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Dr Reda Helal and group managing director – Processing, Africa and co-head group processing, Network International, and Benjamin Mutimura, CEO, I&M Bank (Rwanda) Plc. (Image source: Network International)

Dr Reda Helal and group managing director – Processing, Africa and co-head group processing, Network International, and Benjamin Mutimura, CEO, I&M Bank (Rwanda) Plc, has highlighted Rwanda’s journey towards financial inclusion through digital payments, mobile wallets, and strategic partnerships, aiming for full inclusion by 2024 

In the heart of Africa, Rwanda’s financial inclusion efforts are gaining traction as the nation’s institutions, businesses, and consumers increasingly adopt digital payment methods. These technological advancements are essential in extending financial services to a broader audience, offering the convenience of cashless transactions, and facilitating swift and secure exchanges.

Rwanda: Pioneering digital finance hub in Africa

Rwanda stands out as a fertile ground for digital finance, with a youthful demographic—69% under the age of 30—and one of the highest population densities on the continent. The country boasts an impressive 87% mobile penetration rate, and the mobile payment sector saw a staggering 450% growth during the pandemic. In 2022 alone, mobile payment channels processed 310 million transactions, with a significant 41% increase in transaction value reported in November, from RWF 4.7 trillion (US$3.6bn) to RWF 6.6 trillion (US$5bn). Rwanda is ambitiously working towards complete financial inclusion by 2024.

The nation’s strategic plans, Vision 2050 and the National Strategy for Transformation 2017–2024, aim to position Rwanda as a central hub for financial services within Africa. The burgeoning fintech industry is key to this vision, promoting the shift towards digital payments and aiding in the quest for financial inclusion.

A recent study by Access to Finance Rwanda revealed a critical challenge: despite the financial sector’s rich data production, only a select few are leveraging this data effectively. This lack of a data-centric approach is a significant obstacle, as it prevents a deeper understanding of customer profiles and needs, optimisation of business operations, and the ability to forecast outcomes.

In Rwanda’s dynamic market, contactless payments and mobile wallets are becoming increasingly important. They offer consumers numerous advantages, including speed, convenience, and enhanced security.

The strategic alliance between Network International and I&M Bank is set to strengthen the bank’s digital-first strategy and its leadership in Rwanda’s market. This partnership will introduce an array of payment products and services, such as card hosting and processing, backed by strong security measures and an advanced API gateway. These offerings will enrich customer experiences with data and analytics, finely-tuned loyalty programs, and tokenisation, among other innovations.

As the global trend shifts towards contactless payments and digital wallets, Rwanda is witnessing the transformative impact of services like tokenisation and data analytics on commerce and payment systems. These innovations are integrating more citizens into the formal financial framework, paving the way for Rwanda to emerge as a significant financial services hub in the region, with banking standards that match international benchmarks.

Embracing cutting-edge technology in digital banking is crucial for realising genuine financial inclusion. The World Bank’s Rwanda Economic Update underscores the potential for financial services to enhance financial inclusion through innovation. While challenges such as the digital divide, infrastructural shortcomings, and financial literacy gaps remain, the report advises policymakers to strengthen regulatory frameworks, upgrade financial and digital infrastructure, and increase government support to nurture a digital-friendly ecosystem.

As Rwanda strides towards its 2024 financial inclusion goal, the dissemination of knowledge will be instrumental in establishing a digital payment culture that is inclusive and robust.

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