The Innovators 2020: Africa

Ecobank is rolling out services to help clients manage their money anywhere, anytime—and launching a sandbox to encourage more financial innovation.

Table Mountain near Cape Town City.

“If there is one thing that Covid-19 has taught businesses large and small, it is that things can change very quickly,” says Isaac Kamuta, group head of Cash Management and Client Access at Ecobank. “Access to information and the ability to act can be the key differentiator in the marketplace.”

This year’s Most Innovative Bank in Africa, Ecobank has harnessed technology to provide accessible and affordable services across the continent. “Having innovation at the heart of what we do helped us develop digital tools that not only provide real-time online account information to customers, but also provide them the ability to act or transact from anywhere in the world,” Kamuta says. “Additionally, our innovative collection tools allow digital lending to help clients access temporary facilities to keep their businesses going.”

The most recent updates to Ecobank’s proprietary cash management platform, OmniPlus and Omnilite, allow for seamless integrations via an application program interface (API) to any corporate’s enterprise resource planning (ERP) system across 32 countries and Ecobank’s Paris branch.

Ecobank has also launched a mobile financial services platform to make peer-to-peer and person-to-business payments easier, and to facilitate automated collections and reconciliation for merchants via easy integration into merchant systems. The Ecobank Mobile app allows users to transfer funds with Rapidtransfer and make cashless payments with EcobankPay.

Ecobank is looking to technology to facilitate intra-African commerce, as well. “The past few months, we have made strategic technology investments which we believe have laid the foundation needed to drive intra-Africa commerce,” Kamuta says. “Our presence in 33 African countries provides us with a unique opportunity to directly settle more currencies than any other financial services company, leading to reduced costs for our merchants in leveraging technology to drive commerce.”

Partnering With Fintechs

In January, Ecobank launched a pan-African banking sandbox, allowing partners and fintechs across the continent to access its APIs to develop innovative financial solutions.

While some African nations—Kenya, Mauritius and Sierra Leone—have some form of regulatory sandbox, Ecobank’s service is the first that is open to the entire continent. A recent report by the International Monetary Fund (FinTech in Sub-Saharan African Countries: A Game Changer?) highlights the importance of regulatory sandboxes “to address the perennial race between fast-moving innovation and the slow pace of regulation.”

“This is possibly the most exciting development within our banking group,” says Kamuta. “Future banking platforms are going to be technology firms or banks with tech partners. We understand that banking is going to look very different in the coming years, and open banking is the way to go.”

The opportunity to partner with fintechs across 33 countries opens opportunities to solve customer problems and, in the process, make banking more personalized and fun, he argues. “Fintechs provide great value to customers, especially in helping drive financial inclusion. We are working with a number of fintechs on solutions for driving social payments, school fees, insurance, extending savings and even in e-commerce.”

These partnerships should also help protect African economies and businesses from the worst devastations of Covid-19, says Kamuta, as will continental coordination. To this end, Ecobank joined forces with the African Union Development Agency to establish a Continental Framework digital platform to support African micro, small and medium-size enterprises. On announcing the initiative in April, Ecobank CEO Ade Ayeyemi said the “platform will empower MSMEs with knowledge, resources, mentoring, technical expertise and financial support to ensure the sustainability of their businesses during and post-Covid-19.”

This, again, plays into Ecobank’s strategy of using technology to facilitate—and profit from—the economic and social development of Africa.