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The technology challenge of financial inclusion

It’s no surprise digital technology and regaining community trust are key themes for banks globally but the two overlap in a third, vital area: financial inclusion.

These are all broad challenges but after attending the global banking industry’s global payments and tech fest SIBOS (the Swift International Banking Operations Seminar) and the G-20Y summit in 2016, as well as monitoring global advances since then, inclusion really stands out.

"Banks should consider financial inclusion in their thinking around the social imperatives and purpose for banking."
Angelo Manos, General Manager, Specialised Segments, ANZ

FINANCIAL INCLUSION BEYOND FINANCIAL LITERACY

Financial inclusion and literacy are vital themes for all banks.  But with the massive recent influx of refugees into Germany and other states in Europe, my G-20Y peers in Europe are looking at financial inclusion as a burning issue involving some very different, wide-ranging challenges.

Banks and governments in Europe face the challenge of getting funds to unbanked refugees in order to feed and house some of the largest waves of people movement across Europe since the end of the Second World War.

European peers at the G-20Y believe addressing this issue of financial inclusion and the unbanked is fundamental to maintaining stability and preventing greater social exclusion.

Moreover, they argue financial exclusion could spur the further growth of radical extremism threatening European society.

My G-20Y peers also emphasised financial inclusion—and especially the integration of the unbanked through regulated payments channels—as a means of curtailing the impact of a black (cash) economy.

Again, there are fundamental public interest and risk management elements to this: minimisation if not prevention of tax avoidance and erosion of public finances.

The takeaway for me is while we may not necessarily face the same range or scale of challenges in the Asia Pacific as in other parts of the world, banks should consider financial inclusion in their thinking around the social imperatives and purpose for banking – and digital transformation.

DIGITAL BANKING IS A WORK IN PROGRESS

While we see a lot of focus on digital banking in Australia and New Zealand, the discussions at the G-20Y and experience at SIBOS served as reminders there is still some significant divergence in what digital banking means—or looks like—across continents.

Market analysts in Australia sometimes focus on digital developments from the perspective of understanding how listed banks are progressing on achieving cost efficiencies or winning customers.

Australian banks including ANZ are likely focused on delivering new platforms and digital experiences.

In emerging markets, however, my G-20Y peers stressed how banks were looking to leverage mobile and wi-fi technologies in order to completely bypass the need to roll out physical branch networks.

In markets such as Turkey, Bangladesh or Kenya, for example, banking service delivery across relatively massive populations of mobile phone subscribers is the ‘killer app.’

The fundamental transition seen in Australia over 20 years, from passbook account to mobile/digital banking, is being skipped.

Technology is helping achieve financial inclusion in markets such as Kenya where large populations of lower income consumers (60 per cent live on less than $US2.40 per day) have affordable access to mobile phone accounts and mobile banking platforms for domestic transfers, payment to merchants, savings and loans, and management of bank accounts.

Kenya’s Equity Bank has launched its Equitel mobile banking platform in response to the telecom-led M-PESA platform which has 19 million users transacting the equivalent of around US$150m per day.

At the same time, others suggested some customer segments—including even some of the G-20Y attendees—in established markets remain much more reluctant to embrace online let alone mobile/digital banking.

Reflecting on digital aspects of the G-20Y discussion, I can’t help thinking Australian banks have been making relatively greater inroads into digital banking than typically believed.

Still, my takeway was, as Australian banks have done historically with platforms from EFTPOS to ApplePay the sector must rise to the digital challenge and invest in new technologies, customers—and bankers—are demanding. Not to do so invites more than FOBOL (fear of being offline).

WINNING BACK COMMUNITY TRUST REQUIRES REAL CULTURAL CHANGE

There has been extensive reporting on issues around the conduct of banks and bankers. This has not been isolated to any particular country.

Every peer at G-20Y stressed winning the trust of their communities is their organisation’s—and the banking industry’s—biggest challenge.

SIBOS also provided examples of how industry participants are deploying technology that should at least indirectly support the industry’s wider efforts to regain trust.

Swift used the 2016 SIBOS occasion to launch its Payments Data Quality (PDQ) service designed to help banks comply with new rules on payments and address related regulatory and compliance issues including anti-money laundering and Know Your Customer requirements.

SIBOS participants also believe new technology should help contain the costs of compliance with such requirements. This is a big ask for technology: efficiency, transformation and inclusion. But it’s one the banking industry must answer.

Angelo Manos is General Manager, Specialised Segments at ANZ

If you want to learn more about the perspectives from this year’s G-20Y on not only banking and financial services but also energy, food security, demographics, jobs and digital transformation, see the ‘Perspectives’ document.

The views and opinions expressed in this communication are those of the author and may not necessarily state or reflect those of ANZ.

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