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埃及:金融科技市场即将拉开大幕

国际资讯投融资监管与政策

埃及:金融科技市场即将拉开大幕

有着1亿人口的埃及是中东和北非人口最密集的国家,IT和电信服务市场空间也非常可观。

Fintech领域同样也是如此。美国大学开罗校区商学院Ayman Ismail表示,目前埃及的金融普惠性非常低,目前埃及全国只有1400万银行账户,以及几乎同等数量的邮政储蓄账户,而即便是拥有银行的账户的人使用账户的频率也并不高。

世界银行数据显示,中东是全世界银行账户渗透率最低的国家,地区平均值14%,与埃及国内数值相当。

埃及Fintech产业面临的挑战

Ismail表示:"埃及大多数的借记卡都是工资卡,很少有人用它来来购物或网上消费。此外,消费者和中小型企业都很难获得贷款......银行放贷保持保守,大多数的银行存款都买了政府国债,因为这样做的安全度更高。"

同时,还有一些因素导致埃及人很少使用那些在其他国家市场已经普及的银行金融服务。这些因素包括17.7%的高利率、17.1%的通胀率(埃及央行及Trading Economics-2018年1月数字,这已是2016年10月以来最低水平)、低存款率以及繁复的银行业务流程等等。

面对这样的市场局面,包括当地创企、大学、NGO和政府部门都在积极努力,希望借此机会释放埃及的Fintech方面的巨大潜力。

埃及Fintech产业发展现状

Clifford Chance律师在最近一份关于中东Fintech产业的报告中指出,埃及Fintech创企数目增加主要应该归功于埃及政府和央行,后者希望借此升级支付系统并将国家转为无现金社会。

报告中写道:"最成熟的Fintech领域就是支付服务、移动钱包和智能钱包。"

开罗商学院Ismail指出,目前埃及已经有12家银行和3家电信公司提供或正在推出移动钱包业务。用户数量增长迅速,目前钱包用户总量已经达到900万个,每月新开户数量达20-30万个。

他预测:"2019年,移动钱包数量很可能超过银行账户数。此外,新Fintech创企还提供不同领域的自动化创新服务,比如公司、政府、体育俱乐部、财团和NGO。"

Ismail强调"P2P转账、付账单、小微金融、收发工资、在线购物以及当地和国际汇款"是驱动Fintech增长的主要动力。

使用Fintech反过来又能刺激经济增长,因为消费者、公司、投资者和其他利益相关方看到了这些科技在"经济效率和普惠金融"方面的好处。

埃及Fintech产业发展的主要动力

这些应用和创新的驱动力有些来自于意想不到的地方。

Clifford Chance注意到,2016年埃及央行发布了使用手机无现金支付新规,让人们能够"转账、手机充值、付水电煤和捐款",无论用户此前是否拥有正规银行账户均可以享受此类服务。

这些律师说:"移动钱包方便消费者而且获取简单。但只限得到执照的银行才能申请提供移动钱包服务,并作为开证银行接收现金储蓄以发放电子金钱。"

Ismail说过去一年埃及政府修改规章,鼓励移动支付发展,这极大地促进了Fintech和金融创新。

"埃及央行政策制定者很懂行。一大体现就是新创建的支付委员会,由央行主席主持。该委员会正在改革监管措施,开放移动支付领域。

另一大体现则是埃及产业联盟和埃及银行联盟2017年9月发布的政策报告。其中提到了一系列考虑中的措施,旨在通过"引入现代化无现金支付机制,无论是基于银行还是数字化来减少经济中现金使用比例",最终"摆脱作为一个依赖现金的经济体。"

该分政策报告中指出:"这一转变十分重要,因为现金支付和结算对经济发展有不良影响。现金高度使用扩大非正式经济规模、限制了经济主体获得融资能力、助长逃税、阻碍低收入群体获得现代化金融和银行服务益处、弱化存款文化、助长洗钱、资助恐怖主义、贩卖毒品和其他违法行为。"

