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Is Nigeria Likely to Formalise Remittances and Become the Third-Largest Inbound Market Worldwide?

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IMTC AFRICA 2019

Nigeria is the sixth-largest recipient of remittances in the world with an estimated volume of nearly $25 billion a year. This estimate for remittances flow doesn’t account for the informal market, that even if it is shrinking, as most analysts believe, it adds approximately $10 to $15 billion a year to the formal number. That places remittances for Nigeria at around $40 billion. If this were to be true, then it would squarely place the country as having the third-largest volume of remittances in the entire world, ahead of the Philippines and Mexico with highly formal markets.

IMTC AfricaIn a blog post published by remittance expert Hugo Cuevas-Mohr, he discussed the volume of remittances to Nigeria and the importance of achieving more accurate figures and the success in formalising the remittance market in Nigeria. These are also key topics that will be extensively examined at IMTC AFRICA 2019, a conference that will take place in Lagos on September 24-26 at the EKO Hotel. IMTC is the leading gathering for international money transfer, cross-border payment, and Fintech companies around the world and has chosen Nigeria as the site of its biannual African event to help in the innovation, formalisation, and transparency of remittances in the country.

Why Formalisation is Necessary

Parallel markets, or informal markets, are notorious for skewing a country’s volume, revenue, and wealth statistics; in an age where data is glorified, it is clear to see why this is such a problem. Countries are valued and respected based on their stats, and if Nigeria’s stats are not reflecting the true volume of remittances, then their significance is being missed.

The Nigerian Naira is traded at different rates on the parallel market than on the official market. For instance, as of August 6, the Central Bank of Nigeria valued 1 USD at 306 NGN (Niara), whereas the parallel markets revealed that 1 USD was actually trading at 360 NGN. Such a large discrepancy in the exchange rate reveals just a portion of the issues taking place. If the parallel market exchange rates are correct, then it is extremely unlikely that Nigeria will be successful in curbing the informal market. 

Nigeria’s parallel markets have been prevalent for some time now, but the issue became serious in 2016 when the Central Bank of Nigeria, to curb the informal market, limited the number of legal money transfers to only three International MTOs: Western Union, MoneyGram, and Ria. This subsequently forced all other MTOs to call upon CBN to allow more MTOs to be licensed, jumping to more than 60 in three years. Has the strategy from CBN been successful?

Mr. Cuevas-Mohr states in his blog: “The remittance market in terms of companies abroad serving the Nigerian Diaspora is growing now at a fast pace as remittance volumes to the country increase, partly due to organic growth and partly due to more funds being channeled through official channels.”

Leon Isaacs, IMTC AFRICA 2019 Co-Chair, and an expert in remittances will discuss extensively at the conference the findings that his surveys and data gathering work is revealing. Other topics to be discussed at this trendsetting event will be the impact of Payment Service Banks and Fintechs on remittances, the role of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, the importance of strong compliance and risk management and the importance of MTO partnerships with local banks and Fintechs to help to formalise remittances.

Nigeria And the Mobile Industry

man with mobileAnother pressing topic at the conference is that of the mobile industry. In a recent development, the Nigerian government is allowing mobile companies to directly offer financial services. Previously, mobile companies were required to form rigid agreements with banks to offer financial services in the country. These new companies will be known as Payment Service Banks (PSBs), similar to how India enables mobile companies to offer such services.

This is massive news for the world of remittances as PSBs can give their unbanked customers, and generally to all low-income residents, the opportunity to manage mobile money as the digital ecosystem grows. It can also impact the government’s financial inclusion initiatives. The impact of the PSBs in the remittance market is hard to predict but everybody will be watching. Mr. Cuevas-Mohr said: “It will take time to see the impact to the market of Telcos being allowed finally to offer themselves financial services, and remittances.”

As many MTOs participating at the IMTC AFRICA 2019 conference in Lagos have expressed, the event comes at the best time for the industry in Africa. Filled with a compliance course, an innovation forum, panel discussions, keynote speakers, roundtables, and ample time to network with industry leaders, the event will be a gathering of the Who-is-Who in the field of African remittances.

The article was contributed by David Cullinan. 

Features

Blockchain, Cloud, and Other Modern Technologies Applied in Gaming

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Technologies Applied in Gaming

Gaming has evolved tremendously since its beginnings. New technology discoveries enabled developers to create games that take the concept of fantasy to the next level, making the virtual world so much more alike to the real one. This is only possible through the implementation of new technologies in the world of gaming.

In this article, we will cover the newest technologies that have made their way into gaming, further enhancing this industry.

Blockchain

Kenya Blockchain Report

Since its invention, blockchain was quickly implemented in gaming since it allows for the creation of peer-to-peer games where users can interact without the need of a third party. This aspect made it a great fit for gambling, allowing casinos to build platforms where users can gamble directly with one another in a free and private manner.

