Last week we once again held hands with the MTN Zambia. This was not the first time we were partnering with the mobile network operator; in June last year our two organisations locked hands to launch a first-of-a-kind service that allows registered Barclays customers to transfer funds from their Barclays account to their mobile wallet on MTN mobile money and vice-versa – a service we call Bank2Wallet.
This time, we met to further cement our organisations’ shared vision to deepen financial inclusion and see as many people across the length and breadth of the nation access financial services. This vision is rooted in a strong and unwavering belief that increased access to financial services has a positive and indelible impact on people’s livelihoods, as well as a wider impact on private sector development and financial sector stability overall.
Nothing exemplifies this reality more than Mary Banda’s story.
In November of 2017, the World Bank published a story on Mary Banda, who runs a small restaurant in Kamwala market, and uses the earnings from her enterprise to feed her children and fund their academic ambitions. Prior to learning about how financial services could simplify her business operations, her proceeds were substandard. But now, her monthly profits have increased by 50 percent, both because she banks her money and because she uses mobile money transfer services.
Mary’s story teaches us that not having access to financial services today puts you at a significant disadvantage in society and often means you pay significantly more, save less and can’t access basic services needed to live. In a nation with 16 commercial banks, give or take 8 mobile money operators, and a population of 16 million, of which 13.4 million have a mobile device, it is unacceptable that the majority of our population still lack access to financial services.
Traditionally, and largely due to a number of industry-standard requirements, banking can be seen as unyielding when it comes to helping people open basic current accounts. I understand, it likely feels like an endless battle to gather all of the right documents that prove you are who you say you are in a way that will give the bank a sense of satisfaction. And that’s just to get on the first step of the financial ladder.
We want to change that. Technology offers us a chance to connect with those who have previously been excluded, to support them in getting access to the financial world and opening doors that were previously closed.
Technology in isolation is inadequate, however. Financial inclusion in the 21st century demands the smart use of digital technology coupled with partnerships between like-minded and forward thinking entities. To quote one powerful African adage; “If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together.”
So similar to February of 2016, on 11 October 2018, Barclays Zambia and MTN partnered to bring a lending product to the previously unbanked. The product, called Kongola – a local word that means ‘borrow’ – allows MTN mobile money customers to borrow cash to finance their various endeavours. The Kongola proposition leverages the financial technology offered by Fintech Company, JUMO Zambia. I should mention that Kongola is not new to the market, it was initially launched in February of 2016, and since then approximately 1.1 million customers have registered for the service and over 3.8 million loans have been disbursed to first time borrowers.
Enter Barclays; in a bid to drive the next phase of growth of Kongola, we have formed a partnership with JUMO Zambia whereby they will continue to provide the technology platform to enable the delivery of the loans while we will provide the financing for these loans to eligible MTN mobile money customers.
This partnership demonstrates the importance of inter-industry digital and technological convergence between banks and mobile network operators (MNOs) in expanding access to the formal financial economy for under served segments of the population.
What do such partnerships mean for the ordinary Zambian? It means more people like Mary and go-getters similar to her will be able to borrow money to scale their businesses, to finance their academic ambitions, and have easy access to a pool of funds in the event of an emergency.
Approximately 40 percent of Zambia’s adult population is formally financially included – a clear demonstration of the steady progress the nation is making to bridge the financial inclusion gap. This notwithstanding, we still have a long journey ahead of us as this implies we have approximately 60 percent of the population financially excluded. That’s over five million people that have no access to money transfer, lending, or saving capabilities, among other key financial services.
This financial exclusion severely limits their ability to save, invest and plan for the future. Having access to basic financial services can transform the lives of vulnerable individuals, especially women and young people, and give them the opportunities to fulfil their potential. It means they can manage their savings – helping them to plan for the future – and increase their incomes, enabling them to lift themselves out of poverty.
Barclays’ digital strategy has long been committed to ensuring transaction convenience for the market. We have made great strides in our mission to ensure financial inclusion and our agreement with MTN will greatly accelerate the easy availability of banking services to the unbanked. I’d like to see more Mary’s, wouldn’t you?
Sunak to use budget to expand apprenticeships in England
LONDON (Reuters) – British finance minister Rishi Sunak will announce more funding for apprenticeships in England when he unveils his budget next week, the government said on Friday.
Employers taking part in the Apprenticeship Initiative Scheme will from April 1 receive 3,000 pounds ($4,179) for each apprentice hired, regardless of age – an increase on current grants of between 1,500 and 2,000 pounds depending on age.
The scheme will extended by six months until the end of September, the finance ministry said.
Sunak will also announce an extra 126 million pounds for traineeships for up to 43,000 placements.
Sunak’s March 3 budget will likely include a new round of spending to prop up the economy during what he hopes will be the last phase of lockdown, but he will also probably signal tax rises ahead to plug the huge hole in the public finances.
Sunak is also expected to announce a “flexi-job” apprenticeship scheme, whereby apprentices can join an agency and work for multiple employers in one sector, the finance ministry said.
