Innovation, partnership, and co-creation key to driving digital payment growth in Sub-Saharan Africa

Photo credit: VISA

By Aida Diarra, Senior Vice-President and Head of Sub-Saharan Africa at Visa

The last decade has seen enormous growth in digital technology, including payments. Innovation and technological advances are bringing exciting opportunities for financial inclusion to the fore.

Technology is now a tool to leapfrog over old processes, systems, and protocols for the benefit of everyday consumers. This leap forward has been accelerated by the advent of the Covid-19 pandemic, which has forced us to shift our behaviours and adopt more technology to assist with our day-to-day lives in all aspects, including our finances.

As a result, the payments segment has grown rapidly in Sub-Saharan Africa, mainly due to the high demand for financial inclusion.

Today, Visa, the world leader in digital payments, has become the connective tissue to enable new payment and commerce experiences by co-creating with all players in the payments sector – including fintechs, neobanks and wallets – to enable new payment experiences across the region.

We have always been an enabler of invention and have constantly innovated to meet market needs over the years – from credit, debit and prepaid to mobile and internet of things (IoT) – to enable new payment experiences across the region.

Our business and technology strategies have enabled us to become a leader in electronic payments over the last six decades. Despite this great success, an estimated $17 trillion of cash and cheques are still in use globally, and nearly two billion adults lack access to formal financial services, providing huge opportunities for Visa and the greater industry to rally around standards (e.g., QR, eCom/mCom) and capabilities that will broaden access to electronic payments.

According to the Global Innovation Index, regional divides still persist and when you look at Sub-Saharan Africa, we are characterised by high performers like South Africa and Mauritius, who rank in the top 60, while most of our region ranks below 100.

Visa’s approach to innovation in the 21st century is anchored in a belief that paying with Visa in the digital world should be just as simple as when you pay with Visa in the physical world. It should also be just as secure, rewarding, and convenient.

With commerce becoming increasingly digital, there is a greater impetus for Visa to innovate to keep our system secure for everyone. Every Visa payment, for example, is secured by our sophisticated anti-fraud detection systems that apply the latest in machine learning and artificial intelligence (AI). We pioneered the use of sophisticated machine learning systems to reduce fraud on our network over a decade ago, and in the years since, we have evolved our predictive analytics to incorporate new data sources and new AI technologies. In a fraction of a second, Visa analyses up to 500 pieces of data to protect accountholders and merchants by catching fraud before it happens.

The restrictions on movement and increased wariness of handling physical cash due to the Covid-19 pandemic, helped lift Sub-Saharan mobile money transaction volumes 23 percent to $490 billion last year, greater than the GDP of Nigeria, the region’s biggest economy.

Leapfrog markets like Kenya have one of the highest mobile-money penetration rates in the world. Here, mobile money is 54x bigger than card payments, according to the Africa Digital Financial Inclusion Facility (

What further compels our innovation strategy is a very large opportunity to accelerate the adoption of digital payments globally. Over the last several years, Visa platforms and how we work with partners and clients have fundamentally evolved to encourage a broadening of the commerce ecosystem.

Our focus has remained the same: To provide our clients and partners with access to our network, products, tools and expertise to enable their growth and success. In addition, our collaborations with a broad range of partners to co-create market-ready payment solutions have been a key driver in the enhancement of financial inclusion across Sub-Saharan Africa.

Some of our latest partnerships are leveraging the power of mobile as an access point to financial inclusion, including a partnership to develop products that will expand access to digital payments at scale for over 30 million mobile money customers. We are also driving access for small businesses through the launches of tap to phone and an exciting pilot that will serve as a solution to help small business owners digitise their enterprises, covering payments, point of sale and access to credit, via a mobile device.

To foster real inclusion, we need tangible, customer-centric solutions that, with our innovation and design centre capabilities, our partners have a chance to engage with key trends and the latest Visa technologies through a number of design processes to identify where the gaps and opportunities are.

We are always looking to partner with companies at the leading edge of enhancing financial inclusion. As we continue to evolve as a company and a brand, technology will continue to be our great enabler, helping us achieve our vision of being the best way to pay and be paid, for everyone, everywhere.