African Regional Conference shows that collaboration is king
Now in its 23rd year, SWIFT’s African Regional Conference focused on how collaboration and harmonisation across the continent is helping Africa tackle the economic and other challenges facing the continent, and highlighted many of the dynamic developments already underway.
ARC 2016 was the best yet. More than 400 delegates from 48 countries gathered in Balaclava, Mauritius to discuss some of the most significant issues facing the African continent today. There was an air of confidence among delegates that a united African approach is the key to addressing these challenges, and that collaboration between banks, corporates, regulators and innovative tech startups will lead to Africa’s success.
David Lubinski from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation gave an inspiring keynote address, explaining how the foundation is looking to best reach the two billion unbanked people worldwide by leveraging the incredible knowledge, R&D budgets and capacity that the commercial sector offers.
He stressed that access to formal financial services is critical in helping people get out of poverty and stay out. “A cash-based existence is the most expensive way to live. Financial services allow the poor to take advantage of opportunities such as buying more land and securing good seeds. They also provide basic tools that allow the poor to be resilient in the face of a financial shock.”
Lubinski says that digital technologies are changing the nature of the Gates Foundation’s work. “The world is becoming increasingly digitalised and it is impacting every aspect of the economy. We need to find out how best to leverage it to serve the poor.”
The world is becoming increasingly digitalised and it is impacting every aspect of the economy. We need to find out how best to leverage it to serve the poor.
- David Lubinski, Senior Programme Officer for the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Our opening panel focused on the trends that will be shaping Africa in the years to come, such as a young and growing population, an expanding middle class and technological innovations. Speakers stressed the significance of technology in driving economic growth and social development in Africa. Eric Osiakwan, Founding Director of Chanzo Capital, claimed that “Mobile is transforming the way we collect and use data, taking it from a top down to a bottom up approach. This is driving profound change”.
Speakers agreed that collaboration is key. Terence McNamee, Deputy Director of the Brenthurst Foundation stressed the need for a united African approach to address the continent's challenges and maximise the opportunities. "While the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative still rings true, the continent is still at the margins of global politics. It needs to better leverage regional integration and confront change more collectively than in the past."
While the ‘Africa Rising’ narrative still rings true, the continent is still at the margins of global politics. It needs to better leverage regional integration and confront change more collectively than in the past.
- Terence McNamee, Deputy Director of the Brenthurst Foundation
That said, there are clear examples of Africa’s political will to cooperate. These include various regional harmonisation projects such as the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and the East African Community. “Projects like Siress, the SADC regional payment system, are helping to make intra-regional payments – and therefore intra-regional trade – quicker, easier and cheaper,” says Alain Raes, Chief Executive, EMEA and Apac, SWIFT. “Volumes on the system have risen dramatically since it was launched. This shows what can be achieved through collaboration.”
Projects like Siress, the SADC regional payment system, are helping to make intra-regional payments – and therefore intra-regional trade – quicker, easier and cheaper
- Alain Raes, Chief Executive, EMEA and Apac, SWIFT
It was a busy agenda, with a mix of interactive panel discussions, one-on-one interviews with leading financial experts from across the continent, SWIFT work sessions and networking opportunities. Discussions ranged from the future of payments, financial crime compliance, securities and corporates. Across the board there was an agreement that challenges need to be tackled collaboratively, with banks, corporates, institutions and regulators working together to create common understanding.
Fintech and emerging technologies also dominated discussions. The Innotribe Startup Challenge Africa drew in a huge crowd and showcased some of Africa’s best FinTech startups. After two days of intensive coaching from the Innotribe team, ARC attendees selected the three most promising FinTech companies. The winners received a 10,000 USD cash prize and invitations to attend Sibos where they will share the stage with FinTech experts.
Focusing on technological innovation before correctly identifying the problem to be solved is not the way to successfully disrupt financial services, agreed the panel on disruptive technology. Panellists also agreed that while there are some tech success stories across Africa they are still waiting for the innovative technology that will make a profound impact on financial services.
Our closing speaker Erik Osiakwan, tech entrepreneur and Angel Investor, gave a lively address looking at Africa’s move to mobile, how this is changing lives and how it will inevitably impact the traditional banking sector.
“Innovation and disruption is coming. And if you can’t beat it, join it”, said Osiakwan.
Innovation and disruption is coming. And if you can’t beat it, join it.
- Eric Osiakwan, tech entrepreneur and Angel investor
This year’s CSR donation went to a worthy local cause, the SOS Children’s villages in Mauritius. Child abandonment and exploitation is still a major problem in Mauritius despite the country’s economic and political stability. Organisations such as SOS Children’s Villages play an important role in stemming the socioeconomic problems which can arise due to poverty.
The donation went towards the installation of several emergency staircases which will ensure that the villages remain compliant with health & safety regulations.
Business and financial services are still very relationship-based in Africa, and for this reason the community experience is incredibly important at events such as ARC.
“Delegates at ARC are part of the SWIFT family,” said Sido Bestani, Head of Middle East, Turkey and Africa, SWIFT. “While many come back year-on-year, a large proportion of this year’s delegates had never attended an ARC before. This is the future of Africa’s banking sector. We are excited to see how it develops and grows in the future.”