Bridging the financial inclusion gap in South Africa requires simplicity and affordability

Financial inclusion remains a major challenge in South Africa, where millions of people remain outside the formal banking system and where higher-income groups have more access to a broader range of financial services. Despite recent steps being taken in the right direction, Andrew Springate, CEO of tech and financial gateway service provider PAYM8 says innovative solutions aimed at meaningfully addressing financial inclusion must also be simple, easy to use, and most importantly, affordable and interoperable.

As the country moves towards digital payment systems, the key to financial inclusion lies in modernising the market and reducing barriers to entry. The adoption of digital payment systems is one way to increase financial inclusion in South Africa, and although there have been several positive developments on this front, following the introduction of RPP, there is still room for improvement. Digital payment systems and platforms have the inherent advantage of streamlining transactions while providing access to banking services for those who are unbanked. However, to achieve widespread adoption, these systems must be simple, user-friendly and interoperable.  A complex, hard-to-navigate system will only deter potential users, hindering the broad progress towards financial inclusion that South Africa sorely needs.

Moreover, the pricing structure of new financial products must be competitive with existing systems. For individuals who are already struggling to make ends meet, the cost of using financial services can be a significant barrier to entry. To encourage adoption and foster financial inclusion, it’s up to the industry at large to offer services that are not only cost-effective for business but also affordable for the average South African.

Of course, innovative solutions for financial inclusion can come in various forms. One obvious example is mobile banking. With a high mobile penetration rate in South Africa, mobile banking presents an opportunity to reach the majority of the unbanked population. Mobile wallets already enable users to make transactions, pay bills, and receive remittances, all from the convenience of their mobile devices. However, to be even more successful, these services must be easy to use, and the value should be clear and immediately apparent. The unresolved question is how to use a mobile wallet where there does not necessarily need to be a consumer bank account behind the wallet as, in many instances, the consumer is only using the wallet because they are unbanked.

Another promising avenue is partnering with local retailers and businesses to offer basic financial services. By leveraging existing networks and infrastructure, financial service providers can reach underserved populations in a cost-effective manner. This could include offering cash-in/cash-out services, enabling customers to deposit and withdraw money from their accounts, or even facilitating remittances through local shops. Here it is worth keeping in mind that a significant portion of South Africa’s economy comprises informal trade. While adhering to regulatory requirements, it is crucial to establish a framework that considers the circumstances of individuals and businesses operating in the informal sector. Once again, simplicity and affordability are crucial elements to success.

A specific list of ingredients to achieve financial inclusion might look something like this:

  • A mobile phone
  • Solid digital infrastructure to enhance the reach and convenience of financial services.
  • A source of funds that can be deposited into a mobile wallet where the wallet could be run by an organisation with a large footprint but is not necessarily a bank.
  • A list of financial value-added products and services otherwise not previously enjoyed by the unbanked offering greater collaboration among stakeholders throughout the entire financial services ecosystem.
  • Transparent, competitive fees with clear terms and conditions
  • A regulatory environment that fosters innovation and competition, while ensuring financial stability and consumer protection.

Fostering financial literacy is another essential element for the long-term success of financial inclusion efforts. As new systems and products are introduced, consumers, SMEs and enterprises within the informal sector must understand how they work and the benefits they provide. Educational initiatives, such as workshops or online resources, can be instrumental in promoting financial literacy and encouraging the adoption of innovative financial products.

Bridging the financial inclusion gap in South Africa requires a strategic and multi-faceted approach. Innovative financial products and services must be simple, user-friendly, and affordable if they are to gain widespread adoption. Digital payment systems, mobile banking, and partnerships with local businesses can all play a role in increasing financial inclusion. Ultimately, success will depend on the ability of every player in South Africa’s financial services ecosystem to work together, leverage technology, and prioritise the needs of consumers and businesses alike. By doing so, South Africa can make significant strides towards financial inclusion and ensure that more people and businesses can participate in the digital economy.