28 May 2015

ARC shows regional projects progressing and showcases African FinTech talent

Biggest ever ARC celebrated real progress towards regional integration and other goals but pointed out further steps needed to continue driving the inclusive growth agenda.

With 40 speakers, 18 sponsors and exhibitors, 12 panel and plenary sessions, and 23 work sessions delivered over three full days, this year’s African Regional Conference was the biggest and best yet. And hosting the first ever African Showcase of the Innotribe Startup Challenge added extra excitement to this year’s event.

The Conference opened with a great keynote address by the Governor of the South African Reserve Bank, Lesetja Kganyago. He highlighted the progress of regional payment integration in the Southern Africa Development Community but also sounded a warning about what may be the unintended consequences of global regulation.

“According to the latest data, the implementation of the SIRESS system has resulted in 43% of intra-SADC cross-border payments for the participating countries being settled through accounts that regional banks hold on the SIRESS system, instead of via normal cross-border correspondent banking systems,” he said, noting that in the last week of April, settements over SIRESS reached the ZAR 1 trillion mark.  

The number of correspondent banking relationships within Africa has shrunk since the financial crisis and subsequent KYC and other AML/CTF regulation. “If the decline [of banking relationships] is the result of establishing efficient settlement systems across borders, then this is a welcome development. However, if it is flowing from the unintended consequences of changes in regulation, then it would be a matter of concern,” said Kganyago.

The theme of this year's ARC, Africa - Seizing the Opportunity - is opportune and appropriate. Although we face several challenges, these are far outweighed by the many opportunities that the continent offers.

— Lesetja Kganyago, Governor of the South African Reserve Bank

Our opening plenary discussed a thorny issue of how to improve economic transformation in Africa – to ensure that the benefits of growth are felt by everybody and that economic growth is both inclusive and sustainable. Historically, a lot of Africa’s economic activity has been about exporting its abundant natural resources. This has to change, said the panelists.

Mina Balliamoune, Professor of Economics at the University of North Florida and Associate at the African Centre for Economic Transformation, stressed that with so many African countries experiencing good growth now is the time for them to focus their growing resources on things like skills and education, infrastructure and equality.

New corridors of trade will continue to develop. I'm certain that Africa will experience a similar level of trade growth from India as it experienced with China. Africa has enormous potential to add value to these trade flows and therefore to deepen economic transformation within Africa.

— Alain Raes, Chief Executive, EMEA & APAC

Balliamoune added: “We have to use our comparative advantage and not try to replicate what other economies such as China are doing…In this respect, Africa has huge capabilities and capacity around agriculture that could be developed. [However] most people focus on ‘making things’ and do not consider our potential in other areas.”

Alain Raes, Chief Executive EMEA & Asia Pacific, SWIFT, said that African economies needed to build on their experience in trading with China to help them capitalise on the coming wave of trade from other countries.

“New corridors of trade will continue to develop. I’m certain that Africa will experience a similar level of trade growth from India as it experienced with China. Africa has enormous potential to add value to these trade flows and therefore to deepen economic transformation within Africa,” said Raes.

The Centre for Dynamic Markets (CDM), part of South Africa’s Gordon Institute of Business Science, monitors and analyses fast growing economies’ to look at levels of structural transformation, trickle down benefits and other key economic measures. Lyal White, Director of the CDM, said that most African governments had done a good job of putting the right policies and frameworks in place, but to replicate the level of growth seen in Asia, Africa had to drive up levels of “integration and interconnectedness”.

Of course, he said, there must be a focus on delivering the major infrastructure projects which will help to physically link markets, but one easy win would be to improve access to visas.
“The biggest driver of integration is people so it is imperative that the visa process across Africa is improved. African markets are tiny therefore we need to build scale collectively in order to achieve greater competitiveness. A fundamental way to support this is to encourage Africans to move around the continent. It has the benefit of being easier to deliver than mega-projects,” he said.

It was a busy agenda, mixing interactive panel discussions with SWIFT work sessions and networking opportunities. Discussions ranged from what needs to be done to boost intra-African trade and economic growth, to the evolution of African securities markets and the growth requirements of African corporates as they expand across the continent. A lively Innotribe session looked at the gap between how FinTech startups work and what banks are looking for, and discussed how a bridge could be built so that both can benefit.

Go beyond the mainstream markets. See for yourselves the innovation and business vitality that lies beyond the handful of business districts that people visit. Africa is open for business!

— Victor Kgomoeswana, Radio host, commentator on CNBC Africa and author of Africa is Open for Business

Other sessions looked at the success of the SIRESS regional payment systems and asked how this experience could be replicated in other regions and also how it could be repeated in the securities markets to give markets greater liquidity. The regulatory discussion, meanwhile, focused on the impact of KYC in the region; panellists revealed what they require from a correspondent bank to do business and the real business impact of not having a robuts KYC or sanctions screening process in place.

On the middle day in the afternoon, FinTech took over the plenary room with the Innotribe Startup Challenge joining the ARC fold. After and opening address by our CFO, Francis Vanbever, 14 startups – newly coached by the Innotribe team for the previous two days – pitched to judges and investors live on stage. For many this was the first time they had ever done such a thing. We are excited to add the African Showcase to the Startup Challenge and are already looking forward to seeing our 5 finalists in Singapore and to doing it all again next year.

22nd African Regional Conference, Cape Town, South Africa
470+ delegates from more than 40 countries
40 speakers from 20 countries
18 sponsors and exhibitors
12 panel and plenary sessions
23 SWIFT work sessions

Our closing speaker was self-professed ‘Afro-optimist’ Victor Kgoeswame, who shared his impassioned and entertaining view on doing business in Africa. Radio host, regular commentator on CNBC Africa and author of Africa is Open for Business (which we gave as a gift to delegates), Victor confounded many of the common stereotypes about Africa and encouraged the audience to look beyond the headlines to discover the opportunities across this vibrant continent.

“Go beyond the mainstream markets. See for yourselves the innovation and business vitality that lies beyond the handful of business districts that people visit. Africa is open for business!”

Our CSR support this year went to a very worthy local charity, NORSA Community Care, based in Wellington in the Western Cape. NORSA was set up in 2006 to change the destiny of children and families in South Africa who are affected or infected with HIV/AIDS, tuberculosis and extreme poverty. Norsa takes a practical approach, focused on community based projects such as day care centres for pre-school children in need, and week-day meals for school children and their sick or elderly parents. NORSA also plays a critical role in finding families for homeless children and is urgently in need of new facilities for its work with very young infants. SWIFT???s donation will be used build a brand new, dedicated babies dormitory with all the right facilities to support their needs as they wait for adoption.  

The community experience is an important element of SWIFT events in Africa, where business and financial services are very relationship-based. Over the 22 years it has been running, ARC has developed as an amazing platform for peer-group networking and experience sharing for delegates across this very diverse continent.

ARC provides a really collaborative space where the African financial sector, policy makers and industry thinkers can share experiences and look for solutions to their common challenges. This was a very productive three days, both for delegates and for SWIFT.

— Christian Sarafidis, Deputy Chief Executive EMEA, SWIFT

Want to know more? Read the full ARC 2015 report :

Africa: Seizing the opportunity

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Last update: 
26 May 2015

SWIFT African Regional Conference 2015 Report

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