Jacqueline is the Digital Financial Services [DFS] Markets Specialist and MD at Intermarc Consulting. She used to be a senior analyst at MicroSave Consulting Africa in the DFS department and lead faculty member at the Helix Institute of Digital Finance in Kenya.
With over 10 years professional experience in DFS, telecommunications and the banking sectors, she has consulted for firms across East and West Africa, viz, Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Zambia, Zimbabwe Ghana, and Nigeria, as well as Indonesia, Philippines, Cambodia, Peru, Brazil etc.
She has broad knowledge and experience in DFS product development, strategic operations in agent network deployment and scale-up. She spoke with FINTECH AFRICA on issues related to product designs for BoP, mobile money, regulations and gender related work matters. Excerpt.
Having worked in East and West Africa in Digital Financial Services (DFS) for years, how crucial is your role to the growth and development of FinTech in Africa?
I am responsible for supporting Fintech industry developments on the deployment and scaling of financial services, leveraging technology, within and outside Africa. I am actually very passionate about what I do. I support a myriad of stakeholders such as commercial banks, microfinance institutions, mobile money operators, third party (fintech) players, Central Banks, government digitization projects and DFS for social impact partners, among others.
Key intervention areas product and channel innovations, merchant payments, regtech, social impact payments, government and social digitization initiatives, financial inclusion initiatives, the gender finclusion focus among others. My specific role can be summarized into three main deliberation areas, that are critical in the development of the Fintech space.
First, it is my research intervention. Here I cover scoping and assessments in the form of country-level scoping exercises, payments diagnostics, creation of digitization roadmaps, conducting institutional readiness assessments in the deployment of DFS, project design, among others.
My second intervention category is capacity building. I am involved in developing curricular and conducting training to different stakeholder groups, about different Fintech components as described above. This is to equip the stakeholders with different skills and knowledge to strengthen their implementations. The training sessions have been impactful from the responses I got from different stakeholders. This has been quite motivating and is fuel to keep on doing what I like.
I provide consultancy services (technical assistance) to varied Fintech industry stakeholders, helping them to achieve certain goals and objectives. This intervention is mostly carried out on-premise and involves co-innovating and the co-creation of viable and scalable digital ecosystems.Specific activities include inter-alia, innovative product and channel strategy development, financial modelling, customer segmentation, business process re-engineering, project pilot planning, project monitoring and evaluation.
My roles and responsibilities are therefore critical in equipping industry practitioners with the right knowledge, skills and approach in the implementation of financial services projects, leveraging technology.
Whose responsibility it is to make DFS meet the needs of the people at the bottom of the pyramid?
I frequently hear this question in the industry. I think the question bears some bias – it is assuming that the people at the bottom of the pyramid need DFS and that what the supply side of the industry is offering is what is required. The truth is, unless the technology is providing more superior and impactful financial services solutions than their existing alternatives, low income segments (people at the bottom of the pyramid) will not subscribe to the DFS solutions.
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I would like to encourage all stakeholders and especially the providers, to first understand the existing alternatives, existing pain points when it comes to financial money management in low income segments, the money management contextual behavior and decision-making influencers. From this understanding they can begin generating solutions that these users would prefer, choose and regularly use.
When it comes to whose responsibility it is or who is best suited to offer the solutions, I believe it is the responsibility of anyone who can identify the use cases and provide daily meaningful solutions.
This person or entity should be able to create the right business models to deliver these services as well as a thoroughly thought business case to implement scalable solutions for this target segment. From my experience, distribution is a key focus area in the implementation of these services and this can be complex and involving. It also calls for the “appetite” or commitment to stay involved so to do.
The biggest challenges faced by many implementing institutions (providers) are as a result of business models not effectively designed to drive business in this segment as well as misunderstood business cases.
Mobile money system is working in East African countries and Ghana. Why is it not so in Nigeria? What should be done to change the narrative?
Actually, mobile money is working in many West African countries. Ghana is not an exception. In Nigeria, mobile money and even agent banking are struggling to scale for a number of reasons. There are speculations and debates around who is best placed for different roles in order to scale mobile money in Nigeria.
I choose to provide the core principles in the successful implementation of mobile money and even agent banking. A lot is said because of misinformation and a lack of an in-depth understanding of some of the core principles that I am about to share. They may seem basic but they are really fundamental.
