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Bank and blockchain in Africa: A lot of African banks and government run when they hear the word crypto because of the effect they feel it will have on the economy and also loss of control

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John Kamara

An interview with John Kamara, Director for Global Gaming Africa, on how Africa has embraced Blockchain technology, by Katy Micallef: 

What kind of solutions can blockchain technology offer the continent? Is Africa on the road to becoming a blockchain hub?

Africa is rising and technology is at the forefront of our growth as a continent. We have seen the explosion of the mobile space in the continent and how it has allowed a number of services and solutions to become easier. Blockchain is about to help solve a number of issues we are currently facing in the public and private sector. Pockets of blockchain innovation are fast springing up in innovation hubs across Africa, as the public and private sector alike seek effective new systems of record with trust embedded.

With Kenya, Nigeria, Uganda and South Africa among the countries taking the lead in blockchain experimentation, the financial sector looks set to be the continent’s earliest big adopter. However, development and trials are also underway to apply blockchain technology to virtually every industry sector – from health and social development to retail and agriculture. Governments are exploring ways of using blockchain to aid corruption across multiple verticals and also to push value to service sectors.

John Kamara

John Kamara

One company planning to maximize blockchain’s potential in Africa is Ecobank, a pan-African banking conglomerate with operations in 36 African countries. Ecobank’s Fintech Challenge actively seeks out fintech innovations harnessing Blockchain, artificial intelligence, machine learning and other next-generation technologies.

Other countries like Kenya and Nigeria have either setup a blockchain committee or advisory programs to explore the opportunity. Some of the happenings in the private sector around blockchain education are also key to use case of the technology, i.e IBM research on blockchain and movement of trade in Africa.  ITEX, a payment solution company servicing multiple POS solutions and software for banks across Africa is exploring blockchain for security and trust.

From my perspective Africa is looking at blockchain as a solution to solve some of the multiple problems we have, as we pioneer digital payment technologies in Africa as well.

As we move into the African future in technology blockchain represents a perfect decentralized and incorruptible ‘truth engine’ that cannot be hacked growth for payment, SME trade and a number of identity management and transactional problems we have in Africa.

Nairobi and South Africa have implemented crypto-friendly laws and Kenya’s president Uhuru Kenyatta has launched a blockchain and artificial intelligence task force. Do you think other African countries will follow suit?

Yes, more countries will follow and create other types of structures that will work for their economy based on their market need.

Some momentum has been gathered around the use of blockchain in Africa so far and throughout 2018. But what could be unusual is the role that governments and public sector organisations could play in raising its profile further. Typically, the development and application of emerging technologies is championed by the private sector before the public sector tends to take notice. Given that the potential use cases for blockchain align so closely with many public services, this is a technology where the public sector cannot afford to be sat in the passenger seat.

For example the Blockchain Association of Uganda was established earlier this year to create a credible vehicle for driving standards for blockchain across industries in Uganda. The membership organisation also aims to make blockchain-related resources available to government and public-sector consumers.

We also see the evolution of the Blockchain centre for excellence positioned to provide education and train young developers on blockchain and how to build solutions that can solve African problems.

Do you foresee any difficulties with the implementation of blockchain systems? There are some concerns about the risk of crypto asset crime, including tax evasion and money laundering.

Bitcoin’s wild skyrocket last year may well have turned the world’s interest  on to cryptocurrencies, but in Africa we “still have a long way to go” before they will be considered legal tender, and as such are not of major interest. Governments are still struggling with how to manage crypto space and this is affecting the conversation around blockchain. Any decision to buy into a new cryptocurrency would be guided by the same criteria as other investment decisions, with a focus on avoiding the “cloud” created by the crypto buzz.

African Cryptocurrency exchanges – allowing people to trade various digital currencies against African currencies – may present a more valuable prospect in the short term, but overall, he leans away from the crypto proposition in favour of blockchain solutions. These, he says, will be far more attractive investment opportunities:  It will not be as straight forward as it may sound.

A lot of African banks and government run when they hear the word crypto because of the effect they feel it will have on the economy and also loss of control. Issues around tax evasion are real and have to be discussed with clarity for us to find a way forward.

What potential does this have to revolutionize the lives of the unbanked, does it represent an opportunity to democratize the economy?

