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Trade evolves in Africa – again

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Arica’s recent historical deficit puts it in a convenient position in terms of adopting new technologies. Other regions have paid the expensive price of being early adopters but African companies can now adopt the best in modern technology, writes BRETT PARKER, MD for SAP Africa.

Trade is in Africa’s blood. Its rich resources, numerous societies and access to the world have created a hotbed of trade civilisations. One could go back millennia to the early kingdoms around the continental horn – the forefathers and peers of the Ancient Egyptian world – or the mysterious Kingdom of Nok in West Africa as examples.

But even in the last 2,000 years Africa never shied away from trade. The Kingdoms of Ashanti and Kongo were world-famous business hubs. In Libya vast desert cities can be found where ancient Berbers built elaborate irrigation systems. The Zimbabwe ruins and South Africa’s Mapungubwe had yielded evidence of extensive trade with Asian and Middle Eastern nations.

But most striking is the legacy of kingdoms that existed along the Sahel: the transitional area between the Sahara and the rest of the continent. Here numerous societies sat shoulder to shoulder, controlling the vast trade moving between Eurasia, West and Central Africa for ages.

Today the world is shifting gears into a new revolution, creating an opportunity for Africa to assert its legacy as the birthplace of business networks. Computational power and connectivity is shrinking the globe, changing how we compete and cooperate. Mastering pace, scale and complexity, creating channels and fostering partnerships have never been more achievable. Some have called this the Network Revolution and it is Africa’s greatest business opportunity yet.

The continent’s recent historical deficit ironically puts it in a very convenient position. Whereas other regions have paid the expensive price of being early adopters, African companies and states can readily adopt the best in modern technology, resulting in real gains on the ground. If there are any doubts about this, just look at the spectacular penetration of mobile devices in Africa: more than any other region in the world. Consider the remarkable growth of Rwanda, which thanks to savvy technology investments has tripled its GDP since 2000.

Success and growth is almost a given when developing markets jump onto the Network Revolution bandwagon. The real question is how to go about it. Here are three steps defining the transition:

From manual to electronic and Internet-based. The Network Revolution is a shift from manual processes kept separate in silos. Automation and accessibility are among its pillars, opening both resources and the ability to cross-pollinate ideas. South Africa’s Department of Home Affairs has dramatically improved its service, auditability and turnaround times by going paperless. It captures all data electronically, which is shared across its footprint. This not only made for happier citizens, but opened the way to adopting the country’s award-winning Smart ID cards.

From an entity and chain to a network. Business networks are the oldest and most vital components to any enterprise’s survival. These are jealously guarded because of their fragility: all it takes is for that proverbial weak link in the chain to break. But today digital

sourcing marketplaces such as Aruba are making it easy to find suppliers, partners and buyers. The mobile phone is a cornerstone to these networks: Africa is currently undergoing a farming revolution in countries such as Kenya and Tanzania, where mobile services help farmers get daily prices, share advice and even gain micro-insurance for their crops across a web of networks, not flimsy top-down chains.

From need to reach and fusion. The biggest impact of the Network Revolution is being born from data. We are increasingly able to quantify aspects of the world through data, be it consumer behaviour, environmental shifts, mechanical maintenance or anything that generates information about its behaviour. That may soon become everything as the Internet of Things brings sensors to every nook of our world. And fusing the resulting data in creative ways to offer new insights will be the differentiator between the haves and have-nots of tomorrow. This is extending the reach and proactivity of companies and governments beyond their traditional boundaries. One example is the Ethiopian Electric Power Corporation, which has accelerated its delivery and boosted efficiency by adopting data-centric thinking.

One element underpins all of the above: the platform. For any business or government to take advantage of the Network Revolution, it must consolidate its processes into a unified software platform: a powerful foundation where everything ties together. Called the 3rd Platform, this is the next step in digital technology, taking advantage of the power and scale provided by modern data centres and connectivity. One example is SAP HANA, the pioneering in-memory platform. Think of it as an operating system for the entire enterprise: a single space upon which all other processes – be it internal tasks, external collaboration, differentiating applications or new technologies – can find a home.

