish a shared understanding among stakeholders driving financial inclusion in Ethiopia. Moreover, the workshop was facilitated by international experts drawn from different parts of the world having specific subject matter expertise in demand, distribution, technology and regulatory aspect of digital financial services.

Around the same time, several Ethiopian banks and microfinance institutions launched mobile enabled e-money services in 2014, which are predicted to rapidly bring financial services to millions of Ethiopians in the next few years.

For the full article see New Mobile Money Schemes Extend Banking Reach in Ethiopia after NBE Issues New Guidelines

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Public-private sector dialogue advancing financial inclusion through digital financial services in Russia

Alliance for Financial Inclusion Blogs

Mikhail Mamuta and John Owens

AFI and the Central Bank of Russia workshop “Digital Financial Services: Promoting Financial Inclusion” panel is pictured in Moscow in October 2014.

Learning from legislative and regulatory practices in countries which have successfully launched new digital financial service approaches, as well as maintaining an open dialogue with the private sector are essential for countries wishing to harness digital financial services to advance financial inclusion. This was the theme of the recent Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) and Central Bank of Russia (CBR) workshop entitled “Digital Financial Services: Promoting Financial Inclusion” held in Moscow in October 2014.

The workshop focused on these key issues:

  • Digital financial service trends in Russia and around the world;
  • The example of M-Pesa in Kenya and Romania to support digital financial services;
  • Risk mitigation and management for digital financial services;
  • Which players are ready to offer digital financial services in Russia?…

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Mobile e-money taking off in Côte d’Ivoire

Mobile e-money taking off in Côte d’Ivoire

(reposted from Alliance for Financial Inclusion News Updates)

Mobile phones in call centre in a village in the sub-prefecture of Seguela, 592 kms from Abidjan in September 2013. Photo credit: SIA KAMBOU/AFP/Getty Images

Located on the coast of West Africa, Côte d’Ivoire is a member of the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU). Spread over an area of ​​322,460 sq km with a population of 20 million, the country is one of the rising examples of the dramatic affect of mobile e-money on financial inclusion largely due to a supportive policy and regulatory environment, a growing mobile phone penetration rate that has increased from 50 percent in 2008 to over 100 percent in 2014 and an active mobile e-money sector largely driven by new non-bank players.

As in many other countries in Africa, limited access to financial services, which had been previously limited to banks and microfinance players, is now being overcome by new non-bank mobile-enabled e-money players in Côte d’Ivoire. While access to banking and microfinance was only 21.8 percent at end 2013, the new digital e-money players are now helping drive financial access rates to approximately 66.3 percent of the population. The financial landscape in Côte d’Ivoire is now changing due to a dynamic sector, comprised of not only banks and microfinance institutions but also new e-money issuers. The whole sector is now changing to adopt digital financial services to support greater financial inclusion on a scale and growth rate that has even surpassed the uptake in even the well-known e-money markets in East Africa. It is also important to note that apart from the two new non-bank e-money institutions there are also six joint e-money partnerships between telecom operators and banks.

Dramatic Uptake of E-Money

The overall performance indicators show that mobile enabled e-money services are growing on a per capita basis at one of the fastest rates of any country in Africa. By the end of 2014, there were over 4.6 million active e-money customers (up over 240 percent from 2013) which transferred more than CFA 2,233 billion ($4.6 billion) in transactions (up more than 186 percent from 2013). The agent network likewise grew from 10,752 from 2013 to 19,260 in 2014.

Table 1: Key indicators of E-Money in Côte d’Ivoire

For the full article read here: Mobile e-money taking off in Côte d’Ivoire.

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Wing Pushes Digital Finance Frontiers Further in Cambodia

Wing CambodiaReposted from a blog by Eric Duflos @CGAP

The shift from traditional microfinance and banking to digital is easy to see in Cambodia. All the market leaders such as ACLEDA Bank, AMK, and AMRET are increasingly using technology and agents to serve their customers.

A few weeks ago, Wing, a leading third-party payments provider in Cambodia, obtained a specialized bank license from the National Bank of Cambodia (NBC). With $4.5 billion in transaction volume in 2014, and an estimated 1.5 million customers (in a country of 15 million inhabitants), Wing has become a leading player in financial inclusion in Cambodia. Wing has one million over-the-counter (OTC) customers and about 500,000 registered customers who can make transactions with cards or mobile phone either in Riel or in dollars. The average transaction size is at $110. In comparison, the microfinance sector in Cambodia has about two million borrowers and 2.3 million depositors. These figures reflect considerable penetration of microfinance and increasingly of digital payments as well. According to Wing, 67% of its customers are rural and 37% are women.

The announcement of Wing’s new specialized bank is groundbreaking. In other countries, we see increasing collaboration between Mobile Network Operators or payment providers and banks to broaden the product offering to low income such as for M-Shwari in Kenya. In contrast, Wing hopes to use its specialized bank license to offer a wider range of services beyond payments. It will be interesting to see what kind of advantages the new license will bring Wing customers as well as for its business model and how it might affect the traditional banking and microfinance sector.

