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Why for banks, the future is digital

By John Fernandes
Updated Tue, February 16th 2016 at 00:00 GMT +3

Kenya is regarded globally as a Digital Finance Services (DFS) success story. The innovative use of mobile phone technology to drive financial inclusion in Kenya has been widely acclaimed around the world.

Justifiably, in a recent survey, 2015 Brookings Financial and Digital Inclusion Project Report, by Brookings Institute, the US-based think tank, studying access to affordable financial services, Kenya achieved the overall top score for its financial inclusion efforts largely due to the growth of its digital finance services.

The Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) has been an integral part of Kenya's financial revolution, given the country's aspirations laid out in the development blueprint, Vision 2030. The blueprint envisages a deeper and broader financial sector that contributes to improving the livelihoods of the majority of Kenyans, finances the growth of businesses, and funds the ambitious and transformative flagship projects underpinning our development goals.

The outcomes of an enabling legal and regulatory framework, investment by dynamic private sector players, and adaptive and receptive consumers have been transformative. According to a 2015 report by GSMA, funded by Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, access to formal financial services has increased from 26 per cent of Kenya's bankable population in the year 2006 to 67 per cent in the year 2013.

The GSMA report further notes that mobile phone financial services have played a key role in this; what began as money transfer services has now become a platform with a menu of financial services that also includes payments of goods and services, savings, credit, insurance, pensions, and even capital market products.

However, the Central Bank of Kenya (CBK) notes that much more still remains to be done, as 25 per cent of Kenya's bankable population still cannot access any form of financial services. Importantly, the regulator also notes that in order to optimisie on the already banked population, there is need to enhance the usage and quality of financial services. More effort needs to be focused on bringing down the costs of financial services and improving the consumer experience in accessing the same.

In order to address concerns around usage and quality of financial services, commercial institutions globally are quickly zeroing in on digital banking as a necessary part of every bank's way to manage latter day client preferences and relationships.

This is based on the growing acknowledgement that a strong financial services industry can have a significant effect in supporting economic development. Global precedents indicate that digital banks are enjoying an increased customer base, banking on the offer of a new customer experience with quicker processing, greater convenience, and anytime, anywhere availability.

New companies are also entering the field, including MovenBank from the United States, Knab in the Netherlands, Alior Bank in Poland, and Fidor Bank from Germany, all of whom embrace social networks, mobile banking, and customer insights to better meet their clientele's needs.

In developing countries, the adoption of digital banking services may still be met by skepticism due to ingrained cultures about traditional banking. Regardless of these scenarios, various studies acknowledge the fact that young customers prefer net banking and mobile banking and would seldom visit a bank branch. This promises a ripe customer base for financial institutions, hence mobile wallets are an imperative.

The adoption of DFS offers unprecedented growth opportunities. It not only promises accelerated economic growth, due to the reduced operational costs, but also, it will yield significant changes in socio-economic practices, while driving financial inclusion.

According to a 2013 World Bank study, it is anticipated that a 20 per cent increase in financial inclusion could lead to employment growth of 1.4 per cent. Assuming a 20 per cent incremental change in financial inclusion in Kenya in the next 5 years, DFS alone could accelerate GDP growth rate in the country by 7 per cent.

For Kenya, driving our boundaries to achieve this rate of socio-economic growth will require continued and deeper public-private partnerships, the development of robust consumer protection system and the development of products based on a deep understanding of consumer behaviour, needs, and dynamics.

Further, according to an European Financial Management Association (EFMA) and A T Kerney, study, titled 'Banking in a Digital World', with digitisation, another wave of value-chain disaggregation is likely to occur. The demand for more sophisticated elements within the value chain, such as managing customer insights and closing the capability gap banks have with industry leaders, will open up doors for new entrants.

Big IT service providers and niche financial technology players are entering the market with innovative solutions. And once customers get used to that kind of service, banks will need to react, either by shaping up their internal capabilities—a lengthy and expensive process—or by teaming up with new service providers.

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