Catalysts on fintech

Niveen Wahish , Monday 14 Mar 2022

Egypt’s increased investment in digitisation is enabling the wider outreach of financial services.

Al-Ahram s first financial technology conference in Cairo this week
Al-Ahram s first financial technology conference in Cairo this week

Digital financial transactions have picked up speed over the past few years. More than one billion electronic transactions worth LE2.8 trillion took place in Egypt last year, Ayman Hussein, deputy governor for payment systems and the business technology sector at the Central Bank of Egypt (CBE), told participants at Al-Ahram’s first financial technology conference in Cairo this week.

Financial technology has transformed challenges into opportunities and provided access to all segments of society in an efficient and effective manner, Hussein said. He added that 22 million Meeza cards have been issued, which are free prepaid cards that are meant to encourage people to use electronic payments.

The launch of the cards corresponded with an increasing government push for the greater digitisation of the financial system and limits to cash payments. Digitisation has had a great impact in increasing the ability of the banking sector to respond quickly and flexibly to challenges posed by the Covid-19 pandemic, Hussein said.

The CBE launched a financial technology and innovation strategy in March 2019, in line with Egypt’s 2030 vision for digital transformation and achieving sustainable development, with the aim of transforming Egypt into a regional hub for the financial technology industry.

Sherif Lokman, deputy governor for financial inclusion at the CBE, told the conference that thanks to digital technology financial inclusion in Egypt had grown by 100 per cent compared to 2016. “Our goal is to provide financial and banking services to all citizens, and technology is the appropriate means to achieve this,” Lokman said.

Financial inclusion means that individuals and businesses have access to useful and affordable financial products and services that meet their needs.

According to Lokman, the CBE is raising the financial awareness of 50,000 citizens as part of the country’s Decent Life initiative, and it is seeking to educate school students about banking services as well.

According to financial inclusion indicators compiled by the American Chamber of Commerce in Cairo, in 2021 only 38 per cent of the Egyptian population was banked, compared to the global average of 69 per cent and 57 per cent for low and middle-income countries.

While pushing for digitisation, Hussein said, securing digital banking transactions was also at the forefront of the CBE’s priorities.

The CBE has established an integrated centre for cyber-security using advanced technologies to detect cyber-attacks before they happen and warn the banks, Sherif Hazem, CBE deputy governor for cyber-security, told the conference.

“Cyber​-security is no longer a luxury,” he said. According to Hazem, the CBE is establishing a department to review and test financial applications to ensure that they are fully secured before they are put on the market.

The role of the CBE is no longer limited to supervision of financial markets and has expanded to become a catalyst for development and innovation, Hussein said. He added that Egypt’s first fintech hub is scheduled to open this year.

The hub will be housed in the CBE’s heritage building in downtown Cairo, added Rasha Negm, head of fintech and innovation at the CBE.

Investments in fintech have grown exponentially over the past few years from $1 million in 2017 to $159 million in 2021, she said. The number of fintech companies had also grown from two companies in 2014 to 122 in 2021, she pointed out.

*A version of this article appears in print in the 10 March, 2022 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly.

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