Ebehijie Momoh is Mastercard’s Area Business Head for West Africa. Based in Nigeria, Ebehijie is in charge of expanding Mastercard’s brand presence in West Africa, deploying innovative payment solutions, and collaborating with local governments and market regulators to create a World Beyond Cash.

Ebehijie joined Mastercard from Standard Chartered Bank, where she most recently served as Head of Retail Banking in Ghana and, before that, as Head of Retail Banking in Nigeria. In both roles, she was in charge of developing and executing the Retail Banking business strategy, as well as delivering results.

In this interview with Ventures Africa, she discusses the role of digitization in a post-pandemic Africa. As well as how Mastercard is promoting this reality through partnerships and broadening the value chain for stakeholders across the ecosystem.

How has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your operations in Africa?

Amidst challenging times for people and businesses, Mastercard has been focused on helping people, businesses, fintechs, financial institutions and governments navigate and adapt to a changing business environment. The shift in consumer behaviour away from cash and with fewer in-person transactions, has highlighted again how important it is to connect everyone to the digital economy. The only sustainable growth is inclusive. 

The pandemic has exposed stark digital inequality gaps and we have doubled down on our commitment to tackling both digital and financial inclusion. Last year, we announced our renewed worldwide commitment to financial inclusion, pledging to bring a total of 1 billion people and 50 million micro and small businesses into the digital economy by 2025. We are putting a direct focus on providing 25 million women entrepreneurs with solutions that can help them grow their businesses. 

According to the World Bank, per capita income in Sub-Saharan Africa fell by 6.2 per cent in 2020, reversing more than a decade of progress. In your opinion, what is the role of digitization and innovation in helping to build back a stronger continent? 

COVID-19 has challenged the way we live, work and interact with each other. The pandemic has also exposed how ‘illiquid’ cash is and the power of digital payments and innovation in continuing to enable retail and commercial transactions. There has been a surge in touchless experiences amidst social distancing recommendations, and as stores closed, retailers worldwide moved their businesses online. Our e-commerce study has revealed that 73 per cent of consumers in the Middle East and Africa are shopping more online since the start of the pandemic. 

Consumers have had a chance to explore the potential of new ways to pay, and research from Mastercard shows that the adoption of new payment technologies is rising, and consumer appetite for new, fast and flexible digital experiences continues to grow. Over 95 per cent of consumers in Nigeria, South Africa and Kenya, said they are considering emerging payments such as wearables, biometrics, digital wallets, cryptocurrencies, QR codes and contactless in the next year, according to the Mastercard New Payments Index. 

This acceleration in new electronic payments is also necessitating a renewed drive for the inclusion of the unbanked who aren’t digitally connected. A more connected continent can help build a stronger continent. Our innovative Pay on Demand solution is one way we’re tackling digital inclusion.

Mastercard has supported the move to increase contactless limits in several African markets, enabling consumers to buy more of what they need in one transaction. We also recognize that contactless will have an important role to play as governments look to stimulate consumer spending to revive economic growth.

Digitization is crucial for SMEs and micro merchants, who have realised the importance of going digital to survive – and thrive. By opening their digital doors, they can ensure consistent revenue streams, which are essential while facing cashflow challenges and increased cybersecurity risk. With movement restrictions in place, we have also seen an increased need to move remittances to digital banking channels. Mastercard has several solutions and services that can help our clients weather this crisis, prepare themselves for a strong recovery, and sustain them post-pandemic.

How can Africa capitalize on acceleration in digitization, FinTech and mobile money in addressing the economic crisis?  

The pandemic has changed consumer behaviour, which in turn has encouraged the adoption of the low touch economy and with it, the acceleration of digitization, fintech and mobile money payments.

Even before the pandemic, Africa has leapfrogged older economies jumping straight into mobile, so the mobile money landscape is well established and positioned for growth. In 2020, Sub-Saharan Africa continued to account for the majority of growth (43 per cent of all new mobile money accounts). By the end of 2020, there were 548 million registered mobile money accounts in the SSA region according to GSMA. 