An online casino app can already allow people to gamble in a convenient way, as long as they have Internet access. These apps are very advantageous since players don’t have any location or time zone restraints. Furthermore, online casinos are pioneers in privacy and cybersecurity, offering users an all-around quality experience.

However, blockchain can still further improve the gambling and gaming worlds. The potential of this technology is still unfulfilled but, as new startups emerge, innovation follows, making blockchain an ever more viable option for the future of gaming.

Cloud Gaming

The case for cloud gaming makes a lot of sense in 2020. Games are getting bigger each year, the hardware requirements increasing constantly. This makes it difficult for the recreational gamer to keep up with the minimum gaming standards. Updating hardware pieces can be a tedious process that many people don’t want to engage in.

Cloud technologies can allow people to play even the latest games, regardless of the type of machine they are using. Google Stadia is one of the most popular cloud gaming platforms out there. The opinions regarding its performance are varied but, Google is certainly the one company that can pull off this concept.

Ultra Realistic Graphics

Video game graphics are becoming insanely realistic. Sometimes it’s very difficult to discern between reality and a virtual game. This aspect allows for the creation of a more immersive experience, enhancing the entertainment experienced by users. Popular games like GTA 5, Red Dead Redemption 2, and Witcher 3 have some of the best graphics out there, while still being resource effective.

Facial Recognition

Some games tell the story of a protagonist, making you fall in love with that character regardless if it’s Master Chief from Halo or Mario. However, other games allow you to create an avatar, custom to your liking. Until now, this feature was technologically constrained but, facial recognition and 3D scanning can allow you to create an avatar that looks just like you. This technology can personalise the gaming experience like never before.

Virtual Reality

An obvious one on this list, VR is the one technology that can revolutionise the way we interact with games. Whilst this is still experimental and reliant on advanced hardware, with a bit more work and a few more years of waiting, VR can be a commercially viable gaming niche. Regardless if we’re talking about an online casino or an action game, VR can provide the ultimate immersive experience.

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Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Warms to Financial Innovation

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Financial Innovation

The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) is warming to the idea of emerging financial technologies as it joins the rest of the world in cautiously welcoming digital money. This was revealed when the RBZ governor, John Mangudya, presented the country’s monetary policy statement for the year 2020 on February 17.

The latest announcement is a continuation of the central bank’s rapprochement towards emerging financial innovations after a turbulent 2018 when it had run-ins with technology companies that sold or facilitated the sale of crypto tokens to the Zimbabwean public.

RBZ’s Change of Heart

The RBZ now agrees that technology and innovations have significantly altered the financial landscape and the way financial institutions offer services and products and that Zimbabwe needs to move with the times.

In his brief statement on the topic, the governor touched on the RBZ’s progress in establishing a regulatory sandbox that will allow innovators to connect to banks and other financial institutions.

Mangudya said:

“Further to the advice in the 2019 Mid Term Monetary Policy Statement, the Bank (RBZ) has embarked on several initiatives to establish the Fintech agenda. The Bank is in the process of finalizing a regulatory sandbox framework. The framework will outline the qualification, application and evaluation criterion for entities to be admitted into the sandbox. The operationalisation of the framework will thus promote competition and efficiencies through innovation.”

RBZ now says banking institutions must upgrade their information communication technologies (ICTs) to be system consistent with developments in the ‘Fourth Industrial Revolution’. Additionally, banks are expected to explore new technologies and business models to enable them to compete in the digital age.

Statement Vague on Critical Aspects

However, the statement does not address the question of whether fintech ventures, such as privately issued cryptocurrencies, remain banned or not. There is still confusion on whether it is cryptocurrency trading that is banned or if it is the selling of tokens to the public that is banned.

The RBZ, which lacks a consistent and coherent position on this subject, appears to be reading from the same script as many of its peers from the continent. Several African central banks have previously shown a determined opposition towards privately issued tokens and the underlying blockchain technology.

Nevertheless, as the ignorance levels concerning this innovation continue to drop, so too has been the opposition. In fact, many central banks believe they can join in this space by creating their own cryptocurrencies, called central bank digital currencies (CBDCs).

Some are at very advanced stages of issuing these while others are still at the studying stage. On the African continent, the Egyptian central bank had indicated its intention to launch its own CBDC as well as Ghana and Mauritius. 

The RBZ has announced an intention to issue its own CBDC but a mere statement was enough to spark excitement among the country’s blockchain industry players.

Cautious Welcome

Cryptocurrency Token SalesBitcoinAfrica.io asked Zimbabweans involved in the country’s small blockchain space for their reaction to this latest announcement by the RBZ.

We reached out to Mike Makazhe, a young entrepreneur who says he is working to create a cryptocurrency for Zimbabweans.

