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Mic Mann, Mann Made Media Co-Founder, Nasreen Saunders, Blockchain Academy, Arif Ismail, SARB Head of Fintech and Antoinette Hoffman, Standard Bank Group Head of Digital Payment Wallet

“Globally, cashless mobile payments are expected to grow five-fold and reach $30 trillion by 2022, according to ARK Invest. This illustrates huge potential for businesses across the continent that are catering to largely unbanked consumers with high smartphone adoption,” said Mic Mann, co-organiser of SingularityU South Africa Summit 2018 and SingularityU Johannesburg chapter leader. 

In a world where exponential technologies are becoming more ubiquitous, it’s crucial to understand how to incorporate them into our businesses to remain relevant and grow, as well as how they are also being used to solve some of the world’s grand challenges.

In the run up to the highly-anticipated SingularityU South Africa Summit 2018, the South African SingularityU chapter hosts a number of non-profit events aimed at strengthening the community.

The first in the ‘Future of’ series of chapter events, which addressed the Future of Finance, took place in Johannesburg and Cape Town on the 16 and 17 May 2018, respectively. The focus was on the rise in cashless and frictionless payment systems, the blockchain and digital currencies, and the regulation thereof.

While payment solutions have evolved over time, there are still some challenges that need to be addressed to make the world cashless.

“We have learned that it is not the technology that is the challenge, but rather the payment ritual. Cash is king – across the African continent, more so than in South Africa. The challenge is to get the customer to choose the cashless option at the point of sale, which is not always easy. The convenience of cash always being accessible and available with ATMs at every corner, gives that warm feeling of security that nothing can go wrong. Everyone accepts cash. There is no point of sale that will reject cash because of the perceived notion that fraud doesn’t happen with cash. You have the money in your hand,” explained Antoinette Hoffman, Head of Digital Payment Wallets.

Blockchain allows for more direct payment and bookkeeping solutions that eliminate the need for middle-man mediators. Nasreen Saunders explained how BitPesa, which was founded by Elizabeth Rossiello in Nairobi in 2013, is eliminating the high costs associated with cross-border payments across the continent. “Today BitPesa’s largest customer segment are remittance companies, who have reported that BitPesa halves their cost of doing business,” she said.

The BitPesa model complements the banking industry by addressing underserved clients, upselling to existing clients, and adding to intra-bank efficiency. There is a compliance check at every stage of each of their fund-flows, which allows the model to mitigate the risks normally associated with digital currency transactions.

Saunders noted the rise in blockchain applications beyond the financial space, including its use in the publication of medical and public records, to register land rights, execute legal contracts, for voting, and to certify supply chains, among others.

Through crowdfunding platform Usizo Project, Emaweni Primary school in Soweto had Bankymoon Bitcoin-funded, smart-energy meters installed. The meters allow anyone to make Bitcoin payments directly to the meter to fund the energy and water needs of the school. “This revolutionary approach to foreign-aid removes the need for donors to make contributions via an organisation, which adds costs, and it distributes funds transparently. Donors can now directly fund the causes they believe in and it decreases the probability of fraud, as well as squandered funds,” said Saunders.

The rise in adoption of blockchain technology and cryptocurrencies are demanding new regulations as transactions become more agile, and their reporting more dynamic and automated.

“Regulators now need to balance their rules and principles to support, rather than hinder, innovation. Global collaboration and co-operation with standard-setting bodies will be key and regulators will shift to build staff capacity through deep knowledge on exponential technologies,” said Ismail.

“Highly effective regulators will work to create innovation facilitators such as hubs and sandboxes to keep close to emerging developments and foster shared learning.”

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