It is never a question of bank-led or telco-led or third party-led by product phase, but by functionality. All these models have success stories in different emerging markets, and the reason is because the regulatory framework and core functions in the implementation of mobile money have been well understood and right partnerships have been created leveraging comparative advantages of these core partners involved.
Distribution is one of the core functions of mobile money. The markets with the telco-led framework have advanced mobile money, because distribution is one of the telco’s strengths or comparative advantages, stemming from the FMCG (Fast Moving Consumer Goods) principles and standards of delivering products to markets.
For instance, telcos incorporated a distribution framework taking into consideration attributes such as product or service availability, space, merchandising, price considerations and quality of service (ASMPQ) which is unknown to banks or many other institutions.
In markets with bank-led mobile money frameworks, the banks are using different options. For example, the banks are entirely outsourcing the distribution function to telco- partners, using intermediaries with skills and knowledge on the FMCG product distribution principles and standards, poaching former telco or FMCG staff members to drive mobile money, among others.
In Nigeria the operating framework allows banks and third-party entities to issue e-value. Mobile money has stalled, not because telcos have not been allowed to issue e-value, but because the comparative advantage (distribution, huge marketing budgets, flexibility, innovativeness, etc.) each partner especially telcos in the business models have not been fully utilized, in this case, telcos have only been engaged in providing the technological infrastructure. The banks have also dwelled on being the face of the solutions even when they are not as innovative and have been perceived to only issue accounts.
There is a general assumption that mobile money can only grow when telcos issue e-value, and therefore the regulating guideline should change – this is not necessarily true. If the telcos can be allowed to issue e-value, then it is obvious that they will prosper following their distribution comparative advantage, but there are also options to leverage this strength.
Another point is the fact that the mobile money business case has been misunderstood. There is the assumption that once agents are deployed across the country, then mobile money will prosper. Minimal effort is being channeled to daily meaningful value propositions. What are the existing use cases? What are providers offering to encourage the uptake of mobile money? What problem is mobile money solving?
With this misunderstanding comes the creation of strategies based on agent numbers only (volumes) or value (amounts of money) with no basis, leading to both increasing agents and customer churn rates.
The creation of an enabling regulatory framework was thought to be one of the drivers of success for DFS. What is your assessment of the regulatory framework across Africa in this regard?
Regulation has an important impact on whether the digital financial services sector will take-off at all and whether it will become competitive. Across Africa digital financial services may be provided by telcos, as well as by banks and other providers that use MNO networks. Whether these are all allowed to enter the market, or whether only banks are permitted to provide such services, greatly influences whether the market will take off.
A range of regulatory issues are important to the success of digital financial services including the following: Safeguarding user funds, protecting against fraud, terrorism financing, among others. Countries are experimenting with different levels of regulation for different types of risks; the right balance is being struck in regulation of agent networks to preserve the incentive for rapid rollout of agent networks without allowing exclusive arrangements to prevent competitors to enter the market successfully; account-to-account interoperability, meaning the ability to transfer funds from the mobile wallet account of one provider to that of another provider, is particularly emerging and is important where one provider has a strong market position.
We are also seeing that interoperability has important implications for network effects and prospects for competition; the use and availability of customer data is important in enabling risk-related financial services, principally lending and insurance. Incumbent providers may have a strong advantage in holding a large portion of such data and being able to control how it is used.
We are seeing these having implications for telecommunication regulators (as telcos may have important relevant data), financial regulators (that want to ensure firms can manage risk appropriately) and competition regulators (that want to ensure all firms have access to resources necessary to compete).
Consumer protection is a crucial ingredient in developing digital financial services, in terms of building trust and ensuring services provided to people who tend to have low financial literacy are provided with a reasonable level of transparency to enable them to make informed decisions.
Financial, telecommunication and competition authorities each have important roles to play in the development of digital financial services. For instance: The financial regulator may determine the permitted agent relationships between providers and their agents, but the fact that many agents double up as agents for both telephone services and financial services means that the telecommunication side cannot be ignored.
While regulating access to the telecommunication service used to carry financial services is primarily a telecommunication regulatory matter, understanding the effects of pricing of such services requires both an understanding of the charges for the financial services and competition analysis, and so likely involves both the financial and competition authorities.
For these and many other reasons, collaboration among these authorities is vital, yet each can make progress where such collaboration is not possible. Regulatory policy makers must engage with these issues in order to facilitate growth and competition in mobile financial services.