This consolidation pays dividends. Research from McKinsey & Company shows that networked enterprises using collaborative technology to connect processes to customers, suppliers, and partners outpace their peers in nearly every category of business performance. Africa is primed to take the Network Revolution by the horns and reassert itself as the birthplace of business.

Africa News

Wikipedia wants more Africa

At the recent Wikimania conference in Cape Town, a key focus was on increasing more regional contribution to the world’s largest free, collaboratively-built online encyclopaedia.

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The 14th annual Wikimania 2018 conference, the annual gathering of volunteers from around the world to celebrate Wikipedia and the Wikimedia projects, is expected to bring together over 500 volunteers from around the world to discuss and share ideas around the future of Wikipedia and free knowledge globally.

Wikimedia sites are read approximately 15 billion times a month globally, however only a small portion of volunteer Wikipedia editors come from Asia, Africa, and Latin America combined.

Anyone can edit Wikipedia in any of its almost 300 different language versions including Swahili, Hausa, Amharic, Arabic and Afrikaans versions.

“To achieve knowledge equity we need to have more voices represented in our community.  This is why we are creating an inclusive environment for people from all over the world to contribute knowledge in a way that considers custom, language, access to bandwidth, and more,” said Ellie Young, Conference Organizer for Wikimania.

Ghanaian Wikipedia contributor and free knowledge activist Felix Nartey says that some of the primary barriers to contribution from people living in Africa is lack of time and lack of access to an enabling environment (computers and access/affordability of internet).

“We have been engaging with our communities and holding a number of successful editathon sessions. What is apparent is that African people have a real appetite to see themselves represented on this platform. They want to see their content and their languages on Wikipedia and are crashing through some of the structural barriers to do so,” said Mr. Nartey.

For example, through a collaboration with the Social Theory Course at Ashesi University in Ghana, students have been given class assignments which have led to contributions of their research and term papers on Wikipedia through the Wikipedia Education Program model.

Across other parts of Africa, organised thematic workshops targeted at bridging the gender gap and other systematic biases that exist on Wikipedia have also been held.

Work to create more regional content also continues. In South Africa, Afrikaans and isiZulu are the most active language Wikipedias other than English.

“If you are passionate about a specific topic or piece of local history, or if you would like to see more articles in your own language, register and start making your contributions. The only way we are going to shift the content bias is by adding content that represents a more diverse user base,” said Douglas Scott, President of the Wikimedia Chapter of South Africa.

With over 5 million articles already on English language Wikipedia, Mr. Scott says that more African contributors can get involved by creating an account on Wikipedia and testing out different ways to edit — whether it’s fixing a grammatical error or adding a citation to an existing article, creating a new article, or asking other volunteer editors for support in reviewing a draft article you created.

Articles on Wikipedia need to have verifiable references and sources. This means that facts must be drawn from recognisable publications and institutions. A great way for more African contributors to get involved is to join a WikiProject around specific areas of interest. WikiProjects consist of groups of contributors who work together to create and improve articles about a specific topic on Wikipedia.

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Africa’s fintech is migrating

Africa’s fragmented markets and lack of legacy foreign exchange trading infrastructure means that the continent has become a melting pot of fintech activity and innovation, writes TIM HUTCHINSON, Head of Digital for Financial Markets, Standard Bank.

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The evolution to electronic foreign currency trading in Africa, while slow to start, is today gaining tremendous traction. 

In South Africa, only five years ago, almost 90% of foreign currency trades happened over the telephone. Today, despite challenges around illiquidity and complicated political and capital control environments, approximately 75% of trades are conducted digitally, with a mere 25% conducted on the phone. 

With 57.6% of the world’s 174-million active registered mobile money accounts in Sub-Saharan Africa, the continent is becoming a world leader in fintech generally, and in mobile money in particular. As African citizens and business people transact globally, Africa’s highly developed fintech culture is not only deepening on the continent, but is also migrating out of Africa.  

The foreign exchange flows that Africa’s expanding fintech culture supports are very important to the continent’s financial services providers, most of whom are developing fintech capabilities or partnering with the most popular or effective home-grown African fintech’s to ensure that they capture this flow.

