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BANKING

Africa’s banks find a core remit

Some of Africa’s largest banks, as well as its budding fintech firms, are building up their remittance offerings. It is an area largely deserted by global banks wary of regulatory risk, but one that is crucial to the region’s economic future.

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Greg Davis, the chief financial officer of Ecobank, is multitasking in front of Euromoney – to prove a point. Even as he is discussing the African bank’s efforts to expand its international remittance offering through the use of new technology, Davis is thumbing away at his smartphone. 

“I can sit here in Washington DC and send my wife back in Togo money from England,” he says, on the sidelines of the World Bank and IMF annual meetings late last year. “And do it while we’re having this interview.”

This is the kind of money transfer – quick, virtual, remote and cheap – that has long eluded African emigrants wanting a practical means of sending money home to their families and friends. Such transfers have become one of Ecobank’s main areas of focus in recent months, and one that occupies the lion’s share of Davis’s hour-long interview with Euromoney.

Remittances are an enormous market. As of October 2017, World Bank figures put the global value of these transfers at just under $600 billion a year. 

Traceable transfers to sub-Saharan Africa total $40 billion a year, but the World Bank estimates the real number to be nearer $200 billion, because much money travels through untraceable channels, such as someone taking a bus home with a wad of cash in their pocket.