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Revolutionising mobile money and fintech in Africa

As mobile money continues to reshape the financial landscape in Africa, telcos find themselves at the forefront of this transformative shift. In a candid interview, Robert van Breukelen, CEO of Itemate Solutions, shared his insights on the evolving role of telcos in the fintech sphere, the challenges they face, and the future of mobile financial services on the continent.

Itemate Solutions, a company that initially focused on inventory management for telcos, has evolved alongside the industry, recognising the need for comprehensive solutions to cater to the growing demands of customers. Van Breukelen’s extensive experience in the sector has given him a unique vantage point from which to observe and analyse the trends shaping the future of fintech in Africa.

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One of the key challenges Van Breukelen highlighted was the management of inactive SIM cards and the potential for recycling-related issues. “Telcos have had to become very sophisticated in terms of ensuring that they do not recycle numbers that are not making voice calls or SMS that could be used for other purposes,” he explained. To address this, Itemate Solutions developed a bespoke number management solution, ensuring that every number is accurately mapped and adheres to a configurable set of rules before being recycled.

The evolution of mobile money has been a focal point in the conversation, with Van Breukelen acknowledging the successes and failures experienced by various telcos in their attempts to replicate the success of M-Pesa in Kenya. “Mobile money is very interesting,” he said, pointing out that even before the concept emerged, people were already trading in airtime as a form of electronic currency.

However, the opportunities for telcos extend beyond mobile money. Van Breukelen emphasised the need for partnerships and collaborations with banks, governments, and other stakeholders to provide comprehensive financial services to the unbanked population. “I would rather see partnerships than banks and telcos competing for that next level of customers,” he stated.

Digital literacy and education emerged as a crucial aspect in fostering trust and promoting the adoption of these technologies. Van Breukelen acknowledged the challenges faced by telcos in building awareness and educating the public, particularly in rural areas where access to information and infrastructure is limited.

Looking ahead, Van Breukelen envisions a future where mobile financial services, mobile health, and mobile education become more accessible to communities across Africa. “I do really think MTN’s objective of 100 million mobile financial services customers, that’s fantastic,” he said, “but again, I think those are your people who already have access to smartphones, the same smartphones they’ve been using mobile services for a while and they’ve taken them to the next level.”

Ultimately, the success of telcos in the fintech space will depend on their ability to navigate the complexities of the ecosystem, forge strategic partnerships, and prioritise the needs of underserved communities. As technology continues to evolve, companies like Itemate Solutions will play a pivotal role in enabling telcos to expand their reach, improve customer experiences, and drive financial inclusion across the continent.

Read next: Africa’s fintech boom: fastest-growing region

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