The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has released new open-source software for creating payment platforms that will help unbanked people around the world access digital financial services.
The software is designed to provide a reference model for payment interoperability between banks and other providers across a country’s economy. It is available now, free-of-cost, for software developers to adapt and banks, financial service providers and companies to implement. Information on the code can be found at mojaloop.io.
Current data from the World Bank shows that nearly two billion people in developing economies lack bank accounts and miss out on the benefits and security that basic financial services provide. Digital financial services, such as mobile money on cell phones, have rapidly expanded over the last two decades because they are convenient for users and cost-effective for companies aiming to serve new markets. In Kenya, an estimated 194,000 households have moved out of extreme poverty due in part to their access to M-Pesa, a mobile money platform, and users’ ability to save money more effectively. Digital financial services are now available in nearly 100 countries according to GSMA, an organization representing mobile network operators. However, global expansion of these services—especially to the world’s poor—has been hampered, in large part, by a lack of interoperability between digital financial services and payment platforms.
The new software, called Mojaloop, establishes a blueprint for connecting today’s financial services sector, and can be used as a solution to barriers that banks and providers seeking interoperability have traditionally faced. Delivering financial services to the poor is prohibitively challenging for many businesses because they struggle to invest adequately in complex technology while maintaining a commitment to low-cost, inclusive services. This has led to a prevalence of consumer payment options that are out of reach for many people in developing economies, or which limit customers’ ability to transact across products, banks and borders. These and similar challenges have dissuaded many companies from expanding into developing markets altogether.
Mojaloop can be used by financial institutions and commercial providers, to simplify and reduce the cost of developing inclusive payment platforms. It was designed to serve ultimately as a model for national payment switching systems that, for example, enable an individual’s digital wallet to connect with her employer’s bank account and her children’s school account to complete monthly transactions. The code can also be applied to adapt and improve existing services.
“Interoperability of digital payments has been the toughest hurdle for the financial services industry to overcome. With Mojaloop, our technology partners have finally achieved a solution that can apply to any service, and we invite banks and the payments industry to explore and test this tool,” said Kosta Peric, Deputy Director, Financial Services for the Poor, at the Gates Foundation. “Just as the internet revolutionized digital communication, open-source solutions like Mojaloop can spark innovation and democratize access to digital payments, empowering billions of new customers and driving massive economic growth in developing markets.”
Mojaloop (building off the Swahili word “moja,” which means “one”) was created in partnership with fintech developers Ripple, Dwolla, ModusBox, Crosslake Technologies and Software Group, using cutting-edge technology such as the Interledger Protocol, a solution for settling funds among multiple providers across their individual systems. It joins other promising digital financial software, but is the first model that can help extend interoperability from mobile money providers to any bank, merchant or government institution in a customer’s economy in a way that specifically meets the needs of the poor.
“Interoperability is necessary both for financial inclusion and market maturity, but it is a complex thing to achieve,” said Benno Ndulu, Governor of the Bank of Tanzania, the country’s national bank. “We are excited to explore implementation of this because of how it can simplify that capability for businesses and governments, and speed up access to financial services.”
“As we modernize and develop national and cross-border payments infrastructure in Africa, the only way to sustainably reach and serve the world’s unbanked communities is through new technologies,” said Chris Hamilton, CEO of BankservAfrica. “Our aim as an organization is to offer national payments platforms for the next generation of financial innovators and Mojaloop gives us some tantalizing new options for doing that in a way that integrates with the entire national economy.”
Developers can access the new software on GitHub, the world’s leading open-source development platform. It includes four components: an interoperability layer, which connects bank accounts, mobile money wallets, and merchants in an open loop; a directory service layer, which navigates the different methods that providers use to identify accounts on each side of a transaction; a transactions settlement layer, which makes payments instant and irrevocable; and, components which protect against fraud. The software will not be owned or implemented by the Gates Foundation. It will be used in the foundation’s ongoing work to promote the development of pro-poor, digital payment platforms.
Mojaloop was created by the Gates Foundation’s Level One Project, which is aimed at leveling the economic playing field by crowding in expertise and resources to build inclusive payment models to benefit the world’s poor. Alongside Mojaloop’s development, the project also brought together four mobile systems companies—Ericsson, Huawei, Telepin, and Mahindra Comviva—to develop an Open API for mobile money interoperability. These APIs will allow mobile money providers to integrate seamlessly with Mojaloop and products built from it.
“In order to achieve the full potential of mobile money, we must evolve today’s complex and often fragmented digital payments ecosystem,” said Mr. Shi Yaohong, President of Software Product Line at Huawei. “I look forward to exploring opportunities to leverage Mojaloop to help us achieve our goal of bringing digital financial services to all poor and low-income customers.”
Smart home arrives in SA
The smart home is no longer a distant vision confined to advanced economies, writes ARTHUR GOLDSTUCK.
