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Leaders in the mobile money industry emphasize the necessity of political determination in addressing cross-border payment challenges.

Cross border payments continue to be hampered by inconsistent regulation and policy coordination, mobile money industry leaders claim.

The success of efforts to deepen intra-continental trade, including the landmark African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), depends in large part on the existence of cross-border payments systems. However, despite the success of mobile money on the continent, cross-border payments still add unnecessary costs and delays to businesses and individuals, industry leaders claim.

During the Africa Prosperity Dialogues in Aburi, Ghana, panellists called on governments and regulators to accelerate efforts to build robust inter-country payments systems to support intra-continental trade.

Ernest Addison, governor of the Bank of Ghana, said that expanding mobile money access, “could empower the underserved populations with essential financial tools to help unlock opportunities for savings, loans, and secure transactions, as well as promote economic stability and growth.”

Quoting McKinsey, Addison noted that Africa’s e-payments industry generated approximately $24bn in revenues in 2020, even though it accounted for a mere fraction of all payments. This, he said, shows that “e-payments have the potential of being a major growth pole for Africa.”

Cross border payments, however, continue to be hampered by legacy challenges, including inadequate payment infrastructure, inconsistent regulation, limited policy coordination and user education, and security and fraud concerns.

Addison pointed to the Pan-African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS), an initiative of the African Export-Import Bank, as an ideal solution to facilitate efficient and secure financial transactions across borders, stressing its potential for scalability and innovation in cross-border trade.

As at the end of 2023, 12 central banks, including those from the West African Monetary Zone (WAMZ) and the East and Southern Africa regions, had joined, with others on the verge of signing on to the platform.

Industry claims lack of political will

Patricia Obo-Nai, chief executive of Vodafone Ghana, noted that operators had been able to solve the problem of interoperability in-country, meaning that money can be sent from one network to the other seamlessly.

However, the inability to do so across borders takes a toll on customers who are unable to send money to family or business associates in different countries. For some customers this means making withdrawals and sending money through offline methods.

“What we have done is take away the ability to build a digital footprint,” said Oba-Nai.

That means, she said, that many customers have no records that could help them access loans and other financial products.

Obo-Nai acknowledged that regulators have concerns including data privacy, security and exchange rates but said that mobile operators are able to address these concerns.

For example, she pointed out, mobile operators are able to charge customers roaming on their network while away from their countries of origin. This indicates, she said, that the main barriers are of governance and political will, rather than operational issues.

“The big one is just the political will to be able to do it. If somebody takes ownership and says, I want to make this happen. I am confident it will happen,” she stressed.

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