By Aldo Laubscher Country Manager for South Africa at Visa
The Covid-19 pandemic has over the past 16 months had a very devastating impact. It has thrown our economies into freefall and disrupted how we work, how we interact, how we shop and how businesses sell. This impact comes on the back of a renewed focus towards sustainability and more impactful investments by organizations across various disciplines. This is also the case in the payments industry, where social impact and purpose are now becoming key points of focus and action. During these challenging times, accelerating inclusive and equitable economic growth and supporting the recovery of small and micro businesses in the region is more important than ever.
For some context, Sub-Saharan Africa’s GDP growth is expected to grow 3.4% in 2021 and 4% in 2022. Despite this, cash still dominates. Only 6 markets in Sub-Saharan Africa have a digital Personal Consumption Expenditure (PCE) penetration greater than 5%. The region also possesses over 261 million unbanked people. Acceptance of digital payments is also low in many markets. While there are around forty-four million merchants in Sub-Saharan Africa; we only have 1.4 million accepting electronic payments. Despite the above figures, payments firms still have a key role to play in the attainment of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs). At Visa, our Social Impact strategy and approach supports Visa in making a difference in local communities, building a purpose-driven brand and culture, and driving outcomes across Sub-Saharan Africa. A key goal that payments firms can focus on attaining is SDG one (to end poverty in all its forms everywhere). As part of our efforts to help in the achievement of SDG one, we met our goal to provide 500 million unbanked/underserved people access to digital payment accounts by 2020 and are continuing the work.
So far, we have put our network to work to help SMBs not only survive but also to thrive and therefore we’ve helped create smarter, safer, stronger businesses for the long term. Our campaign titled “Where You Shop Matters” supported SMBs as they sought to navigate the current environment and as part of this, we helped businesses get online, accepting digital payments with a view to protect and grow their business in the long term. To this end, we’ve enabled over 7000 new merchants to accept digital payments and partnered with FinTechs to grow Visa’s presence among non-traditional businesses. A second SDG that payments firms such as ours can focus on attaining is SDG four: to ensure inclusive and quality education for all and to promote lifelong learning.
At Visa we are doing our bit through Practical Business Skills, a global digital platform delivering free educational resources to help small and micro business (SMB) owners make confident, informed decisions to grow their businesses. Achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls (UNSDG 5) is another key pillar that payments and technology firms can strive to attain We have partnered with traditional and new financial services companies to develop new products and capabilities to reach the underserved and underbanked consumers. We’re also continuing to foster simple and easier acceptance of digital payments for merchants with more than 40 partners across Sub-Saharan Africa.
As we use our electronic payments network to connect consumers, financial institutions merchants and governments around the world, we recognize the importance of understanding and minimizing the environmental footprint of our business and taking urgent climate action. As we strive to broaden financial inclusion, we are continuously improving the plastic card to reduce the impact on the environment. In June 2020, Visa launched a card for Visa cardholders composed of up to 98 percent “upcycled” plastic. The Earthwise High Content Card seeks to help eliminate plastic waste and reduce first-use plastic, creating a better sustainability model.
When looking for solutions to specific needs, we cannot ignore the need to critically assess the tech innovation landscape. Investors and institutions need to work hand in hand with other players within the ecosystem to improve sustainable practices. Tech start-ups possess good ideas while larger institutions have the resources to spare on sustainability-focused investment. A concerted push from both sides of the spectrum has the potential to open up more avenues for players in the tech sector to play a bigger role in enhancing sustainability across our regions.
We look forward to sharing the stage with other key players in the finance and tech industries to help in the attainment of the UNSDGs.