• Thursday, May 23, 2024
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Offline digital payment option available in Nigeria soon – Femi-Lawal

Offline digital payment option available in Nigeria soon – Femi-Lawal

In this interview, Folasade Femi-Lawal, recently appointed Country Manager and Area Business Head, West Africa, Mastercard, tells Chinwe Michael about how Mastercard’s goal extends beyond facilitating transactions and its commitment to improving lives.

As Mastercard’s new country manager for West Africa, how will you drive innovation in digital payment technologies in the region to meet the diverse needs of consumers and businesses?

West Africa is a key market for Mastercard, as it represents a huge opportunity for financial inclusion and digital transformation, especially for the millions of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that make up the backbone of the economy and the fintech and banking environment.

Our approach to addressing diverse consumer needs involves innovating with intent by curating products and services from the ground up for specific markets, ideally through partnerships with local businesses and governments in Nigeria and Africa.

Over the past year, Mastercard has initiated and continued collaborations with key stakeholders to provide digital wallets, supply chain finance, financial training, credit access, and innovative payment solutions, ultimately empowering SMEs and merchants.

Aligned with our goal of connecting one billion people to the digital economy by 2025, we also focus on fostering financial literacy and consumer education.

How will you lead initiatives to promote financial inclusion in West Africa, particularly among underserved populations?

Our goal to advance financial inclusion is to support small businesses and entrepreneurs in West Africa. We leverage our innovation and solutions beyond payments to help SMEs pay, get paid, get capital, and get digital – safely and securely.

Through initiatives like the Start Path accelerator program, which provides resources and support to startups, we are fostering innovation, contributing to economic growth across the continent, and driving financial inclusion.

According to the World Bank, only 55 percent of adults in Sub-Saharan Africa have an account with a bank or similar institution or a mobile money service as of 2021. Additionally, over 60 percent of people in Africa remain offline, with those considered online struggling with intermittent connectivity that is slow or unaffordable, thereby leading to their exclusion from the benefits of digital services and the widening of the digital gap.

These developments drove us to introduce Community Pass, a shared interoperable digital platform providing essential services to digitally excluded and underserved populations. It works offline, making it easier and more convenient to use in remote communities that lack connectivity. Currently active in four East African countries, we aim to expand the platform to Nigeria and Ghana in 2024.

Also, we are actively expanding digital payment options through our Digital First program, collaborating with governments, banks, and other partners to enhance the accessibility of digital payment services in underserved areas across West Africa. This initiative aims to simplify access to financial services, ultimately advancing financial inclusion.

Additionally, we recognise telecommunications companies’ crucial role in advancing financial inclusion as they provide the necessary infrastructure, mobile money services, and connectivity that enable individuals, particularly in underserved areas, to access and engage in digital financial services.

In your commitment to fostering inclusive growth and empowerment, particularly for women and children, how do you intend to achieve this in the region?

Our commitment to fostering inclusive growth and empowerment, particularly for women and children, is reflected in a multi-faceted approach.

We prioritise digital inclusion, which aims to bring more individuals and businesses into the digital economy, especially those traditionally underserved or excluded. This is realised through various initiatives, collaborations, and solutions to connect one billion people and 50 million micro and small merchants to the digital economy by 2025. A significant emphasis is placed on reaching 25 million women entrepreneurs, recognising the importance of gender inclusivity in economic development.

Women remain underrepresented in STEM fields, and we recognise that they are crucial to fostering diversity, innovation, and gender disparities in these fields. We are narrowing the gender gap by introducing girls in primary school to STEM through our educational platform, Girls4Tech, which aims to cultivate a talent pipeline for the future workforce.

We have impacted over 3.5 million girls in 60 countries, including Kenya, Nigeria, South Africa, and Morocco, and hope to reach five million by 2025. In addition to promoting inclusion, we actively address critical social issues in West Africa.

To maximise our impact, Mastercard has partnered with local charities, such as the Lagos Food Bank initiative in Nigeria and Food4Education in Kenya.

Our initiatives drive financial inclusion and address some of the most pressing social issues in West Africa.

What challenges and opportunities in payments will you address as country manager?

I understand that the digital financial services ecosystem is evolving, and non-traditional financial service providers are looking to scale and differentiate at speeds. To address this, Mastercard, as a technology provider, aims to break down the fragmented barriers that currently exist.

How do you intend to achieve that?

We are actively building the domestic payment ecosystem in key markets in West Africa, connecting partners through digital solutions and technology, and aiming to connect one billion people to the digital economy by 2025.

However, we recognise the growing demand for digital transformation in various sectors. We have introduced several innovative solutions and partnerships to address this, such as contactless payments and the Digital First Program.

Furthermore, we will continue to invest in technologies, platforms, infrastructures, and fintech partnerships that enable us to provide a single platform capability across multiple use cases.

Lastly, we are committed to advancing financial inclusion for communities across Africa. By providing access to secure and convenient digital financial services, improving financial literacy, and extending acceptance infrastructure, we are bringing us closer to a world beyond cash.

How will you position Mastercard competitively against other players in the region’s digital payment space, and what differentiators do you see as crucial for success?

As a global leader driving innovation in the digital payment space, our initiatives like Community Pass, Digital First, Start Path, and Contactless Payments are examples of how we are leveraging technology to drive inclusive growth and meet our customers’ unique needs.

We believe in the power of partnerships. By collaborating with various entities such as telcos, digital e-tailers, and fintechs, we are creating a robust digital payments ecosystem that benefits all stakeholders.

Mastercard is uniquely positioned to advance inclusive growth in Africa. As the digital economy increasingly evolves, our business strategy and social responsibility must ensure that people and organizations have access to the networks, tools, and solutions that can help them reach their potential and achieve financial security.

How do you plan to execute more partnerships for local small businesses in West Africa?

At Mastercard, fostering strategic collaborations is at the heart of our approach to improving and empowering lives beyond facilitating transactions. Our partnership-led approach has established our strong presence in West Africa and Sub-Saharan Africa as we continue to invest, deliver value, and unlock growth opportunities for businesses, governments, and the people.

In our commitment to supporting local businesses, we established initiatives that connect local businesses with a diverse global network, offering mentorship, guidance, access to resources, funding, and opportunities for market expansion. Several fintech start-ups, including Duplo, NowNow, Mono, Asante, and others, have already experienced significant benefits from this program.

Our overarching strategy aims to leverage partnerships and collaborations to promote financial and digital inclusion. The goal is to integrate individuals and businesses into the digital economy, establish a robust framework for sustainable growth, and improve access to locally relevant transformative solutions.

In the future, what should we expect from Mastercard under your leadership?

The rapid digital transformation in West Africa, particularly in Nigeria, is a trend that cannot be ignored. With more than 122 million internet users in Nigeria alone, we have witnessed an explosion in mobile banking and payment technologies across the region.

Large, growing consumer economies in Africa, such as Nigeria and South Africa, present considerable opportunities for innovation in the remittance and payment market.

The regulatory environment is also evolving, with the Central Bank of Nigeria releasing guidelines on contactless payments. Mastercard will continue to work closely with local regulators to ensure compliance while driving innovation.

By leveraging these trends and behaviours, and focusing on our three pillars for Africa, namely Investment, Innovation, and Inclusion, I believe we are well positioned to enhance its digital payment solutions and increase its market share in the coming years.