On the private sector side it is a huge opportunity for the fintech and private sector space. Also, the drive for financial inclusion is one that bodes well for the crypto space in Africa.  We can already see a number of exchanges setting up in Africa to take advantage of this growing opportunity.

Just as Africa skipped the early fixed-line telecommunication phases of the 20th century and moved straight on to mobile phone usage, could new blockchain tech provide it with a similar opportunity to bypass inefficient systems and leap into the future?

Yes, 1000% – blockchain is going to revolutionize the way we look at tech and solutions going forward in Africa.  And blockchain on mobile is the next frontier.

There is certainly a lot of buzz around blockchain tech and its potential to bring about change in Africa. In your opinion, is this sense of optimism realistic or are we jumping the gun a bit?

It is optimistic but needs guidance and clarity. It’s also a huge educational opportunity for various private sector companies to create a whole new revenue and income stream. Africa is the land of milk and honey at the moment and blockchain is another form of milk that is going to become huge. Some interesting things happening in blockchain in Africa:

ITEX, one of the top payment solutions in Africa and specifically, Nigeria (over 14 years old), has exposure in over 23 countries throughout Africa and is currently working on an integrated Pan-African settlement platform on the blockchain.

Paxful has announced plans to establish a blockchain incubator hub in Lagos, Nigeria, as well as to run Blockchain and cryptocurrency events in Nigeria, Ghana and Cameroon.

AID:Tech and PharmAccess are harnessing AID:Tech’s blockchain platform to collect and verify digital health data to make antenatal care more effective in Tanzania.

Kenyan real estate firm Land Layby Group plans to use blockchain to store land registry records, eliminating the existing real estate challenges of fraud, double ownership and false documents.

Kenyan startup ‘Nurse in Hand’, has signed a MoU with Apla Tech Company to build a blockchain-based accident and emergency response platform.

Blockchain start-up TariLabs has launched in Johannesburg, South Africa, with the aim of building the open source Tari blockchain protocol. The protocol is being constructed as a platform for the management, trade and use of digital assets, and will be merge-mined with the Monero blockchain.

The South African Reserve Bank (SARB) ran the Project Khokha proof of concept trialling a distributed ledger technology-based wholesale payment system in a ‘real world’ environment. It reported that the typical daily volume of the payments system could be processed in less than two hours with full confidentiality of transactions and settlement.

Jamborow, the Pan African B2B platform for financial inclusion in Africa is also building a blockchain solution to help secure data, transactional information and identity management for her clients in Africa.

These developments prove that the private sector and governments are taking blockchain seriously in the continent. The proof is in the drive of our private companies to explore and deploy funds into blockchain research as well as projects.

Distributed by APO Group on behalf of Malta Blockchain Summit.

Interviews

Q&A with Clare George-Hilley, co-founder, Centropy PR

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Q&A with Clare George-Hilley, co-founder, Centropy PR 1

Clare George-Hilley is the co-founder of Centropy PR

Global Banking and Finance Magazine recently caught up with Clare George-Hilley, co-founder of fintech and financial services specialist PR agency Centropy, as the company toasts to three years of trading. We asked Clare about what life is like running an agency in the city, the trends she is seeing in the financial services space and what the future holds following the Covid-19 outbreak.

Why did you decide to set up Centropy PR?

I was looking for an opportunity to launch my own agency, both my husband and I had been in the public affairs and public relations industry for over a decade and we thought the time was right to go out on our own.

Clare George-Hilley

Clare George-Hilley

We could see that the financial services industry was surging, with challenger brands and new technology transforming traditional banks and setting new standards of customer service. There was a huge market opportunity to create and launch a PR agency that could provider first class comms support, alongside a deep understanding of complex regulations such as AML, KYC, and the GDPR. Likewise, many traditional technology firms are diversifying their offerings, to tap into the growing market opportunity posed by the fintech boom.

So, we worked on a business plan, designed a strategy for winning clients and officially launched in September 2017. Within a few months we had a growing portfolio of clients and a thriving business, since that point, we have never looked back!

How is Centropy doing now and what are you plans for growth?

The last three years have flown by and our client portfolio has grown and diversified quickly. We now manage PR campaigns for clients on everything from cryptocurrency, wealth management to payments and trading software.

