Financial regulators around the world have realised the tremendous role digital financial services can play for financial inclusion by creating and enabling an environment favourable to these services. Speaking at the inaugural session of the national Digital Financial Services (DFS) Working Group, launched in Monrovia, the Executive Governor of Liberia’s Central Bank (CBL), Mr Milton A. Weeks said that the DFS would expand the delivery of basic financial services to the poor, through innovative technologies like solutions enabled by mobile phone, digital payment platforms and electronic money modules.
Digital channels can drive down the costs for customers and service providers, and open the door to remote and underserved populations. Such services should be suited to customer needs and delivered at a cost which is affordable to customers and sustainable for service providers. Mr Weeks said that the CBL had started expanding financial inclusion through more rural community financial institutions, credit unions and microfinance institutions.
The Working Group is a joint initiative of the CBL and the UN Capital Development Fund’s Mobile Money for the Poor (MM4P) programme.
In approximately five years, a country like Tanzania has witnessed an unprecedented uptake of mobile financial services. In 2008, less than 1% of the adult population had access to mobile financial services, but, by 2013, 90% had access—an exponential increase.
The amazing telecoms and financial services success story in Tanzania is attributed to the conducive regulatory environment which the government, the regulatory authorities and the Bank of Tanzania envisioned in the very early days of mobile money services. There are several ways in which Liberia could benefit from the Tanzanian experience:
1. Establish proper guidelines early in the game
In 2006, the Bank of Tanzania Act was amended to give the Central Bank the powers to oversee and regulate the payment services of non-bank entities. This was made concrete in 2007, when the Guidelines for Electronic Payment Schemes were issued—allowing Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) to offer payment services.
2. Adopt a regulatory approach to guide the market rather than stifle it
Tanzania’s courageous regulatory approach of “mandate and monitor” has ensured that mobile payment regulations guide the market without stifling innovation or disrupting the successful development trajectory. In this way, financial stability and financial inclusion objectives are balanced.
3. Set priority areas for action
Recognising that the role of mobile money could “revolutionise the landscape of financial services”, priority areas for action from 2014-2015 were set in the National Inclusion Framework (NFIF). These were:
- to enable robust payment platforms
- to increase the proximity of financial access points to where people live, transact and interact
- to support robust electronic information infrastructure for individual and business profiles, credit history and collateral
- to increase the engagement of the credit reference bureau, and establish as well as use a central collateral database
- to ensure that customers are informed and protected.
4. Deploy a Mobile Money Monitoring Solution
In line with these developments, Tanzania deployed a Mobile Money Monitoring (M3) tool developed by Global Voice Group (GVG), thus becoming the first country in the entire East African region and the first country in the entire world to do so.
Liberia should acknowledge that the deployment of the M3 solution was an extremely important step, because it gave the government and the regulatory authorities visibility on all mobile money transactions. This transparency works to:
- safeguard the efficiency and safety of mobile money
- protect the mobile money market and users
- enable better planning of the cashless economy
- limit the risk of fraud, money laundering and the financing of terrorists.
Global Voice Group (GVG), a global company specialising in ICT and revenue-assurance solutions for governments and the different authorities in charge of taxation and telecommunications, has made a significant contribution to the revenue assurance and revenue increase of both the local and national telecommunications operators. GVG’s Mobile Money Monitoring solution provides the tools and technologies to enable regulators to oversee mobile money and facilitate compliance in this area.
Liberia could benefit significantly from the Tanzanian experience—it will not have to reinvent the wheel and will be able to capitalise on tried and trusted solutions. The Tanzanian success story could enable Liberia to accelerate financial inclusion and the successful implementation of mobile money services.