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The role of financial services in achieving financial inclusion in Rwanda and beyond (By Dr. Reda Helal and Benjamin Mutimura)

The momentum of financial inclusion programmes is progressively strengthened as financial institutions, businesses and consumers embrace cashless convenience and digital payments that are secure and seamless

By Dr. Reda Helal, Group Managing Director – Processing, Africa and Co-Head Group Processing, Network International (https://www.Network.ae) and Benjamin Mutimura, CEO, I&M Bank (Rwanda) Plc.

The momentum of financial inclusion programmes is progressively strengthened as financial institutions, businesses and consumers embrace cashless convenience and digital payments that are secure and seamless. Technology development broadens the scope of delivery of financial services, and the advantages of digital payments manifest in providing easy access to the masses, reducing travel and queuing times, quicker transactions and seamless money movements that are cashless.

Currently, Rwanda is a prime market for digital payments, with a young population of which 69 per cent is below the age of 30, and the second-highest population density in Africa. With 87 per cent mobile penetration and an accelerated mobile payments market that grew over 450 per cent [1] during the pandemic, the cashless economy is expected to expand further. In 2022, the number of fund transfers through mobile payment channels amounted to 310 million transactions. In November 2022, the value of these transactions also rose by 41 per cent, from RWF 4.7 trillion to RWF 6.6 trillion, as reported by the National Bank of Rwanda (NBR). The country has set an ambitious target to achieve full financial inclusion by 2024.

Rwanda’s Vision 2050 and the National Strategy for Transformation 2017–2024 set the aspiration for the country to become a strategic hub for financial services in Africa. The growth of the fintech sector is vital to achieving this goal as it encourages the use of digital payments by Rwandan residents. Fintech is a huge contributor in propagating cashless systems and promoting financial inclusion.

A study commissioned by Access to Finance Rwanda in 2022 to assess the “data analytics capacity of Rwanda’s financial institutions, regulators and other local service providers” showed that Rwanda’s financial sector produces a lot of data but only a handful of stakeholders are turning data into insights. Such a limited data-driven culture and the lack of use of data to build products and solutions will severely hinder the financial services sector.

The report states this constitutes a missed opportunity to understand the profiles and needs of clients, optimise business performance, and predict future results while creating efficiencies.

In a radically changing market such as Rwanda, digital payments are of prime importance, specifically in the context of contactless payments and mobile wallets. These unlock significant benefits for consumers for fast, easy, and secure transactions.

Network’s partnership with I&M Bank was formed to reinforce the bank’s digital-first strategy and leadership in the Rwandan market. Through this partnership, Network will offer a variety of payment products and services including credit and prepaid card hosting and processing, along with robust security protocols and a sophisticated API gateway to provide customers value-added services that will enable their financial services with data and analytics, hyper-targeted loyalty management solutions, and tokenization, among other benefits.

In a world where contactless payments and digital wallets are fast becoming the norm, services such as tokenization, customer loyalty management, data streaming, customer profiling and data analytics are simplifying and bringing innovation to commerce and payments. The Rwandan economy has already begun to see the benefits of such innovation, which ushers more citizens into the formal financial system. This will pave the way to making the country an important hub for financial services in the region, with superior banking frameworks that are on par with international standards.

“Knowledge dissemination will play a vital role in laying out the foundation for a paradigm shift towards digital payments in the country, which is inclusive and resilient”

New and superior digital banking experiences that leverage technological innovation will ensure financial inclusion in its truest form. The World Bank’s Rwanda Economic Update [2] suggests that financial services can play a larger role in increasing financial inclusion with the help of innovation. Challenges like the digital divide, limited infrastructure, and financial literacy gaps persist, but policymakers should enhance regulatory frameworks, improve financial and digital infrastructure, and expand government support to foster a digital-friendly environment, according to the report.

As the country tries to reach its financial inclusion target in 2024, knowledge dissemination will play a vital role in laying out the foundation for a paradigm shift towards digital payments in the country, which is inclusive and resilient.

Source: Network International

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