We’ve also hosted parliamentary debates with key industry figures, including Members of Parliament (MPs) on topics such as the future of the financial services industry and the impact of challenger banks on traditional providers. The team is expanding quickly and we’re investing heavily in the latest training and support to ensure our team members are equipped to reach their full potential.

How do you see the next 12 months?

The Covid-19 outbreak has crippled the economy, forcing millions of people to work from home due to the very serious health risks. The knock-on effect of this crisis will lead to companies cutting costs where possible to save jobs, so tech will play a vital role in ensuring many businesses stay afloat.

We are already working with contactless payments specialists and other fintech companies that offer solutions to help companies survive and thrive despite the inevitable challenges ahead.

We aim to continue building our portfolio of expertise, testing ourselves with new challenges and delivering the best possible service to clients

 

This is a Sponsored Feature.

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Interviews

Lessons from past recessions and advice for business owners during the coronavirus pandemic

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Lessons from past recessions and advice for business owners during the coronavirus pandemic 2

By Neil Davis, managing director and co-founder of Sterling Networks

What is Sterling Networks?

Sterling Networks is a professional organisation founded in 2014 which facilitates networking events for businesses across the Midlands, Oxfordshire, Wiltshire and the South West. Over 300 members attend our fortnightly breakfast and lunchtime meetings.”

What is your background prior to establishing Sterling Networks?

“During the 1990s, I worked in the corporate team for Halifax. My wife, Tracey, and I went onto own a manufacturing business, which was also called Sterling, and produced a range of gifts, merchandise and promotional items.

“We soon realised tradeshows were a great way to meet distributors and clients. From there, the business grew exponentially, and we managed to build a network of around 500 distributors. Eventually, we became ground down by the manufacturing business – in part because the local manufacturing sector was being devastated by competition from China – and took the decision to sell the business and relocate to Spain.

“After spending several years living abroad, we moved back to the UK to set up Sterling Integrity (EXPO’S) & Sterling Networks (Networking) We were inspired by a desire to help businesses make meaningful connections with one another, and we haven’t looked back since.”

The UK has recently entered a recession, brought about by the coronavirus pandemic. What have you learned from past recessions and how are these experiences helping you to navigate the current crisis?

“I’ve lived through a number of recessions and have seen the pain that insolvency causes companies on a large scale. It’s taught me that there are those who win and sadly those who lose, and that businesses must adapt to a rise in demand for certain products or services at a time of financial crisis.

“Given the nature of what Sterling Networks offers [an opportunity for business owners to connect and grow together] I decided we could build upon the brand due to the demand for new business during the pandemic. We therefore moved our networking events from face-to-face to virtual via tools like Zoom and have gained a steady stream of new members in recent months, reaching an overall total of well over 300.

“On top of that, we’ve taken new staff on during the crisis and have launched a number of new regional groups across the country. I was determined that Sterling should come out of the pandemic with a head start, so my attitude to the recession has been much more positive than those who are forecasting nothing but doom and gloom.

“We can’t pretend high street retail wasn’t suffering long before the pandemic came along, and thousands of new businesses are sure to start up to meet the demand for the products and services that people require at a time such as this. In order to develop and grow businesses need to focus on where changes need to be made to meet this demand.”

Sterling Networks has been providing emotional support to its members throughout the pandemic. What advice have you been giving to members that could be useful to other business owners?

“I try not to be too opinionated and respect other people’s views when giving advice to members, as there are always two sides to every circumstance. I’ve been careful not to say to people that they should be doing one thing or another, as I don’t know their business and its needs quite like they do. The only thing that I have been telling members is the importance of setting up one-to-ones with one another. By doing so, they can listen to the needs and concerns of other, like-minded business owners and work out ways that they might be able to help one another.

“The pandemic has meant we all have a bit more time on our hands, so the advice I would give to people is to use this extra time wisely. Not having to travel physically from one meeting to another means there is a greater opportunity to connect with more people. It’s important to remember that individuals outside of your business can be just as valuable as those within it.”

What makes you hopeful for the future and are there any words of encouragement you can give to budding entrepreneurs?

“The key events that have happened to this country during my lifetime – whether wars, recessions, or the pandemic – have enabled me to take stock of things. While these experiences are certainly challenging, we all become stronger for living through them, and it gives me great confidence that the world will ultimately improve as a result of the pandemic.