报告还为简化银行开户流程、允许无银行账户用户在不同移动钱包间转账并帮助无智能手机用户获得银行银行服务提供了清晰的建议。

埃及尚未推出4G服务,64%即3200万埃及人口无移动互联网,获得移动银行服务尤为重要。

埃及Fintech产业潜在发展空间

Ismail说:"使用传统方法扩大信贷获得性挑战重重,需要创新性Fintech来引领这场变革。

他认为一大潜在发展领域是成长迅猛的小微金融,"越来越多的私营部门和NGO小微金融机构正在建立,手中有着大量资本。"

Ismail是哈佛大学肯尼迪政府学院前研究人员,拥有MIT的硕博学位。他不仅仅是名观察者。

日常工作外,他还共同创建了移动钱包科技公司PayMob。该公司在非洲和中东拥有690万用户,定义自己是基础设施科技公司。

作为美国大学开罗分校(AUC)一名教授,他创建并负责AUC 风投实验室。实验室是美国大学开罗校区与埃及商业国际银行共同在2016年成立,作为创企加速器,它在过去18个月内帮助了15家Fintech创企。

美国大学开罗分校致力于Fintech发展,它与伦敦私营投资基金Luqman Weise Capital合作,支持该大学中小企业融资项目发展,这也是埃及首次拥有此类项目。

埃及Fintech行业与该地区其他国家一样正在快速发展,挑战传统金融做法并利用科技满足公民的需要。

Wamda 研究实验室和支付平台Payfort报告显示,过去十年间,该地区Fintech创企累计融资额已经达到1亿美元。2016年该地区新成立105家Fintech创企,2020年预计上涨到250家。

如果埃及和该地区其他国家要实现Fintech潜能,保持这样的增长速度至关重要。

Home to nearly 100 million people, Egypt is the most populous nation in the Middle East and North Africa, and a huge market with considerable scope for new IT and telecoms services.

The opportunities are particularly clear in the area of financial technology, or FinTech. One big reason for this potential, Ayman Ismail of The American University in Cairo's School of Business explains is that, "Egypt has a low level of financial inclusion".

"We have around 14 million bank accounts and a similar number of postal service savings accounts," says Ismail, who holds the Abdul Latif Jameel Endowed chair of Entrepreneurship at the university.

World Bank data reveals that the Middle East has the lowest level of bank-account penetration in the world, averaging 14 percent of adults, in line with the in-country figure for Egypt.

This situation leaves a large percentage of the population "unbanked", and in Egypt even those with accounts are seldom maximizing their potential.

CHALLENGES FACING EGYPT'S FINTECH

"Most debit cards are used for payroll, with very little use in purchasing or online. Similarly, access to credit is limited, both for consumers and SMEs," Ismail tells ZDNet.

"Banks traditionally have been conservative in extending credit. Most of their deposits go to investing in government treasury bills, with safe returns."

Alongside this situation, myriad financial forces also contribute to many Egyptians deciding to opt out of the types of banking behaviors that are well established in many other markets.

These factors include high interest rates of 17.7 percent, inflation at 17.1 percent in January 2018, the lowest since October 2016, according to Central Bank of Egypt data published by Trading Economics, low savings rates, and notorious levels of banking bureaucracy.

Against that backdrop, a number of stakeholders are seeking to unlock Egypt's FinTech potential, a drive that includes local startups and entrepreneurs, universities, NGOs, and various branches of the Egyptian government.

PROGRESS IN FINTECH

As noted by lawyers Clifford Chance in a recent paper on FinTech in the Middle East, the growing number of FinTech startups in Egypt is being driven by the Egyptian government and the Central Bank of Egypt's intention to upgrade payment systems and move towards a cashless economy.

"The most mature sector is the provision of payment services, mobile cash, and smart wallets," the researchers write.

According to Cairo School of Business's Ismail, mobile wallets are currently available or being implemented in 12 banks, and three telecom operators. Figures are growing rapidly with more than nine million wallets already open, and 200,000 to 300,000 new wallets being opened monthly.

"It's likely that we'll have more mobile wallets than bank accounts in 2019," he predicts.

"Additionally, new FinTech startups are innovating by offering use cases to automate services in different sectors, such as companies, government, sports clubs, syndicates, and NGOs."

