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Sunday, 14 April 2019
Blockchain has the power to improve financial inclusion, says UPU head
08.04.2019 - UPU Director General Bishar A. Hussein touted the power of blockchain technologies during a special forum on “Shaping postal financial services in a digital economy” held at the UN specialized agency’s Berne, Switzerland, headquarters.
“Blockchain is gathering momentum and has the potential to address financial inclusion issues, and improve cybersecurity and digital identity. Indeed, it has the tremendous potential to “democratize” financial services,” said Mr Hussein.
According to the World Bank, two-thirds of the 1.7 billion unbanked adults worldwide have access to mobile phones, making mobile payment services facilitated by blockchain a key opportunity for Posts, some, which the Director General noted, have been in the financial services industry for more than 100 years.
Keynote speaker and FutureLab Consulting Managing Partner Moses Ma focused on strategic imperatives in the midst of the blockchain revolution, encouraging Posts to leapfrog their blockchain development to become partners in solving the “last mile problem” – reaching those without access to financial or digital services.
“Posts are the last mile to the unbanked and people without identification, so this is an opportunity to complete the digital revolution,” said Mr Ma. “If you give postmen a mobile phone we can start implementing some of these initiatives right away,” he added.
The future of finance
The forum’s first panel session focused on the next generation of financial services.
Arnold Kibuuka, a project officer with the International Telecommunications Union (ITU), stressed the importance of maintaining trust and a high-level of security when implementing new financial services technologies such as blockchain and cryptocurrencies.
Nagib Aouni, a digital identity and blockchain adviser to start-ups, agreed that blockchain could be a boon for the transparency, efficiency and security of postal financial services. However, he noted that blockchain is not yet standardized, which should be a priority to ensure global interoperability.
Finally, Eurogiro/Inpay Vice-President Dame Damevski highlighted the Post’s role as a trusted intermediary for providing a number of public services as an advantage, encouraging operators to develop a postal blockchain application that could connect customers to financial, identification management and logistics services.
The second panel centred on postal financial service innovations, bringing together speakers from designated operators which have already seen success in implementing digital financial services.
M’hamed Moussaoui, Deputy CEO of Morocco’s Al Barid Bank, shared the key to the organization’s successful national mobile payment project. In Morocco, 99 percent of payment transactions in the country were done in cash, contributing to an estimated 0.7 percent loss in GDP. As a response, Al Barid Bank launched a series of mobile services – from money transfers, to bill payments – allowing it to capture a fast-growing market. It now holds a 77.4 percent share of mobile banking transactions on the Fatourati payment platform. His advice for success: put customer experience first and follow the demands of the market.
Tunisia Post has also been involved in its country’s national de-cashing and financial inclusion policies, having launched Tunisia’s first cryptocurrency, the e-dinar, in 2000. According to the Post’s Head of International Affairs, Houssem Gharbi, the operator is now working on becoming an incubator for start-ups, working with them to diversify their payment methods to offer customers a variety of mobile payment packages that suit them.
Swiss Post Investment Director Olivier Laplace rounded off the second panel, highlighting blockchain’s ability to bring all players onto one mobile app. Swiss Post’s financial services unit, Postfinance, has now developed a platform allowing a local electricity provider to generate automated invoices based on data collected from smart electricity meters. He also stressed that Posts venturing into new technologies must have a “reflex for user testing”.
Moderator Michael Wade, who is a professor of Innovation and Strategy at the International Institute for Management Development and Cisco Chair in Digital Business Transformation, closed the discussions with a call for Posts to overcome their legacy of slow change and quicken the pace of innovation. He said to do so, they should focus on promoting autonomy, rewards and, most importantly, psychological safety among staff.
The forum was held on the sidelines of the UPU’s Postal Operations Council meetings held in Berne between 1 to 5 April.