According to Wing CEO, from a customer perspective, the new license would enable those registered customers to get some interest on the balance they hold on their Wing account. Customers will get 1% per annum which is more than most banks and MFIs pay on deposits. As for credit so far Wing has only provided airtime credits to its customers so that they can automatically top up when they run out of airtime. Wing also intends to provide credit lines to its agents who usually borrow to manage liquidity (20% of their agents currently borrow money for such purpose). Wing will also develop international remittance services for Cambodians working abroad who want to remit funds home.

For Wing’s everyday business, the new license means that they are now fully accountable to the NBC, and fully independent from ANZ, the Australia and New Zealand Banking Group. Wing expects to get significant income from the e-float deposited in banks, which was not the case when Wing was related with ANZ. It could also mean Wing would be able to develop new products with more agility, which is important in an increasingly competitive environment. Metfone has just received a third-party payment processor licenses, and others are expected to follow. These new players could compete for Wing’s agents in the future. Wing’s independence from ANZ will bring opportunities for new partnerships with other players. For example Wing plans to share its 2,500 agents with MFIs for loan repayment and with banks for cash withdrawal. Wing is already collaborating with eight MFIs on loan repayment collection.

But the license also raises challenges for Wing and for the financial inclusion industry at large. Being a bank is a different business from being a third party payment processor. The new reporting and supervision requirements from the National Bank of Cambodia may not always be easy to manage. It will also directly report to the Financial Intelligence Unit on AML/CFT issues. Wing will need to acquire new skills and new staff which will take time and resources.

This situation may also create challenges for NBC as it will also require new regulations and staff with the skills to supervise in areas such as safeguarding e-float and protecting customers. It is indeed crucial in such a fast evolving environment to ensure good protection of low-income customers’ money. The NBC is well aware of the issue.

Finally, the license raises questions for the traditional financial inclusion providers. Will the license force a bigger change across the traditional banking sectors where players may feel the need to compete with all things Wing does? Or is the Wing effort likely to lead to greater specialization by different players where Wing and similar organizations build partnerships with other institutions to deliver services? Do-it-alone or do it through partnerships? This question is even more relevant since Wing also hopes to get a full bank license in the coming years.

To read the full article click here.

Related:

Eight trends that will impact financial inclusion in 2015

My Own Thoughts on the Mobile Money Predictions for 2013

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New Financial Inclusion Innovation in Colombia: Electronic Deposits

Alliance for Financial Inclusion Blogs

María del Rosario Moreno Sánchez

Colombia is a prominent example of a country that has included financial inclusion as a priority in its national agenda since a very early stage. Indeed, in 2006, the Colombian government created a unique national agency that works with the financial sector and deals exclusively with financial inclusion and education—Banca de las Oportunidades. Moreover, Colombia approved many relevant policy and regulatory reforms focused on promoting a greater financial inclusion by using correspondent agents (municipal agents), and the use of mobile banking to deposit conditional cash transfers to social programs beneficiaries of “Famililas en Acción”.

Lately, on 21 October 2014, the Colombian Congress passed Law No. 1735 and created a new type of financial institution called Sociedades Especializadas en Depósitos y Pagos Electrónicos (Specialized Electronic Deposit and Payment Institutions). Sociedades are a new deposit-taking license entity that can be incorporated by a…

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Eight trends that will impact financial inclusion in 2015

My own predictions for eight trends that will shape digital financial inclusion in 2015.

Alliance for Financial Inclusion Blogs

John Owens

A man displays his phone in Kenya.

The use of digital financial services will continue to be one of the main drivers for financial inclusion in 2015. In the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI) Network, we have noted quite a few interesting trends both on the technology side and the policy side that should have a direct impact on advancing financial inclusion through digital means this year.

1. Agent Banking Expanding in Other Regions

While agent banking has been around for several years in Latin America, it will expand quite a bit in other regions, especially Africa, Asia and the Pacific Islands. In the past couple of years we have seen 17 new Maya Declarations by central banks and policymakers around the world focusing on agent banking regulations and targets.

See the 2104 Maya Declaration Progress Report

The number of policies and regulatory changes increased significantly in 2014…

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Central Bank of Yemen issues new mobile banking regulations

Alliance for Financial Inclusion Blogs

John Owens

A Yemeni money changer serves a customer at his small shop in Sanaa. A Yemeni money changer serves a customer at his small shop in Sanaa.

On 11 December 2014, the Central Bank of Yemen (CBY) issued new mobile banking regulations following an almost two-year process of reviews and discussions with the private sector and support from USAID, the World Bank, the Consultative Group to Assist the Poor (CGAP) and Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ). While there was much debate and a lot of international expertise that was brought to Yemen to develop this regulation, the central bank still wanted to learn from other central banks from around the world as well as address some lingering internal concerns. Mansour Rageh, who is the Deputy Manager for Islamic and Specialist Banks at the Central Bank of Yemen and the bank’s representative to the Alliance for Financial Inclusion’s (AFI) Digital Financial Services Working Group (DFSWG), recently visited the new AFI office in Kuala…

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