Changing the way, we interact with financial services.
With the use of fintech platforms, consumers can conveniently access financial services such as basic banking, savings, and payments from the comfort of their home. Fintech solutions are usually designed to meet the needs of consumers without requiring a visit to a physical branch or the filling out of lengthy and cumbersome paperwork. This can save consumers time and money, as well as increase their financial security and independence. This is especially important for people who do not have access to formal financial institutions or have limited access to their services.
For example, consumers can use digital and mobile wallets to store and transfer money, pay bills, pay school fees, buy goods and services online or offline, and even access loans and insurance products, using their mobile phones. Fintech can also help consumers improve their financial literacy and management skills by providing them with tools and information to track their spending habits, budget their income, and plan for their future needs and goals.
Enhancing access to financial services
In Eswatini, we have seen significant gains in financial inclusion as a result of mobile money and mobile wallet banking. According to the FinScope Eswatini 2019 survey, 85% of adults in Eswatini have access to formal or informal financial services, up from 74% in 2014. Mobile money accounts for 67% of this increase. These services have allowed individuals to send remittances to their families in rural areas, enabling local economic activity and allowing them to attend to urgent financial needs.
This is especially important given that a majority of the Eswatini population resides in rural areas. Fintech services also provide a safer alternative to cash transactions, which can be risky and costly for small businesses to handle. By supporting SMEs, fintech can also contribute to job creation and economic growth in Eswatini.
A key driver of innovation
The entrance of new market players has a huge impact on traditional financial institutions as well, driving greater innovation in the space and resulting in better consumer outcomes. For instance, as the wave of digital transactions grows, local banks have introduced self-service digital banks, providing consumers with the digital tools to access banking services without the inconvenience of going to a branch. Yet, the local fintech ecosystem remains nascent, and there is a need to support solutions developed by the youth that are designed for the specific needs of the Eswatini market.
To fully realise the benefits of fintech, there is a need to address key challenges that hinder market growth and greater adoption. These include limited infrastructure, digital inclusion, the cost of internet connectivity, and low levels of financial literacy. In Eswatini access to internet remains low with internet penetration at only 26%.
Digital literacy is also a huge barrier as only 38% of adults have basic digital skills, and only 26% have advanced digital skills which make it difficult to access and use fintech solutions. These factors limit the potential of fintech to reach more people and provide more value-added services.
Fintech promises to drive greater inclusion and enhance the lives of the most vulnerable populations. Collaboration between key stakeholders will be critical in addressing challenges that hinder adoption and developing the local ecosystem.
Pamela Nhlengethwa is a Fintech Analyst at the Central Bank of Eswatini, with a focus on promoting innovation and financial inclusion.