Makazhe said: “I think financial institutions need to improve. It’s true most of their services are outdated and Pecunia (his crypto project) can help bring this (expected) to life.”

Another influential figure in Zimbabwe’s blockchain space, who did not wish to be identified, was less sanguine about this latest announcement.

He said: “The only thing I think about it is they are taking a dribble. They are happy with a broken system because it works in their favour.”

According to him, the RBZ is just putting on a show but lacks the will to actually implement some of the fintech proposals contained in the monetary policy.

The same sentiments were echoed by another crypto enthusiast who commented on this development in one crypto chat group on social media. The individual also noted that there was a lot of emphasis on banks and less on the private players that fall outside the RBZ’s regulatory reach.

These were also the sentiments shared by other individuals in the crypto community. They cautiously welcome this announcement but say the RBZ should be judged on implementation not the intention.

Zimbabwean institutions like the RBZ are notorious for taking their time to adopt technologies and systems that improve efficiency but are quick to implement anything that improves collection of revenues or the scarce foreign currency.

For example, it has taken the RBZ several years to capacitate a credit reference bureau, a body that can potentially end the country’s problem of high levels of non-performing loans. Some fear the same approach will be used on fintechs and the country will lag behind as the rest of the continent move ahead to adopt this innovation.

Zimbabwe’s small fintech industry expects the RBZ to issue more statements that clarify the country’s position as the year progresses. 

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Twitter CEO Thinks Africa Will Decide the Future of Bitcoin

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future of bitcoin

The CEO of microblogging platform Twitter, Jack Dorsey, believes that Bitcoin’s future will be decided in Africa. The celebrity CEO has stood behind the first cryptocurrency over the years saying that it’s the only digital currency that has stood the test of time, gone through boom and bust cycles, and handled fierce criticism only to stay tenacious.

One of the recent tweets of Twitter CEO says that although the currency is seeing increased adoption in European countries, the future of bitcoin is in Africa. His opinion came at the end of his tour of Ghana and Nigeria. His tweet read:

Mr. Dorsey is convinced that Africa will play a crucial role in deciding bitcoin’s future success and he’s willing to stand by his words by promoting the currency in the region through tours and meet-ups. Earlier, he participated in a meet up in Ethiopia where ideas were exchanged about promoting bitcoin and the related services.

What Will Drive the Future of Bitcoin in Africa?

So, what are the factors that will drive cryptocurrency in Africa? According to the Twitter CEO, one of the largest continents is at a crossroads where economic turmoil, poverty issues, and lack of infrastructure development and financial opportunities are pushing people toward cryptocurrencies, and bitcoin is one of them. They are placing their trust in cryptocurrencies and blockchain to bypass government corruption and incompetence.

It is really interesting to note that Dorsey isn’t alone in this. There are other crypto celebrities who share his opinion including Nate Hindman, who is the head of growth at Bancor. Mr. Hindman is quite confident in cryptocurrency’s future in the African countries as he says:

“In emerging markets like Africa, the shallow reach of traditional money systems means there’s less resistance to new financial technology.”

Another nod of agreement comes from Ray Youssef, CEO of Paxful, which is a peer-to-peer marketplace for trading bitcoin. He says that we’re only noticing the growth now because we haven’t been paying attention.

Africa hasn’t gotten big into bitcoin suddenly. In fact, they’ve been using the currency for many years and not only that, but they’ve taught us a lot about the real-world use cases of bitcoin.

However, this development hasn’t come without its own challenges as cryptocurrency laws in African countries can be quite restrictive, especially in Nigeria. Ray Youssef says:

“We found a way for them to export an asset, which is gift cards, as a way to go around financial restrictions. Now, bitcoin is flooding out of Nigeria and into other African countries because of the ambition of the Nigerian bitcoin community and Paxful.”

Paxful has seen immense growth with a total of three million subscribers and almost half of them come from African countries and the subscriber base is growing at a rapid pace. According to the recent stats, Nigeria, US, and Ghana made over 15 million trades in the last year, which is 65% year-on-year growth.

And it’s not just Paxful that is witnessing amazing growth in Africa. Binance also launched a new service by the name of Binance Uganda, where citizens can purchase bitcoin directly with their fiat currency. This step is helping the country to gain access to crypto markets, improve liquidity and increase the foothold of cryptocurrency trading in Africa. Belfrics is another exchange that’s offering its trading services in Tanzania, Nigeria, and Kenya.

Having said that, the growth of the cryptocurrency industry in the continent is also going to depend on the legislation and regulations around crypto trading. Just like online gambling, as in NCAAF college games betting, cryptocurrencies must be legislated and done responsibly, putting the trust into consumers.

If reigning governments don’t decide to be intrusive and keep the markets open, cryptocurrencies, including bitcoin, are going to play a massive role in the economic growth of African countries, and the prediction of Jack Dorsey may come true.

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