The smart home is a wonderful vision for controlling every aspect of one’s living environment via remote control, apps and sensors. But, because it is both complex and expensive, there has been little appetite for it in South Africa.
The two main routes for smart home installation are both fraught with peril – financial and technical.
The first is to call on a specialist installation company. Surprisingly, there are many in South Africa. Google “smart home” +”South Africa”, and thousands of results appear. The problem is that, because the industry is so new, few have built up solid track records and reputations. Costs vary wildly, few standards exist, and the cost of after-sales service will turn out to be more important than the upfront price.
The second route is to assemble the components of a smart home, and attempt self-installation. For the non-technical, this is often a non-starter. Not only does one need a fairly good knowledge of Wi-Fi configuration, but also a broad understanding of the Internet of Things (IoT) – the ability for devices to sense their environment, connect to each other, and share information.
The good news, though, is that it is getting easier and more cost effective all the time.
My first efforts in this direction started a few years ago with finding smart plugs on Amazon.com. These are power adaptors that turn regular sockets into “smart sockets” by adding Wi-Fi and an on-off switch, among other. A smart lightbulb was sourced from Gearbest in China. At the time, these were the cheapest and most basic elements for a starter smart home environment.
Via a smartphone app, the light could be switched on from the other side of the world. It sounds trivial and silly, but on such basic functions the future is slowly built.
Fast forward a year or two, and these components are available from hundreds of outlets, they have plummeted in cost, and the range of options is bewildering. That, of course, makes the quest even more bewildering. Who can be trusted for quality, fulfilment and after-sales support? Which products will be obsolete in the next year or two as technology advances even more rapidly?
These are some of the challenges that a leading South African technology distributor, Syntech, decided to address in adding smart home products to its portfolio. It selected LifeSmart, a global brand with proven expertise in both IoT and smart home products.
Equally significantly, LifeSmart combines IoT with artificial intelligence and machine learning, meaning that the devices “learn” the best ways of connecting, sharing and integrating new elements. Because they all fall under the same brand, they are designed to integrate with the LifeSmart app, which is available for Android and iOS phones, as well as Android TV.
Click here to read about how LifeSmart makes installing smart home devices easier.
Matrics must prepare for AI
By Vian Chinner, CEO and founder of Xineoh.
Many in the matric class of 2018 are currently weighing up their options for the future. With the country’s high unemployment rate casting a shadow on their opportunities, these future jobseekers have been encouraged to look into which skills are required by the market, tailoring their occupational training to align with demand and thereby improving their chances of finding a job, writes Vian Chinner – a South African innovator, data scientist and CEO of the machine learning company specialising in consumer behaviour prediction, Xineoh.
With rapid innovation and development in the field of artificial intelligence (AI), all careers – including high-demand professions like engineers, teachers and electricians – will look significantly different in the years to come.
Notably, the third wave of internet connectivity, whereby our physical world begins to merge with that of the internet, is upon us. This is evident in how widespread AI is being implemented across industries as well as in our homes with the use of automation solutions and bots like Siri, Google Assistant, Alexa and Microsoft’s Cortana. So much data is collected from the physical world every day and AI makes sense of it all.
Not only do new industries related to technology like AI open new career paths, such as those specialising in data science, but it will also modify those which already exist.
So, what should matriculants be considering when deciding what route to take?
For highly academic individuals, who are exceptionally strong in mathematics, data science is definitely the way to go. There is, and will continue to be, massive demand internationally as well as locally, with Element-AI noting that there are only between 0 and 100 data scientists in South Africa, with the true number being closer to 0.
In terms of getting a foot in the door to become a successful data scientist, practical experience, working with an AI-focused business, is essential. Students should consider getting an internship while they are studying or going straight into an internship, learning on the job and taking specialist online courses from institutions like Stanford University and MIT as they go.
This career path is, however, limited to the highly academic and mathematically gifted, but the technology is inevitably going to overlap with all other professions and so, those who are looking to begin their careers should take note of which skills will be in demand in future, versus which will be made redundant by AI.
In the next few years, technicians who are able to install and maintain new technology will be highly sought after. On the other hand, many entry level jobs will likely be taken care of by AI – from the slicing and dicing currently done by assistant chefs, to the laying of bricks by labourers in the building sector.
As a rule, students should be looking at the skills required for the job one step up from an entry level position and working towards developing these. Those training to be journalists, for instance, should work towards the skill level of an editor and a bookkeeping trainee, the role of financial consultant.
This also means that new workforce entrants should be prepared to walk into a more demanding role, with more responsibility, than perhaps previously anticipated and that the country’s education and training system should adapt to the shift in required skills.
The matric classes of 2018 have completed their schooling in the information age and we should be equipping them, and future generations, for the future market – AI is central to this.