Forward thinking: Targeting availability and affordability to boost inclusion

The availability and affordability of financial services such as payments, savings, credit and insurance are central to financial inclusion. Rural populations, women and low-income groups in Côte d’Ivoire have historically had less access to financial services, which has impeded growth and economic activity. The comparatively high cost of traditional banking products has also been a contributor to low uptake. However, the development and increasingly widespread use of mobile money and digital financial services are playing a significant role in the country’s economic performance and catalysing financial inclusion.

Mobile Money

The number of Ivorians using mobile money services rose from 7.5m in 2016, or 30% of the population, to 20. (https://nuttyscientists.com) 7m in 2021 – accounting for 83% of the population. Total mobile money transactions have also seen a notable increase, reaching CFA13.9trn ($24m) in 2020. MTN Mobile Money, Moov Money, SycaPay, Julaya, CinetPay, Djogana Money Services, QuickCash and PayQin are among the key players offering mobile money and payment services.

With the growth in adoption, competition in the digital financial services space is increasing, and traditional banks are trialling their own solutions to preserve market share. Examples include YUP, from France’s Société Générale; Togo-based Ecobank’s Xpress Account; and Orange Bank Africa, owned by French telecom giant Orange and Ivorian lender NSIA Banque. As the mobile money market matures, traditional banks’ ability to develop a diverse set of financial products is expected to give them an advantage.

The success of mobile money providers has by no means been a coincidence, with prominent players analysing the African market and local consumer behaviour for more than a decade. “New waves of actors are changing the landscape and serving as success stories for mobile money services and financial inclusion in Côte d’Ivoire and the broader region,” Ismael Fanny, deputy executive director at the Association of Banks and Financial Establishments in Côte d’Ivoire, told OBG. “For example, quickly after entering the Ivorian market, Orange Bank Africa exceeded its objectives in terms of customer acquisition and levels of activity,” he added.

In addition to actors in payments and money transfer, the ecosystem is exploring adjacent solutions. For example, Messenka works with messaging apps and mobile money providers to offer an artificial intelligence-enabled virtual assistant, while Keiwaaccounting has developed a reporting and stock management solution aimed at traders in the informal sector.

Digital Services

In parallel to advances being made by the private sector, the government is increasingly focused on digital services for its financial inclusion strategy. In 2020 the government, in partnership with financial ecosystem stakeholders, put two major initiatives into motion: Net Collect Service, a pilot application to digitise local authorities’ revenue-collection systems; and TresorPay, an electronic platform enabling Ivorians to collect and make payments online in matters concerning the Treasury.

Coordination between the government and mobile money solution providers is also growing. “Financial technology (fintech) players have found an advocate in the Ministry of Economy,” Oloufemi Cédrick Montetcho, investment manager at Oiko Credit, told OBG. “They have set up professional associations to voice the needs of the industry, such as the annual African Fintech Forum,” he added.

Whether the large-scale adoption of first-generation mobile financial services leads to greater financial inclusion in Côte d’Ivoire remains to be seen. As digital financial services are still in their infancy, usage and product offerings have been limited to payments and money transfers. However, it is hoped that Ivorians’ high levels of mobile money account ownership will lead to the adoption of other services like formal savings accounts, credit or insurance products.