SWIFT: Embracing the Digital Economy

SWIFT’s 26th African Regional Conference (ARC) was the largest yet, gathering more than 600 participants from 55 countries in Accra, Ghana, to talk about the future of Africa’s financial services sector.

His Excellency Nana Akufo-Addo, the President of the Ghana, opened ARC 2019 and explained the steps being taken by Ghana to enable the digital economy.

He noted that technological innovation has immense potential to transform economies across the world. Just in the last two decades, he said, fundamental changes to payments and settlement systems have been aided largely by the application of information and communications technology to create more cash-less and cash-lite economies.

While technological innovation brings many benefits, there is also a downside, the President stressed – the prevalence of cyber-attacks on digitised platforms.

“It is important that we close ranks to deal with these new, emerging threats, lest we risk the erosion of confidence in our financial payment systems. Just as technology offers opportunities to grow our economies and bring progress to our peoples, there are criminal syndicates who will always be bent on exploiting it for their selfish interests,” he said. “I am aware that SWIFT has been working with Ghana, just as it is doing in other countries, to reduce vulnerabilities to these external risks.”

In another keynote, Dr Ernest Addison, the Governor of the Bank of Ghana, stressed that the financial industry is witnessing significant growth in Ghana. With mobile money penetration the second highest in Africa, Addison highlighted the potential for financial inclusion. He anticipates that, with continued reforms to the country’s payment systems, Ghana will have a strong competitive edge in the region for financial innovation and access to credit.

DAY 1: Driving change – Africa’s evolving financial landscape

The international payments landscape is undergoing significant change as disruptive technologies enter the payments market and put pressure on traditional banking practices. Regulatory scrutiny around KYC and AML and changes in consumer and client behaviour are also forcing the industry to review traditional banking models. The first day focused on what’s driving change in Africa’s financial industry.

Highlights included the opening plenary, which looked at the role of intra-African trade in driving economic growth in Africa. Panellists discussed how payment market infrastructures and regional harmonisation can help increase levels of intra-African trade and stressed that developments such as the recent Continental Free Trade Area (CFTA) agreement are crucial in supporting intra-African trade, but will not be a silver bullet.

Day 2: Delivering change – equipping the financial industry with tools for the future

Day two of ARC was all about action. The move to a digital economy can be a challenge, but there are also plenty of opportunities for banks to create new products and services by embracing new technologies or adopting new business models.

We also featured a fintech showcase, bringing together the best and brightest fintechs from Ghana to demonstrate their products and services. Five very different companies, Dreamoval, Emergent Payments, Fido Credit, Pennysmart and Westcape pitched to the ARC audience and explained their value proposition and the benefits they are bringing broader society.

DAY 3: Managing change – mitigating risk in a digital world

While new technologies are delivering new opportunities for the financial industry, they also come with their own set of challenges – cybercrime is rife and fraud becomes even more difficult to prevent in a real-time world. Our last day at ARC focused on how to manage risk in this digital age.