Egypt’s leading electronic payment provider, Fawry, opened the country's first financial inclusion conference on Tuesday, sponsored by the International Finance Corporation (IFC) and MasterCard.
Speakers at the conference tackled the exclusiveness of financial services, which are mostly available to bank account holders, and proposed greater integration through digital financial services.
Around 2.5 billion people globally do not have access to financial services, while the World Bank's 2012 financial inclusion index shows that only 10 percent of Egyptian adults have access to formal financial institutions.
“In the path to global prosperity, financial inclusion is not just a social imperative but also a commercial imperative,” said Kahina Van Dyke, MasterCard group head for Global Initiatives International Markets.
In the conference's opening talk, Fawry CEO Ashraf Sabry stressed the importance of formalising financial services for the poor, who are prey to brokers lending money at high, unregulated interest rates.
Sabry explained that formal financial services have not reached the poor due to insufficient distribution networks and underdeveloped infrastructure.
IFC head of digital financial services, Margarete Biallas, demonstrated that the corporation plans to achieve financial inclusion through supporting Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) and mobile banking.
“The mobile money programme has proved successful in countries as poor as Somalia because all it requires is access to basic phone devices and the regulation for it,” said Claire Penicaud, mobile money market intelligence manager at the mobile operators international association GSMA.
All three mobile operators in Egypt are members of the association and have introduced mobile money services.
In 2013, Etisalat Egypt launched a mobile payment service called Flous, in collaboration with the National Bank of Egypt (NBE), Vodafone Egypt launched Vodafone Cash in cooperation with the Housing and Development Bank (HDB) and Mobinil followed suit with Mobi Cash in partnership with the National Bank of Dubai (NBD).
Both the IFC and MasterCard have invested in Egypt’s financial sector in the three years following the country’s popular uprising.
Nada Shousha, the IFC manager for Egypt, Yemen and Libya, expressed the organisations’ intention to support private sector growth in the region.
“MasterCard spent the past two years investing in Egypt’s financial Ecosystem,” Van Dyke told Ahram Online at the side of the conference but declined to reveal the size of the investments.
MasterCard has invested in its partnership with Fawry and Etisalat and plans to continue investing in Egypt in the years ahead, added Van Dyke.
In the past three years, the IFC investment portfolio in Egypt reached $1 billion.
The corporation financed companies investing in Egypt, providing $100 million in loan, and helped arrange another $400 million for natural gas producer Petroceltic.
Transglobe Energy also received a $34 million loan from IFC to increase exploration in Egypt.
IFC also invested $6 million in Fawry and $11 million in fabric maker Nile Kordsa, as well as committing $276 million in five projects across the country.
Fawry, which was launched in 2009, announced last month that it is poised to expand in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) region, starting with the United Arab Emirates.
The network processes more than one million daily transactions, according to the company, worth LE4 billion (around $571 million) annually.