Key African players in digital finance take centre stage at international UP colloquium

Posted on November 30, 2018

Former Minister of Finance Trevor Manuel was the keynote speaker at a colloquium on African innovation in digital finance recently held at the University of Pretoria.

The event brought together African innovators in the field of digital finance as well as academics from various disciplines within the humanities to discuss the latest developments in this increasingly important field. “Every innovator in Africa should have a Humanities scholar, such as an anthropologist, alongside them for the journey,” said one delegate. “The insights that emerged when we brought innovators and academics together were exceptional and far exceeded anything we could have imagined.”

Entitled “Digital Finance in Africa’s Future: Innovations and Implications” and organised by UP’s Human Economy Research Project and the Johannesburg Institute for Advanced Study, in association with Disrupting Africa, the colloquium played host to delegates from a variety of academic institutions and fintech companies including the University of Geneva, University of Addis Ababa, The Institute for Money, Technology & Financial Inclusion, Temple University, and the American University, Washington. CENFRI, MFS Africa, eTranzact, Creditable, Wala, Inclusivity Solutions and Gosocket as well as the South African Reserve Bank and the Central Bank of Kenya were also represented.

The colloquium had two complementary aims: to give key players in digital finance in Africa the opportunity to highlight the extent and sophistication of their innovations, and to discuss their successes as well as the obstacles and challenges they face. The second aim was to bring these innovators into conversation with academics with a special interest in the social, political and economic implications of the innovations in question.

Manuel’s opening address emphasised the importance of understanding the social and economic implications of new payment technologies and the need for prudent yet enabling regulation. His keynote speech led into an open discussion guided by fintech author and founder of Disrupting Africa Nnamdi Oranye, and Stephen Mwaura Nduati, former head of the Central Bank of Kenya’s national payment system.

Eight working sessions took place over four days, each consisting of presentations by an innovator and an academic or a regulator, followed by group discussion. The topics included mobile money and digital payments, regulation, agent networks, remittances, G2P transfers, insurance, start-up capital and the blockchain. The number of delegates was kept low to allow for in-depth discussion, though ‘virtual’ participants from around the world could follow the sessions via live streaming, and submit their comments and questions online.

Group picture of the delegates.

The consensus that emerged from the lively, interactive discussions was that there is a strong need for innovators, regulators and academics to engage in regular and interdisciplinary debate. While most innovators are aware that the technological feasibility of an invention doesn’t guarantee that it will be socially beneficial, they do not always have the expertise to consider the wider implications of their technological prowess. And while humanities researchers can provide these insights, they do not always fully understand the technological complexity involved or the financial and regulatory challenges faced by innovators. Also, regulators need to balance the interests of governments, banks, and fintech start-ups with broader concerns about social and economic development. This difficult task requires insights into both the technological and the social implications of fintech innovations and new financial products.

Other noteworthy points made by delegates included the need to incorporate fintech-related topics into academic curricula to prepare students for their future in a digital and globally connected world in the context of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. Participants also emphasised the need for a focused, interdisciplinary research agenda that explores both the technological and the social implications of fintech innovations in different geographic, cultural and regulatory settings.

With these goals in mind, the organisers would like to encourage individuals, companies and institutions with an interest in these issues to join our emerging network of scholars, innovators and regulators (contact details below). The highly successful format of this colloquium lends itself to replication in other parts of the world where innovations such as mobile money have already had a transformative impact or will do so in the near future.

The detailed deliberations of the colloquium will appear as a conference report in early 2019. Recordings of the sessions and the opening event, as well as regular updates on the progress of this emerging project, will be made available on the conference website:

For more information, contact the Human Economy Programme: [email protected] (Administrator) or [email protected] (Programme Director).

Opening event and keynote address delivered by South Africa's former Minister of Finance, Mr Trevor Manuel.

- Author Lena Gronbach

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