The World Health Organisation (WHO) last week advised that the greater adoption of mobile payment innovations should be at the heart of preventive interventions aimed at reducing Africa’s burden of infectious diseases. A WHO finance officer stated that besides curbing the spread of diseases, the use of digital platforms has also cushioned health workers from security risks, has improved transparency, and has enhanced financial inclusion. This week, New Era’s Head of Business and Lifestyle, Edgar Brandt (EB) interrogated the managing director of local IT service provider Green Enterprise Solutions, Kehad Snydewel (KS) about the establishment of robust digital payment ecosystems in Namibia and in Africa.
EB: As MD of one of Namibia’s largest ICT service providers, what changes have you seen happening during the last 18 months of the pandemic?
KS: Well, I think we have all been overwhelmed by what has happened across the globe, and here in Namibia as well, we have not been spared. Whilst keeping the business afloat in these challenging times, there have been some points of light as well. The Working From Home (WFH) era has meant a whole new set of infrastructure challenges had to be dealt with. From security, internet capacity, e-learning and the proliferation of apps that mean things don’t have to be done face to face, and services moving online. The acceleration of certain developments and innovations have also occurred because of COVID-19.
EB: One such innovation and development might be the mobile payments solutions, as advised recently by the World Health Organisation.
KS: Yes, I saw this statement, and the following explanation given by Ahmed Hamani, finance officer at the WHO’s Regional Office for Africa. I must say it would be music to my ears as someone who has believed in going digital with payments for years; from something as simple as digital wallets to seeing applications such as PayPal and Venmo and M-Pesa being rolled out. It makes me wish we were this far along in Namibia.
EB: Help us understand how digital financial transactions will stop the spread of disease, here in Namibia and across Africa, as the WHO claims.
KS: Well, as you probably know, money is pretty dirty. It goes from hand to hand. It falls on the floor, is stuffed into pockets, wallets, bags, and as we know…even bras and in the back of nappies to keep it safe. This makes it dirty, and a way of transmitting diseases without knowing it. But there’s another issue at play. Digital transactions allow people to be paid on time without having to be physically present somewhere.
EB: How does this work, and has it been implemented anywhere?
KS: By harnessing digital solutions, frontline workers involved in immunisation campaigns have strengthened the response to diseases on the continent through rapid and efficient payments. Money is a great motivator, and the people working out in the field battling and immunising others need to have their allowances on time.
EB: So, this is basically FinTech, something that seems to be taking over the world. But why not in Namibia?
KS: With people wary of handling cash because of COVID-19, solutions that have been conceived and implemented across the world are finding traction in Namibia now as well. Fintech is everywhere. Just look at internet banking. We no longer stand in line, but carry out EFT (Electronic Funds Transfer), and our use of mobile money is based on complex and very secure technology.
However, as so often is the case, we see the poorest of society marginalised by these developments. They don’t have a bank account or a smart phone, so access to mobile money apps or e-banking seems a pipe dream. This is where digital currency and mobile money comes into play. Especially in Africa, this has been embraced. We can simply send people money by SMS with the simplest phone, which is almost impossible in Europe. Yet, we all know it’s perfectly safe to do so right here in Namibia. Transferring a couple of bucks to your loved ones, or receiving the much-needed airtime from your mum, dad or friend is all thanks to FinTech. But it goes much further, just as the man from the WHO said. Paying your workers in the field, knowing they are getting their money on time and making people feel financially included are things that possibly weren’t there before. It’s a game-changer.
EB: Will we really see digital payments and transactions of all sizes, from the smallest to the biggest, in Namibia?
KS: Covid-19 has brought about the urgency to scale up digital payments, reduce the risk of transmission, and protect frontline workers. We are seeing it happen everywhere. There are a few options here in Namibia as well. However, they have their challenges. If we as African countries prioritise the adoption of mobile payment innovations, we will be able to attract and retain highly qualified health workers to boost action on communicable diseases, which benefits us all.
EB: So, what is stopping Namibia from embracing this, like so many of the other countries have?
KS: Well, the subject is complex and very diverse, with not just banks pursuing this technology. Service providers like PayPal, but also locally here in Namibia, we have our very own National Payment Solutions, with many new forms and applications waiting to launch. The power of Fintech really lies with the consumer. If the consumer demands ‘digital payment’ methods in all its guises, banks, entrepreneurs and companies will find a way to make it happen, and Government will legislate accordingly. Embracing it as a government will empower each and every consumer, whatever their income and wherever they are in the Land of the Brave. We need the banks, the regulators and the public to work together to make digital payments and mobile money available, usable and accessible for all. The ICT organisations are raring to go, and are willing to be part of creating the new payment formats and applications.
EB: But is this digital evolution really safe?
KS: Simply put, yes! The security and safety of transactions whenever money is involved is of course paramount, and remains a challenge when technology is involved. Is it truly safe, and do consumers, whether business to business or private individuals, feel comfortable taking their financial activities online? So far, it seems they will and have. Fintech trends show that people are quite comfortable managing their money and business online. Mobile money remains the most basic example of the embracing of this new technology. With organisations like the WHO pushing mobile payments and digital currency as well as many countries and their banking systems embracing it, it is demonstrated that it is safe.
Overall, the financial technology sector is red-hot, with traditional financial institutions increasing their FinTech investments, and competing with start-ups to offer financial services’ products faster and more efficiently. But once again, for FinTech to work properly, a solid, secure, always-on and connected array of technology needs to support Fintech.