How digital financial services contribute to Uganda’s economy

by Business Times
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The role of Financial Technology (FinTech) in facilitating Uganda’s transformation cannot be overemphasized. Without point-of-sale machines and online/mobile banking expediting entry into our national parks, tourism would most likely contribute less than the 3% it currently contributes to Uganda’s GDP.

 Without mobile money, global remittance, and payment platforms (which are also key enablers for e-commerce and ride-hailing), Uganda’s GDP would be less than its current USD 41.27 billion.

Without blockchain (and other distributed ledger technologies) big data, cloud computing, and Artificial intelligence that are at the core of FinTech, developments such as credit scoring and analytics would remain a preserve for the western world.

Without virtual private networks and two-factor authentication to secure online payments, Uganda’s digital economy would practically be obsolete. In 2021, the total value of mobile money transactions reached over UGX 140 billion. The total transaction value in the digital payments segment is projected to be $3.30bn in 2023.

Leveraging digital financial services has the potential to increase the levels of financial inclusion in the country and cater to the financial needs of the unbanked population.

Uganda currently has over 84 fintech firms offering payments, money transfers, e-wallets, remittance, digital lending, digital banking, insurance technology (insurtech), wealth management, capital markets, payment card switches, and blockchain (cryptocurrency currencies and exchange).

Payments and E-Money

The payment ecosystem is made up of various components. In its infancy, the mobile money market primarily focused on person- to person (P2P) transfers. The range of services offered has since expanded to include the purchase of airtime, payment of utility bills, digital lending & saving, cross-border transfer of money, purchase of cryptocurrency and wealth management.

Mobile money was first introduced in Africa by the Kenyan company Safaricom in 2007. It then made its way into Uganda in 2009 through MTN Mobile Money. For many years, mobile money services have largely been a preserve of Mobile Network Operators (MNO) in partnership with commercial banks.

digital financial services

However, with the proliferation of financial technologies and with the enactment of the National Payments Systems Act 2020 and Regulations, new players have entered the payment space thus augmenting competition and consumer choice. According to a report by FITSPA, there are currently fifty entities offering payment services in Uganda.

These include MTN Mobile Money Uganda, Airtel Money Uganda, Wave Transfer, Chap Chap, Jumia Pay, Safeboda Pay, Pesapal, and DusuPay. A number of these also operate digital wallets.

As of June 2022, Uganda had a total of 40.7 million digital wallets. Of the 40.7 million wallets, 36.9 million wallets were Mobile Network operators (MNO) – mobile Money wallets linked to MTN, Airtel, and Uganda Telecom Limited. Non-MNO-linked digital wallets accounted for 10% of total wallets with a total count of 3.8 million wallets administered by licensed non-MNO Payment Service Providers.

Payment aggregators or integrators play a pertinent role in the payments sector as they provide the functionality required to run payment platforms such as the cash-in, cash-out, transfer of money, and payments. Yo! Uganda entered the market in 2011 to enable multipurpose mobile payment aggregation. It was closely followed by Beyonic, Payway, Remits, Jpesa, and EzeeMoney.

 MTN and Airtel still dominate this industry. This is for a number of reasons key among them being the accessibility of USSD. The affordability of smartphones and low internet penetration rates in the country continue to stifle FinTechs that depend on internet connectivity to service clients.

Agility is needed on the part of these FinTechs to adequately respond to the needs of Uganda’s low-income demographic. Wave Transfer has shown innovation in this regard by employing the use of cards that customers can use to withdraw cash, without the need for a smartphone.

Payment Cards

There are currently two domestic card switches in Uganda- Interswitch which is used by fifteen commercial banks and six microfinance deposit-taking institutions to route their ATM Verve debit cards and the Agent Banking Company (ABC) Switch which is used by fourteen banks to route ATM Visa debit card transactions.

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Financial technology has revolutionized the tedious process of cross border transfer of money. There are currently eight remittance service providers operating in Uganda. These include Eversend, Sendwave and Flutterwave.

Through interoperability, consumers can now send and receive money in real-time on mobile money accounts, bank accounts debit/credit cards and cash outlets.

Digital Lending and Micro-Saving

MTN pioneered Uganda’s micro-savings and digital lending industry in 2016 with the introduction of ‘MoKash’ in partnership with the Commercial Bank of Africa. Uganda currently has sixteen digital lending and microcredit institutions.

The enactment of the Financial Institutions (Amendment ) Act 2016 and Financial Institutions (Agency Banking) Regulations 2017 authorized commercial banks to offer agency banking. This has resulted in significant competition for Fintenchs in this sector.

However, Fintechs are able to dominate in niche markets of the sector. For instance, Tugende and Asaak both offer asset lending services to motorcycle riders while M-Kopa offers solar. Unlike the rest of the FinTech sectors, there is currently no legislation that specifically addresses digital lending outside that offered by commercial banks, microfinance institutions, and SACCOs. This may be because a number of entities offering these services have simply digitized existing business models as opposed to creating new ones

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