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The first ever Inclusive Fintech Forum took place from 20-22 June 2023 in Kigali, Rwanda.

Overall, the event showcased the innovation and enthusiasm around solutions that solve problems for people and willingness of participants, which spanned heads of state, regulators, startups, and international bodies, to create an inclusive fintech ecosystem.

This perspective and mindset, in the words of former Credit Suisse CEO and current Rwanda Finance Limited Chair Tidjane Thiam, will pave the way “for the 21st century to go down as the African century”.

Let’s find out what the continent needs to work on to get there.

  1. Infrastructure development

The general sentiment was that fintech’s can’t flourish if they don’t have the right infrastructure.

Infrastructure here means physical infrastructure, such as roads, and digital material. On the digital front, ICT development, increasing the reach and speed of internet, building data capabilities, and digital ID are all key to laying the groundwork to deliver financial services, attract investors, and create new opportunities.

Infrastructures must reach across borders and be interoperable to achieve true effectiveness.

The Pan African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS), a cross-border partnership to provide secure and instant payments. As central banks continue to join the initiative, it will increase the level of financial integration across countries and currencies, benefiting both banks and other financial institutions as well as generating low-cost remissions.

  1. Building together

What’s clearly a key development factor above is collaboration, an attitude which was present in all content at the event.

The thoughts were that collaboration fosters growth because it increases capacity.

Here, governments should focus on fueling SME growth, as supporting entrepreneurs is essential to building big, successful companies.  And in doing so they should work with the private sector to remove obstacles to growth and create an environment to attract investment and foster talent.

Around public-private collaboration, though, the private sector should lead, telling government specifically what it needs.

As developing SMEs is important, lenders should partner to include alternative data sources, like mobile money, in credit risk rating models. Generally, they need to re-evaluate models, as many entrepreneurs don’t meet traditional metrics. Since cybersecurity and privacy are also concerns, lenders must also ensure privacy and cybersecurity, which further favors a collaborative ecosystem approach.

  1. Regulatory harmonization

Favorable, harmonized regulatory environments enable collaboration.

The continent has a patchwork of regulations across its 54 countries, and the sentiment amongst participants across entities was that while regulator may not be innovators, they should lay the foundations for innovation. So, while regulations shouldn’t front-run innovation, they shouldn’t be too far behind it, either.

This supportive role for regulators will make it easier for fintechs to operate across jurisdictions, something essential for encouraging business growth.

  1. Building robust capital markets  

Another essential element of building a robust fintech ecosystem is, of course, capital markets. And the continent has ample opportunity for improvement here, as markets tend to be shallow and fragmented.

Additionally, robust markets are a key point potential Investors look for because, like with infrastructure, they ensure a solid foundation for fintech to flourish.

When it comes to VC investing, Africa is seeing some big names, such as Jeff Bezos and a16z put down money, which is encouraging. In terms of local investors, these tend to dominate early rounds. 

During the event the idea of mobilizing savings and pensions was also broached, as well as strengthening angel networks. This can also play an important role in mentoring female entrepreneurs, which receive significantly less funding than male founders. On this point, the feel at the event was that there is enough diversity in founders out there; those funding them just need to look harder.

  1. Cultivating the right talent

The issue around talent is that Africa, like many other places in the world, has a talent shortage.

But the positive thing is that around half of the continent’s population is under 18—that’s over 600 million people.

Talent isn’t an issue of numbers, but skills. Talent could be developed by looking at current and future job demands, and deducting skills from them, and centering trainings and resources around these in cooperation with universities, developmental bodies, and governments.

Elliot Lyons is a content producer in Amsterdam