Africa’s mobile-driven market has made it open to technological innovations and accelerations of digital payments. Fintech innovation is bringing more competitive and fit-for-purpose solutions to SMEs and the unbanked. Governments are recognizing the power and value of digitization for both citizen wellbeing and GDP growth. Technology can help us achieve things previous generations could only dream of. It can support education, utilities, agriculture, product supply chains – driving societies and economies.

Ebehijie Momoh

Would you say the ongoing trends in digital transformation have the potential to drive greater financial inclusion as we tackle post-pandemic recovery?

The acceleration in digitization and new emerging trends have tremendous potential to develop and expand financial inclusion in Africa. This is why we are committed to the continent’s digital transformation, which we support through digital partnerships, investment and continuous innovation – including the locally relevant solutions we create at our technology hub in Kenya, the Mastercard Lab for Financial Inclusion.   

Our close collaboration with mobile network operators is driving growth through digital financial services, unlocking value for millions of consumers and SMEs. In February we partnered with MTN to enable millions of consumers and merchants in 16 countries across Africa to make global e-commerce payments safely and securely, through a Mastercard virtual payment solution linked to MTN MoMo wallets. Telcos have large subscriber bases that connect millions of consumers and SMEs, making them important partners in connecting people to digital financial services.

Through investment, we are also able to bring the opportunities of digital transformation to more people and businesses. We have invested in e-commerce platforms such as Jumia, and fintechs that develop payments infrastructure tailored to the African market such as Flutterwave and DukaConnect. We are also a limited partner in Apis Partners, a fund that invests in fintechs across Africa. 

What role is Mastercard playing to ensure that SMEs succeed and benefit from the Low Touch Economy?

Small businesses are the backbone of Africa’s economy, and we are committed to helping them combat the economic effects of the COVID-19 pandemic. Among the many things we are actively doing, is connecting them to the tools and solutions that enable them to safely and securely accept digital payments. 

In Nigeria, we have established Merchant Digital, Mastercard’s partnership platform with NetPlusDotCom and Innovectives, which has enabled one million MSMEs in Nigeria to accept digital payments through tools such as QR, USSD codes and contactless, as well as gain access to credit.

In addition, we have launched ‘SME-in-a-Box’, a new low-cost payments solution for Nigeria through Innovectives, that enables small business owners to move their businesses online and accept a range of digital payments from their customers. It is powered by Mastercard’s payment technologies and that of its StartPath fintech partners, including onboarding technology provider Signzy and Mastercard’s network of Tap on Phone partners.

How do you think the financial services sector can provide financing without driving up risk during these times?

Financing is crucial as many businesses aim to keep necessary investments and cash flow balanced during an uncertain time. Fortunately, Mastercard’s secure technology has enabled us alongside other partners to create solutions that reduce the risk for both lenders and businesses.

As an example, the Mastercard Lab for Financial Inclusion established the Track Micro Credit Program (MCP) which empowers small retailers by giving them access to credit and helping them break the cycle of cash dependence. This inclusive credit ecosystem connects small retailers and micro-businesses to banks and fast-moving consumer goods companies (FMCGs), enabling access to short-term credit through sales data.  

In Kenya, the MCP solution is known as Jaza Duka (fill up your store) – a safe digital program for micro-merchants developed by Mastercard in partnership with Unilever. The program provides a micro-credit eligibility recommendation to Kenya Commercial Bank (KCB), which can then provide an interest-free credit line. More than 18,000 duka owners are currently registered.

Regarding the drive to promote digitization across the continent, are there any notable partnerships with private sector players you would like to talk about?

Through our digital partnerships, we are driving digitization and expanding the value chain for stakeholders across the ecosystem. Uber’s long-term partnership with Mastercard continues recently marked a milestone through a new strategic initiative focusing on digital payments and advancing financial inclusions which will be facilitated by Mastercard across the Middle East and Africa. It will boost cashless payments, drive digital payment acceptance, reward loyalty, while supporting Uber’s continued social impact collaboration.

We also partnered with MTN earlier this year to enable millions of consumers in 16 countries across Africa to make global e-commerce payments through their smartphones safely and securely. Through a Mastercard virtual payment solution linked to MTN MoMo (Mobile Money) wallets, consumers and merchants can engage with brands and businesses abroad through digital commerce, extending their reach to an international marketplace and unlocking a host of opportunities not only for consumers and merchants but also for fintech players.

