By John Berry, Efma Senior Advisor and Internationally Recognised Transformational Leader

Technology is having a far-reaching impact on individuals across all aspects of their lives – whether it be communication, travel, retail, entertainment or banking. The internet and the arrival a decade ago of the smartphone have dramatically changed the business landscape as well as individuals’ daily lives.

Today, smartphone technology means access to so many services is available within the palm of your hand. Individuals tend to have a closer relationship with their smartphone than their relatives – it goes everywhere with them! The smartphone is now the place where individuals keep their diary, contact list, photos, emails, the news, social media interactions and so much more – losing one’s phone instills a state of panic like never before.

Banks need to compete to survive

This 'drive to digital' has tended to be led by technology and retail sectors rather than banks, and this has created new expectations in the eyes of customers – the ability at the click of a button to access data, purchase products and share experiences has become the norm for many users. In order to compete, and indeed survive in the longer term, banks have been driving hard to deliver innovation in distribution, operational efficiency, broader easy-to-use services against a backdrop of increasing competition from Bigtechs such as Amazon, Alibaba, Facebook and Apple who are actively seeking to enter the financial services marketplace. It is these large Bigtechs that are shaping customers’ expectations – raising the bar for others to seek to achieve.

A number of major consultancies such as Gartner, AT Kearny and Oracle are predicting major impacts on banks’ actual survival unless they learn quickly from other sectors and change dramatically to deliver service excellence to customers. Banks are not seen as exciting places to deal with – historically, branches are places
you had to visit rather than wanted to visit – almost as bad as going to the dentist! The digital revolution, however, is forcing change and it is becoming the enabler for a new beginning for those that embrace and appreciate the tsunami of change occurring.

Huge change in Africa

It is against this background that African banks have been very active in driving digital inclusion, offering on one hand standalone digital banks, and on the other, moving towards an extensive rethinking of their approach. It is not only banks that are shaping the future for money in Africa. Around a decade ago, Safaricom (part of Vodafone group) launched M-Pesa – the ability for users to transfer money from one person to another through their mobile phone. At the time of launch, financial inclusion in Kenya was around 20%. Now a decade later, it is closer to 80% and this service has played a major role in underpinning this significant change. This is one of the reasons regulators supported it from the outset, while banks didn’t welcome the new challenge with open arms!

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