While we tinker with complex spaghetti infrastructures of old, emerging economies across the world are reinventing finance. Story by Chris Skinner.

Reflecting on the last year, it’s been crazy. I feel like I’ve spent most of the year jumping on and off airplanes. Most visited cities are London (for obvious reasons) and Singapore. I must have been there five or six times this year, and that reflects Singapore’s ambitions to be a fintech hub. I’ve also been in Hong Kong, Bangkok, Jakarta and other cities in Asia throughout the year, with Asia pulling me into its arms as the new models of fintech rise.

Then there was a trip or two to Kenya and South Africa, and many journeys around Europe, from France to Turkey, to Norway. The US has figured in my travels too, with New York being the main touchpoint. It’s been a busy year.

What strikes me as I make these sojourns is how each market, each regulator and each community is different. All the cities have ambitions to encourage startups and be a fintech hub, but some get that more than others. Certainly, the UK and Singapore governments have been determined to push their structures to the fore, but there are nuances around this. For example, China has emerged as the dominant fintech nation of 2016, yet its fintech is very different to what we see in Europe and America. This is partly down to Chinese financial markets using technology infrastructures that were implemented after the mid-1990s, so a lot of Chinese fintech is being created with zero legacy.

This is the Chinese advantage over Europe and America, as the banks and financial markets in the west are trying to rearchitect their legacies. China, India and Africa are starting with almost a blank sheet of paper. In fact, India and Africa are creating whole new ways of thinking about money and value exchange that haven’t even been considered by many. This is because these are countries where financial inclusion has become a key mantra, and governments in Tanzania, Ghana and Uganda have been determined to push the mobile wallet capabilities to their citizens. Meantime, India is trying to go cashless, well before most other nations have even developed a policy for it.

Old tech

This makes for exciting times in emerging, developing and growth markets, but then we come back to the dullness of Europe. European banks are struggling with a lot of old tech. They talk about open APIs under PSD2 with hushed dread, and reference the major groups of workers digitising the bank at a cost of billions. Really? Surely, if the bank is spending billions on tech today, it’s wasting the banks’ money? I don’t see startups that need billions to start up, so why do European and American banks talk about mega-projects with massive legions of coders requiring months to develop their digital assets?

It’s because American and European banks are full of legacy. We don’t have that in the nations that are innovating. China, India, Sub-Saharan Africa, Turkey, Poland and a few other nations are leapfrogging the world with technology in finance. Take Tanzania, for example. Here, people can move money between mobile wallets across all the network operators for almost no cost. In other African nations, digital identity schemes linked to mobile wallets are on the rise. This makes for an incredible combination of technologies that reinvent much of the banking system. The Sub-Saharan African nations are, for example, moving billions of dollars through the mobile network because citizens now have mobile money, and they love it.

American and European banks are full of legacy. We don't have that in the nations that are innovating Click To Tweet

These are people who had zero access to banking, but now they can buy, sell and generate credit histories through their mobile phones. That’s why the GSMA latest publication about mobile money reports that there were a billion mobile money transactions in December 2015, or 33 million per day. That’s more than double the amount PayPal processes. There are at least 19 countries with more mobile money accounts than bank accounts, and most of them are in Sub-Saharan Africa. One in three mobile connections in Sub-Saharan Africa are linked to a mobile money account. In East Africa, that figure rises to one in two.

There are at least 19 countries with more mobile money accounts than bank accounts Click To Tweet

This is why I love the world we see today – a world turned on its head – because we now have massive inspiration, innovation and invention in financial transactions coming from markets that never had access to banking before. They’re making this happen because they now have access to finance through technology. It’s why I’m fascinated by the developments in India, China, Indonesia, Brazil, Colombia and other markets, where technology is reaching the unreachable, because they’re doing things with the technology that have never been conceived of before.

While we in the US and Europe tinker with our complex spaghetti infrastructures of old, the emerging, developing and growth economies across the world are reinventing finance. It’ll be fascinating to see what they come up with.

Interesting statistics about mobile money. Number of live mobile money services by region Percentage of developing markets with mobile money, by region and income level Numbers of registered and active (90-day) accounts, by region The promise of mobile money international remittances Average remittances cost for global MTOs and mobile money providers

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– This article is reproduced with kind permission. Some minor changes have been made to reflect BankNXT style considerations. Read more here. Main image: Cienpies Design, Shutterstock.com

About the author

Chris Skinner

Chris Skinner is an independent commentator on the financial markets through the Finanser, and chair of the European networking forum the Financial Services Club, which he founded in 2004. He is an author of numerous books covering everything from European regulations in banking through to the credit crisis, to the future of banking.

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