Could you kindly shed more light on the importance of including women, who are catalysts for growth, innovation and social change in all efforts to address the socio-economic impact of COVID-19?

As professionals, entrepreneurs, consumers and participants, women are the key to unlocking stronger, more sustainable economies the world over.

Women are opening successful businesses faster than ever before, but they still don’t receive the funding, support or attention they merit. Despite social challenges, Uganda, Botswana and Ghana were ranked as the world’s three economies with the highest concentration of women business owners, according to the 2020 Mastercard Index of Women Entrepreneurs (MIWE). However, the Covid-19 pandemic has had a disproportionate impact on women entrepreneurs around the world, with 87 per cent saying they have been adversely affected. The pronounced gender gap in an increasingly virtual world, mounting pressures of childcare responsibilities and overrepresentation in sectors hardest hit by the economic downturn, are just a few factors that have left women particularly vulnerable.

Companies need to make a real and substantial commitment to women’s equality as employees, consumers and citizens. This will create dynamic, engaged and balanced workplaces and drive an inclusive approach to business.

At Mastercard, we are committed to leading the charge in re-shaping the way our world is designed, coded, and constructed. We understand that equality is not a women’s issue, it’s a business issue- gender equality is essential for individuals, businesses, communities, and economies to thrive. This is why we have made gender equality a central, guiding theme, not only in our diversity and inclusion efforts and hiring practices but in our business strategy in general. To achieve this, we are supporting African women by providing access to necessary tools, mentorship and digital inclusion platforms to reach their potential.

Through initiatives such as Junior Achievement Nigeria, we can equip young women with the skills to start and grow their businesses, and instil the discipline of earning a living, saving, spending and investing.

As we continue to embrace technological innovations as a means to improve the financial sector and make a positive impact on the economy, we also need to take active steps to prepare young women for careers in STEM. Doing so increases opportunities for prosperity, employability and a voice in the conversations that are driving the digital economy. Mastercard does this through our Girls4Tech program, which has reached 1 million girls in over 30 countries so far.

What kind of dialogue do you think needs to be established between regulators, political authorities and operators to drive digital payment in African economies beyond the pandemic?

Effective collaborations with governments, regulators and industry players are key to meeting the financial needs of African economies beyond the pandemic. By building partnerships and alliances that combine resources, we can think around corners, eliminate obstacles and drive the adoption of digital payments.

Governments have a role in policy formation and creating the right enabling environment and business climate for digital payments to flourish. They can also encourage a competitive payment ecosystem where local and international service providers can connect, compete and collaborate.

Of course, governments can only do so much on their own, and this is why the private sector needs to be a part of the equation. Partnerships between traditional players such as banks and non-traditional players such as retailers, fintechs, telcos can be key to bringing millions of individuals, micro-entrepreneurs and small businesses into the financial fold. 

At Mastercard, we closely collaborate and engage with governments and the private sector as countries transition from lockdown to reopening economies and stimulating commercial activities. We have leveraged data insights to provide trend updates and impact assessments to help governments and regulators with their policy decisions. We aim to actively partner the right way, bringing quick solutions to the forefront and tailoring our support to their specific needs.

Lastly, what have you found to be Africa’s biggest barrier to having more businesses and innovations that could transform the continent?

Africa has tremendous potential for economic growth, and this growth can be significantly advanced through united technology infrastructure across the continent. 

When barriers are in place for cross-border data flows, they erode the capacity of new technologies to drive economic growth (for example, by establishing barriers to digital trade) and make collaboration with social and business peers in other countries more difficult. 

At the same time, the loss of common standards makes the development of global governance frameworks more challenging and hampers cross-border collaboration on the mitigation of risks such as cybersecurity.

To fully realize the potential digital economies, we need more good faith efforts to keep the world connected and preserve a level playing field for technological competition.

By enabling digital access to everyday products and services for under-served consumers and micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) across the entire continent, payments platforms will drive digital and financial inclusion and can lead to improved economic possibilities for people and businesses.

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