Standard Bank has been an integral part of driving this rapid evolution to digital in Africa’s foreign exchange trading landscape.  

In order to function as an effective market maker, we need to source liquidity in market. We also need to, instantly, formulate risk-based pricing in an ever-changing world. Thereafter we need to distribute price. 

In Africa this requires developing solutions that allows retail, corporate and institutional customers to access foreign exchange markets across multiple jurisdictions. At the same time in most markets, “we also need to show central banks what we are doing,” adds Mr Hutchinson. All transactions need to be transparent and electronically traceable so that local authorities are prepared to approve digital trades. 

Today, however, banks are not only expected to provide the systems and networks to facilitate basic transactions but are also required to provide insight and guidance beyond pure execution by offering additional value-based services across research, hedging and, most importantly, settlement capability. Currency research for example, is increasingly a big client requirement. Having on the ground experience and local expertise as well as the ability to deliver this digitally, “differentiates Standard Bank’s distribution capabilities in this regard”. 

In addition, banks are also increasingly required to inform and guide clients through the broader economic, legal and political landscapes in which transactions occur. For example, one of the considerations in developing Standard Bank’s digital capability was how to combine market intelligence and research with real-time pricing, trade execution and post-trade services. Today it is not enough just to execute trades. It is equally important that we advise and inform the broader universe in which trades happen.  

From a technology point of view Regulatory Technology (Regtec), for example, is assisting Africa to manage new regulatory developments in heavily currency-controlled environments. Similarly, the rise in robotic process automation (RPA) and artificial intelligence (AI), “has allowed Standard Bank to develop solutions that leapfrog traditional business problems”. 

Digital trading in Africa is also evolving in its own often very different way. We have found that it is not just a question of importing developed world systems. Our approach with clients is to work with them to help understand their internal needs in terms of governance and operational efficiency. We then partner with clients to develop and implement digital solutions that talk to the heart of their business need. 

Standard Bank’s own Business Online (BOL) platform provides an example of how the bank has built digital transaction capabilities that exactly meet client need. BOL, for example, allows clients to view balances across the continent while making third party currency payments and also supporting general cash management. This kind of broad, business-wide digital cash view and capability puts control back in the hands of the clients while also allowing clients, rather than the bank, to manage their own cash flow.

From an Institutional perspective it’s very important to be able to offer customisable solutions to clients managing money on behalf of their investors. Standard Bank’s investment in Application Programming Interface (API) technology, for example, is tracking exactly its client’s growing ability to build these capabilities into their own systems. 

On the retail side Standard Bank’s SHYFT app – a digital wallet allowing global transactions in USD, EUROS, GBP and Australian dollars has extended this control element to the man in the street. SHYFT has been recognised both globally and locally for its innovation.

Standard Bank presents a very compelling, unique and globally competitive digital trading proposition to local and developed world clients seeking to access Africa. Our footprint across 20 territories – most at different levels of digital development – provides a compelling pan-African proposition for global and local clients alike.

While Africa’s record in digital adaptation and innovation is impressive, the technology part is often the easier part to implement. The human and cultural systems, and client behaviour changes, required to give this digital evolution life – like getting customer analogue systems to start pricing electronically to make trades visible 24/7 – is often a lot harder to achieve than the technology upgrade. In short, bank employees, customers and regulators all need to undergo fundamental cultural shifts in how they do things and understand the world.

It is often these broader cultural and market shifts that Standard Bank as a pan-African bank is called on to advise as clients seek to understand and engage Africa effectively. 

Given the rapid pace of digital evolution within Africa’s varied market, customer, legislative and cultural landscapes, we need to balance customer value and efficiency – and regulatory pressures to be more transparent – with what is, in the long run, best for the market. 

As a pan-African bank inextricably committed to the growth and success of the continent, Standard Bank’s digital journey requires a judicious blend of developed world technology with African insight and innovation. This blend should be capable of balancing customer need and legislative oversight in the development of efficient and inclusive markets that sustain long term growth. 

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