“We know there’s more to do and it’s vital this continues throughout the next stage of our recovery, which is why I’m boosting support for these programmes, helping jobseekers and employers alike,” Sunak said in a statement.
(Reporting by Andy Bruce, editing by David Milliken)
UK seeks G7 consensus on digital competition after Facebook blackout
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain is seeking to build a consensus among G7 nations on how to stop large technology companies exploiting their dominance, warning that there can be no repeat of Facebook’s one-week media blackout in Australia.
Facebook’s row with the Australian government over payment for local news, although now resolved, has increased international focus on the power wielded by tech corporations.
“We will hold these companies to account and bridge the gap between what they say they do and what happens in practice,” Britain’s digital minister Oliver Dowden said on Friday.
“We will prevent these firms from exploiting their dominance to the detriment of people and the businesses that rely on them.”
Dowden said recent events had strengthened his view that digital markets did not currently function properly.
He spoke after a meeting with Facebook’s Vice-President for Global Affairs, Nick Clegg, a former British deputy prime minister.
“I put these concerns to Facebook and set out our interest in levelling the playing field to enable proper commercial relationships to be formed. We must avoid such nuclear options being taken again,” Dowden said in a statement.
Facebook said in a statement that the call had been constructive, and that it had already struck commercial deals with most major publishers in Britain.
“Nick strongly agreed with the Secretary of Stateâ€™s (Dowden’s) assertion that the governmentâ€™s general preference is for companies to enter freely into proper commercial relationships with each other,” a Facebook spokesman said.
Britain will host a meeting of G7 leaders in June.
It is seeking to build consensus there for coordinated action toward “promoting competitive, innovative digital markets while protecting the free speech and journalism that underpin our democracy and precious liberties,” Dowden said.
The G7 comprises the United States, Japan, Britain, Germany, France, Italy and Canada, but Australia has also been invited.
Britain is working on a new competition regime aimed at giving consumers more control over their data, and introducing legislation that could regulate social media platforms to prevent the spread of illegal or extremist content and bullying.
(Reporting by William James; Editing by Gareth Jones and John Stonestreet)
Britain to offer fast-track visas to bolster fintechs after Brexit
By Huw Jones
LONDON (Reuters) – Britain said on Friday it would offer a fast-track visa scheme for jobs at high-growth companies after a government-backed review warned that financial technology firms will struggle with Brexit and tougher competition for global talent.
Finance minister Rishi Sunak said that now Britain has left the European Union, it wants to make sure its immigration system helps businesses attract the best hires.
“This new fast-track scale-up stream will make it easier for fintech firms to recruit innovators and job creators, who will help them grow,” Sunak said in a statement.
Over 40% of fintech staff in Britain come from overseas, and the new visa scheme, open to migrants with job offers at high-growth firms that are scaling up, will start in March 2022.
Brexit cut fintechs’ access to the EU single market and made it far harder to employ staff from the bloc, leaving Britain less attractive for the industry.
The review published on Friday and headed by Ron Kalifa, former CEO of payments fintech Worldpay, set out a “strategy and delivery model” that also includes a new 1 billion pound ($1.39 billion) start-up fund.
“It’s about underpinning financial services and our place in the world, and bringing innovation into mainstream banking,” Kalifa told Reuters.
Britain has a 10% share of the global fintech market, generating 11 billion pounds ($15.6 billion) in revenue.
The review said Brexit, heavy investment in fintech by Australia, Canada and Singapore, and the need to be nimbler as COVID-19 accelerates digitalisation of finance, all mean the sector’s future in Britain is not assured.
It also recommends more flexible listing rules for fintechs to catch up with New York.
“We recognise the need to make the UK attractive a more attractive location for IPOs,” said Britain’s financial services minister John Glen, adding that a separate review on listings rules would be published shortly.
“Those findings, along with Ron’s report today, should provide an excellent evidence base for further reform.”
Britain pioneered “sandboxes” to allow fintechs to test products on real consumers under supervision, and the review says regulators should move to the next stage and set up “scale-boxes” to help fintechs navigate red tape to grow.
“It’s a question of knowing who to call when there’s a problem,” said Kay Swinburne, vice chair of financial services at consultants KPMG and a contributor to the review.
A UK fintech wanting to serve EU clients would have to open a hub in the bloc, an expensive undertaking for a start-up.
“Leaving the EU and access to the single market going away is a big deal, so the UK has to do something significant to make fintechs stay here,” Swinburne said.
The review seeks to join the dots on fintech policy across government departments and regulators, and marshal private sector efforts under a new Centre for Finance, Innovation and Technology (CFIT).
“There is no framework but bits of individual policies, and nowhere does it come together,” said Rachel Kent, a lawyer at Hogan Lovells and contributor to the review.
($1 = 0.7064 pounds)
(Reporting by Huw Jones; editing by Jane Merriman and John Stonestreet)
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