“The whole world is effectively rebooting right now, as is the business community. I like to think entrepreneurs will recognise this opportunity to take better care of their peers, and this translates to greater collaboration between organisations. Speak to as many people as you can, ask all the questions that you need to and do your homework. This might well be a difficult time for us all but planning for the future must start now if it is to become as prosperous as I know it can be.”

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Interviews

Exclusive Interview with Ugo Loser, CEO of ARCA Fondi SGR

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Ugo Loser, CEO of ARCA Fondi SGR

 Arca Fondi SGR is a mid-sized Italian active asset management company. Founded in 1983 by a consortium made up of 12 regional banks, the company has grown in time, expanding its network of distributors and its client base. Nowadays Arca manages Mutual Funds, Pension Funds and Institutional Accounts with total AUM exceeding 30 € bln, reaching more than 100 banks and financial institutions and serving more than 800,000 final clients.

What are the key contributors to ARCA Fondi SGR’s success over the past 35 years?

Arca has always put clients and distributors first. That is to say we have always privileged fair pricing for funds and developing high quality products and services for our customers. This requires constant innovation as an objective and looking for people’s talent to be free to produce its effect

Why are people the founding element of ARCA Fondi SGR and how have you sustained this vision over the years?

We work in small teams, people are young and motivated and can perform duties with a high level of autonomy and responsibility. Innovation is asked to everyone, everyday

What makes Arca Fondi SGR different from other asset management firms in Italy?

Arca is a company focused on doing what it can do very well, that is to say mutual and pension funds, services for clients and banks. We never follow short term trends but always look for long lasting impact on the industry, like we’ve done may times in the past

What products/services has ARCA Fondi SGR pioneered?

Arca has been the inventor of “Arca Cedola”, fixed-horizon, coupon paying funds, which have been with no doubt the greatest product innovation of the past 12 years on the Italian market. This type of funds, at first strictly based on bonds and later as a balanced product, has encountered an enormous success both with clients and distributors due to its simple and effective value proposition. Arca is a market leader also in the “PIR” segment of funds, a range of product focused on mid and small sized companies, that have been the best performers in the Italian stock market for the last few years. In services, Arca is a leader in technology applied to asset management. Our website, app and digital services for clients and banks are award winning, state of the art combination of data, technology and channels, and the best is yet to come on this side.

What strategies do you have in place to sustain your market position and withstand professional competition in the country?

As I mentioned, we do not waste resources on projects with dubious results, instead we constantly invest on people, products and services. The high level of profitability that Arca has been able to maintain even in difficult years for the markets of the banking sector is a further testimony that this strategy works very well

How do you use technology to create meaningful experiences for your customers?

First of all, we have created a whole new division, Arca InnovAction Lab, dedicated to technology, data and processes. This ensures projects are delivered quickly and they are free to leave bad past practices behind. Arcaonline.it, Arca’s website, provides distributors with detailed information on clients’ portfolios, asset under management and subscription/redemption requests. It monitors aggregate selling data offering to our partners a suite functions and analytics to track commercial campaigns. And if the banks branches need assistance, they may ask Sara, our digital chatbot. A broad and timely multimedia production, covering exclusive reports, comments, presentations, videos, webinars and newsletters is also available on the website.

Customers, subscribing Arca’s funds through its distributors’ network, may access Arcaclick, a dedicated area on Arcaonline.it. With Arcaclick the client can easily browse through her portfolio of funds, analyze its characteristics, view transactions and historical funds’ performance in customizable views. Arcaclick is also a powerful source of information on Arca product range: Prospectus, KIIDs and other literature is easily accessible along with news, comments and reports. Arcaclick may also be accessed via Arca Fondi App, a free application for mobiles and tables, running on both iOS and Android. Available 24/7 and in mobility, Arcaclick gives clients the opportunity access information, news and details of their personal portfolio anytime and anywhere.

What key trends will drive pension growth in 2020 and beyond?

The Italian market for pension funds is still very small and therefore there is a great opportunity to grow. Arca Fondi manages the biggest open ended Italian pension fund and it’s been constantly at the top of its rankings. As people and workers are looking for yield and to weather short term volatility, the pension fund is very well poised to profit from this trend.

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