Ismail highlights "peer-to-peer transfer, bill payments, microfinance, payroll, pensions, and social-security payments, merchant purchases, online purchases," as well as "local and international remittances," as activities that are helping give FinTech momentum.

In turn, adoption of FinTech applications can create a further impetus for growth, by helping consumers, businesses, investors, and other stakeholders realize the benefits of these technologies in both terms of "economic efficiency and broader financial inclusion."

DRIVERS FOR CHANGE

Interestingly, some of the drivers for this adoption and innovation in Egypt are coming from perhaps unexpected sources.

As Clifford Chance observed, in 2016 the Central Bank of Egypt issued new regulations for cashless payments using smartphones, enabling banked and unbanked customers to "transfer money, pay telephone and other utility bills, and make donations".

"Mobile wallets are regarded as consumer-friendly and easily accessible," they add, although they also report that, "Only licensed banks can apply to provide mobile wallets and to act as an issuing bank to take cash deposits in exchange for issuing electronic money".

Cairo School of Business's Ismail says over the past year government has moved to revise regulations to allow for more openings on the mobile payments side, which is a great enabler for FinTech and financial innovation.

"There's a clear understanding among policy makers at [the] CBE [Central Bank of Egypt] of this reality," he adds. One manifestation of this shift is a new Payment Council, chaired by the president, which is making regulatory reforms to open up this area.

Another example of this openness to change can be seen in a policy paper published in September 2017 by the Federation of Egyptian Industries and the Federation of Egyptian Banks.

It outlines a plethora of potential policy remedies designed to move "away from a cash-dependent economy" by "introducing modernized non-cash payment mechanisms, bank-based or electronic, which seek to reduce the share of cash usage in the economy.

"The significance of this transformation lies in the fact that the continued use of cash for payments and settlements adversely affects economic development," the paper argues.

"High cash usage encourages the growth of the informal economy, limits opportunities for economic units to access available funding, facilitates tax evasion, disallows low-income groups the benefits of modern financial and banking services, weakens the savings culture in society, and facilitates money laundering, the financing of terrorism, drug trafficking, and other illegitimate activities."

The paper also offers clear recommendations to streamline processes for opening bank accounts, allowing unbanked customers to transfer funds between mobile accounts, as well as giving non-smartphone users access to mobile banking.

That mobile-banking access is especially important when, as the GSMA has noted, Egypt has yet to launch 4G services and 64 percent, or 32 million, of Egypt's inhabitants don't have access to the mobile internet.

AREAS OF POTENTIAL FINTECH GROWTH

"Given the challenge of extending the access to credit using traditional means, new innovative FinTechs are needed to enable this transformation," Ismail says.

One area with potential, he believes, is microfinance, which is growing substantially.

"More private-sector and NGO MFIs are being setup, with substantial capital pushed their way," he adds.

Ismail, who's a former research fellow at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and who holds both a master's and PhD from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, isn't just a detached observer.

Outside his day job, Ismail is a co-founder and chairman of mobile-wallet technology company PayMob, which has six million customers across Africa and the Middle East and describes itself as an infrastructure technology enabler.

Through his role at The American University in Cairo, he's the founder and director of the AUCVenture Lab. Launched in summer 2016 with the Commercial International Bank-Egypt, it is a startup accelerator that has helped 15 FinTech ventures during the past 18 months.

AUC's commitment to FinTech also includes a new partnership with the London-based private-investment fund Luqman Weise Capital to support the development of a FinTech concentration in the university's MSc finance program, the first of its kind in the country.

FinTech in Egypt, as elsewhere in the region, is clearly beginning to gain traction, challenging old financial practices and offering tech to meet the needs of many citizens.

In the past decade, the region's FinTech startups have raised over $100m in funding, a report from Wamda Research Lab and payment platform Payfort found. Meanwhile, 105 FinTech startups were launched in the region during 2016, a figure projected to grow to 250 by 2020.

Maintaining that rate of progress will be critical if FinTech's potential in Egypt and the wider region is to be realized.

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