> Posted by Lizzy Bolze, Project Specialist, Investing in Inclusive Finance, CFI

Digital trends in the African financial inclusion sector are evolving quickly. With the entrance of fintech startups and a more tech savvy client base, the role of corporate governance is more important than ever. As David Kombanie, Board Member of VisionFund put it: “Disruptive innovations are here with us. It’s change or die.”

Kombanie, along with more than 50 CEOs, board members, investors, fintech leaders, and regulators from Africa’s financial inclusion industry, engaged in a peer-learning exchange roundtable, Governing in a Digital World. This video provides an overview of discussions and key takeaways from the participants:

Governance for Financial Service Providers in a Digital World

The roundtable’s peer-to-peer exchanges provided three important governance considerations and recommendations for the boards of financial service providers (FSPs) as they evolve with the digital world:

Develop a Digital Strategy

Many FSPs aren’t adequately prepared for the disruption created as technologies enter the market. At the same time, it’s important not to digitize for the sake of digitizing. Boards of FSPs should have a clear strategy and understanding of how digitization can improve product offerings and back office operations. Their role is to provide leadership and expertise to guide the institution in developing and implementing a digital strategy. Change management and gaining knowledge about technology are key components for such success.

Ensure Board Leadership and Expertise

Understanding and filling technology knowledge gaps on the board is crucial for ensuring strategic leadership of the FSP. Boards should be evaluating their competitive advantage, rather than following trends. Rohit Acharay, co-founder of First Access says that answering the questions: “What are we good at, who are our customers, and how do we create products that really serve them…?” is the first evaluating step for FSP boards to take.

Better Utilize Data to Serve Clients

Fintech startups serving low-income clients use data to gain competitive advantage. In contrast, many FSPs have an abundance of underutilized data that could be leveraged to better segment clients. For example, different levels of human touch and support may be needed for different client segments.

Governance for Fintech Startups

For start-ups, building a technologically-advanced product isn’t enough. It’s also important to focus on building governance structures while navigating regulation and prioritizing client centricity. Key governance recommendations for fintech and innovative startups include:

Engage with Regulators

Regulation tends to lag new players entering the financial inclusion sector. However, regulations inevitably will catch up, and fintechs need to be proactive in doing things ‘right’ initially to avoid regulatory trouble later on. Paul Lamont, Director of Digital Services for Accion in Africa, noted that because some disruptive technologies “move faster than regulation” it’s important for fintechs to build close working relationships with regulators to stay aligned with evolving regulatory environments and provide perspective to regulators about pushing the boundaries that drive financial inclusion. Fintechs should ensure the lines of communication with regulators remain open so that there is a clear understanding of the products and services offered.

Ensure Board Independence and Diversity

It is crucial to have independent voices on the board with diverse perspectives and backgrounds who can provide insights, especially on what’s happening on the ground. It is also essential to have board members who are able to make important introductions and connections, and can provide a sounding board and checks and balances for the founder(s) or CEO.

Consider Partnership Opportunities

There are many partnerships opportunities – especially around data usage – for fintechs and FSPs. As mentioned, many FSPs are collecting a lot of data about clients but aren’t effectively using it. Some fintechs have developed a more streamlined and insightful process for utilizing client data that could greatly benefit FSPs. With financial inclusion-focused FSPs and fintechs aiming for the same goals for their clients, it’s important to establish an ecosystem through partnerships to better understand strengths, weaknesses and opportunities to work together.

By practicing good governance, FSPs and fintech startups have the opportunity to evolve with the digital world and continue to play an important role for the future of financial inclusion.

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