In your recent work, you focused on how best to address the existing pain points of typical low-income households through provision of improved digital financial services. Can you shed more light on this?
The advent of FinTech has propelled developments in the industry, where solutions have come with alluring ‘convenience’ value propositions, translated to accessibility, immediacy, affordability, security, reliability, among others. However, after closely working with low-income people, how they perceive convenience is very different, yet the convenience perception is a key influencer in the adoption and regular usage of these solutions.
People in the low-income segments often want to manage their finances in the most comfortable way possible. They hope to do so without feeling like they would be judged in anyway, and that they will be treated with dignity. They may feel intimidated by the formal structures or even agents who are their neighbours and somewhat know them.
Customers should be able to access their funds whenever there is need. They compare accessing funds from their social groups and other informal borrowing avenues to the formal processes and make decisions basis the ease of access and usage.
The liquidity features commonly known as terms and conditions and other fees for digital financial solutions are not clear and, in many cases, not known to many households. During customer registration to digital financial services, very little information on product features is passed on to customers leading to low trust levels to formal systems.
What is your relationship with the FinTech industry? Are you a member of any industry group? Would you the industry have welcomed you?
I am well known in the fintech industry, both in Nigeria and internationally, because of my interactions and engagements with industry stakeholders through conferences and other events, participating in online thematic webinars, the training and consulting projects and lastly from my publications. I like documenting my experience, so I put together some thematic blogs for the benefit of the industry.
Kindly share the biggest issues women are facing in the workplace?
Today’s professional women face these leading issues; fewer leadership roles, the glass ceiling, not being able to move into growth positions over time, sexual harassment at work places and maternity leave challenges.
Would you say women are underrepresented at the top of the corporate ladder?
Yes. Women lag far behind their male peers and that is unlikely to change in the short-run, since women also make up only a small fraction of the corporate positions. It is still very much a man’s world.
In many places across the globe, women are not paid as much or promoted as often as men. In India, women’s participation in the workforce is still shockingly low. And in the United States, despite consistent activism inequality and higher wages, women may never make up half of the total workforce.
However, in many countries across the world, there’s some hope. According to a recent Pew Research Centre analysis of labor statistics in 114 countries, women make up 40% of the workforce in more than 80 countries globally. But more surprisingly, the top five countries with the highest female representation in the workforce are all in sub-Saharan Africa. Zimbabwe and Malawi lead the list with more than 52% of female share in the labor force, followed by The Gambia (50.8%), Liberia (50.6%) and Tanzania (50.5%).
How have you faced any gender-related obstacles in your career?
I have faced quite some ‘glass ceiling’ challenges, but I never intend to dwell on that. I prefer encouraging other women to overcome these challenges.One thing every woman should know about climbing the corporate ladder is that it is always you, not your work that will get you to the top. Of course, the work must be stellar.
But the journey doesn’t begin and end there. You need to step in front of the work and show the world who you are. You need to advocate for it and convince others that it’s good and important. By so doing, you’ll get to know and believe in yourself more, and you’ll build the relationships that will help you ascend higher.
Managing work-life balance is a big deal now. How do you create a balance?
In my kind of world, as a consultant, work-life balancing can be impossible at times. It is not a typical 8a.m. to 5p.m. affair so sacrifices must be made. For instance, there is a lot of travelling and staying away from family and friends. You can only develop coping mechanisms and learn to quickly juggle life and work instead of trying to achieve a balance. Some coping mechanisms involve proper time management, learning to say no, taking advantage of work implementation options, shortening commitments and minimizing interruptions.
How would you mentor women who are in your present position?
I believe in making sacrifices to make things work. Finding a way to enjoy your work and learning to live your work. That way you get to advocate for your work and make necessary connections in the industry that will always propel you to your desired move or position
What is the best advice you ever received?
Keep keeping on as you do it for yourself! It is aligned with self-love before loving others. (smiling)
Who do you admire most in the FemTech in FinTech space?
I admire women with empathy that goes into impactful innovation in Fintech.
Farida Bedwe is one of the women I admire in Fintech. She has impressive footprints in the space including developing a cloud software platform that lets companies send loan codes to customers by text which can be exchanged for money in bank branches immediately. This is a solution that is being usedby 130 micro-finance companies across Africa. Inspiringly, Bedwei hasachieved all this while living with cerebral palsy.