One of Southern Africa’s Great Regulatory Minds Reflects on Financial Inclusion

Martin Luther King famously said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: What are you doing for others?” For Akinwale Goodluck, a rich and varied career has led him to a place where he can apply his deep regulatory insight into achieving what he hopes will be his legacy - ensuring every African is financially included by 2030.

Akinwale shared his vision for financial inclusion as well as how technology can assist in that goal with the Insight Circle team. For those looking for inspiration, Akinwale provides some wonderful reasons to remain hopeful in Africa’s future.

 An alumnus of the Lagos State University, The Nigeria Law School and the Harvard Business School, Akinwale spent his early career in investment banking before he chose to move over to the exciting world of mobile telecoms, joining MTN Nigeria in 2001.

Akinwale spent 14 years working at MTN Nigeria and the last seven of which he provided leadership for the regulatory and public policy objectives of MTN Nigeria and the MTN Group. In 2017, Akinwale accepted an offer from the GSMA as Head of Region, Sub Sahara Africa with a mandate to realise the GSMA objective of universal access and services, Internet adoption and elimination of the barriers to digital inclusion.

Always one to seize opportunities to drive his life’s work forward, Akinwale has recently taken up an offer from the Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, and now serves as Deputy CEO at AfricaNenda, a programme focused on financial inclusion.

Opportunities for digital trade are big - with some work

When it comes to enabling technologies, Akinwale says the ability for the average African to receive and make payments electronically was a lifesaver when Covid hit the continent. He also says growth in cloud services will add to businesses both big and small being able to compete in future - although he does point out that there is still a good deal of work to be done to bring more people online and ensure access to financial services before the real benefits of the digital economy will be felt.

Akinwale explained that e-commerce is a compelling reason for Africans to venture online and, with safe payment mechanisms as well as good supporting infrastructure to ensure quick delivery, digital trade could be boosted.

“Across much of Africa today, most people have a 3G network and increasingly a 4G network - although it is still not everywhere and that means we still have a lot of work to do. What we need is support from governments and other stakeholders in terms of creating an enabling environment in order to drive and support the rollout of infrastructure. We need governments to understand that it's a long game. They should not be looking at trying to score quick taxation wins from these initiatives. Today across Africa we are seeing more and more taxes on internet activities and new taxes on mobile money and all of this has a negative impact on adoption and inclusivity, " he warns.

Mobile will drive uptake

Staying on the power of mobile, Akinwale says the channel will be a key player in terms of delivering financial services to the most vulnerable, but adds that fintech will also play a real role when it comes to enabling payments.

Looking ahead, Akinwale says that it will be 5G that should hold our attention. Not only will it help in making basic services available to more people, but it will deliver all the promised benefits of the fourth industrial revolution.

What’s more he says a large part of this revolution will take place on the global platforms such as Facebook, Amazon and Google. However, he cautions that there will need to be solid governance around these mega marketplaces, ensuring that there is equal access and opportunity for all those hoping to trade across borders.

Replicating the success achieved in telecommunications

 Drawing on his many years of experience in regulating to create an enabling environment, Akinwale says open standards will help drive entrepreneurship in the digital sphere.

“The internet crosses borders and we must have more standardization if we are to see the benefit of this. If you look at the financial sector, for instance, a lot of countries are now talking about open banking. If you look at it from a network deployment perspective, again, a lot of MNOs and a lot of manufacturers are also beginning to adopt open (Radio Access Network) RAN that will make that equipment interoperable. This openness will have an impact on cost and this will all be passed onto the consumer.

“When it comes to financial inclusion, regulators often empower the established brick and mortar banks. This gives them a monopoly when it comes to the delivery of financial services. I think it’s about time the regulations were reviewed and that telcos and other big companies with large multinational footprints be given a chance to play in this space. Regulations should be changed to accommodate the changes we are seeing in technology,” he advises.

Akinwale says that by allowing telcos to provide services such as mobile money offerings, it will enable a more rapid progression towards financial inclusion. He also says a relaxation in KYC regulations as well as increasing the limits on mobile money payments will help draw more people onto these platforms, further encouraging financial access.

Before we wrapped up, we asked Akinwale to share the one thing that excited him most about his new focus at AfricaNenda.

“The most exciting aspect of my work today is to see how we can replicate the success that we had with rolling out mobile networks across Africa. This includes the way we were able to democratise the opportunity for people to own a mobile phone as well as the way we have shown just how effective this has been in terms of growing internet adoption over the last two decades. I see my work with the Foundation as an opportunity to repeat the same in the area of financial inclusion,” Akinwale sums up.


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