Guest Post by Steve Polsky, Founder/CEO, Juvo
Achieving financial inclusion has been a daunting task in major parts of the world and, as a result, new generations and disparate populations either have a deep distrust of the financial sector, or have traditionally had little access to it. In fact, a full 48 percent of the world’s population is unbanked and financially underserved. In developing countries this translates to 2.5 billion people who have to rely on cash or informal financial services that are typically unsafe, inconvenient and expensive.
The last few years have seen digital financial technology expand access to financial services for hard-to-reach populations and small businesses at low cost and risk. Today, new products are now possible where they weren’t before. The combustion of cloud computing and data science, along with the proliferation of smartphones, has opened up opportunities to establish financial identities for the billions who are underbanked. The widespread use of mobile phones in emerging markets has created conditions for the large-scale expansion of mobile financial services, which will enable organizations to increase financial inclusion dramatically.
The landscape for telcos and financial services is moving fast and the impact on society is significant. 2018 will be the year telcos indeed become the catalyst for financial inclusion. Here are my predictions:
#1 DATA SCIENCE WILL DRIVE FINANCIAL AND DIGITAL ACCESS
Data science has been in the spotlight and on the agenda for many global mobile network operators. It holds the answer to two key concerns for telcos: first, how to transition from collection, to analysis, to the application of the data in order to successfully engage users; and second, how to tap into the massive opportunity the data offers.
This isn’t surprising given that 77 percent of the 4.9 billion mobile users around the world are prepaid, and therefore anonymous. Research has unveiled the value of leveraging data science to open access to mobile financial and digital services across previously anonymous populations of prepaid mobile users — a new revenue stream is at the ready for operators – to the tune of $70 billion.
In order to drive and significantly increase engagement, mobile operators must establish digital footprints for anonymous users to develop a financial identity. This process requires experienced data scientists who can efficiently combine, clean, and analyze data – using machine learning and bespoke algorithms — to create a financial identity, progressively and in real time.
Operators who partner with data science experts, who are skilled at bringing vast, disparate and previously uncovered data together, will see a dramatic change in the nature of their relationships with their customers.
Throughout 2018 we’ll see heavier investments in data-science to drive transformative actions around the world to reach populations that haven’t had financial or digital access in the past.
#2 THE RISE OF FINANCIAL INCLUSION
Transformations happen over a 50 year cycle, and usually in 10-year increments. The once obscure fintech industry is now reaching its “Golden Age” – what Juvo advisor and investor, and fintech expert, Ron Suber refers to as the middle 10-20 year period of a transformation cycle.
We’ve seen this come to pass as discussion have moved from a celebration of fintech to an exploration of opportunities and challenges, which in turn has us confronting key economic and societal issues.
In the next 12 months the industry will see an increased investment in fintech that will empower and shift the financial inclusion agenda. As a result, there will be a need for regulators and banks to be more trusting of the fintech community – inroads have been made, but there is still a way to go.
The ability of real-time access to digital and financial services will result in a boon to local economies, particularly in emerging countries, and we’ll see the success of financial inclusion rise to reach billions.
#3 A BOON FOR CRYPTO AND BLOCKCHAIN
In 2018 cryptocurrency and blockchain will be one of the driving forces of financial inclusion. As more financially underserved individuals gain access to entry level smart phones capable of running apps that access blockchain systems, financial services based on this technology will be put into the hands of everyone with a mobile device.
Blockchain solutions will create more utility by providing interoperability between mobile-money and digital-money systems, offering the unbanked a convenient and easy tool to store wealth, conduct person-to- person payments & remittances, and send payments to merchants in-store and online. Because of it’s portability, privacy and security, cryptocurrency can protect individual wealth from social, political and economic instability, creating long term stability and economic benefits to individuals and communities. For these reasons, we’ll start to see it gain mainstream acceptance and trust in 2018.
#4 CLOSING THE GENDER INCLUSION GAP
Women and women’s issues have taken the media spotlight in 2017 due to recent events in the world. Headlines like Uber remind us that discrepancies exist even in Silicon Valley organizations that are supposed to be leading in a new digital age. This will continue to continue to be top of the agenda and will touch many sectors, especially in financial access where women have been traditionally underbanked or underserved.
Yes, the needle is moving and progress is happening in terms of facilitating greater access to and use of financial services among underserved populations. However, barriers to financial inclusion remain. Identity is everything when it comes to financial services – mobile or otherwise. Yet, one of every three women in the world is excluded from the formal financial system. The telecoms industry holds the key to empower financial inclusion and has the power to provide women greater control over their financial lives and enables labor force participation.
In 2018, mobile financial services will play a huge role in lifting women out of poverty and will enable them to walk up the pathway of financial inclusion. We will see a bigger push for telcos and financial services to work together in order to bridge the gap for gender financial inclusion. Traction is already being made as we can see in this example from a female janitor based in Jamaica who has found life altering opportunity via access to finance through her mobile phone.
About the author
Steve Polsky founded Juvo Mobile with the goal of providing basic financial services to people worldwide. He leveraged the ubiquity of mobile service and the rapid adoption of smartphones to enable global financial inclusion. Steve’s career has centered on founding, launching and managing early stage technology ventures, including Flixster/Rotten Tomatoes, Amber Networks, VoicePlex Corporation and Edusoft. Steve is a lecturer for the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania’s undergraduate course in Entrepreneurship, and he holds five patents in telecommunications network architecture. Steve is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania’s Management and Technology Program with degrees in Computer Science from the Moore School of Engineering and Finance from the Wharton School.