This COVID-19 pandemic caught the entire world off-guard. Not even your favourite pastor foresaw it. Even those that allegedly foreknew it, never prophesied about the same.
With its unprecedented outbreak, states have reacted by issuing the highest (Level 4) do not travel advisories, closing borders and instituting curfews, partial and full lockdowns. Unfortunately this may go on for some months.
While this is happening, all countries are now actively advocating for digital cashless economies as a way for reducing the spread of this deadly virus. Working home, E-commerce and Digital Financial Services are the new normal.
In East Africa, digital financial service providers swiftly responded to the roaming danger of the Corona Virus by waiving several transactional fees. For example, telecoms like MTN Uganda and Airtel Uganda have for suspended sending/transfer charges on Mobile Money and Airtel Money respectively. But withdraw charges have been maintained.
Additionally, several banks and micro finance institutions have scrapped several charges including those on Account to Wallet Transfers (bank account to mobile money), Agent Banking and other digital banking services.
Indeed, these sweetens are all good music to the public ears.
Nonetheless, several questions come up. Is that enough? Can’t these service providers do better now and in future? Did it have to take a pandemic to occur for these players to realize that the multiple charges were anti financial inclusion? Will this economic crisis occasioned by the Corona Virus disease teach financial sector players some lessons about the problem they create by just focusing on earning super normal profits and bonuses annually yet locking out the majority at the bottom of the pyramid?
An economy that included everyone, benefits everyone.
As such, it is my hope that digital financial services players will use this crisis to proactively design accessible and affordable products that will ensure that the poorest of the poor is able to transact electronically.
When this comes to an end, the new normal should be doing away with all money sending/transfer charges and significantly reducing withdrawal and transactional costs.
The writer is a Financial Inclusion Advocate