Mobile banking has had a revolutionary impact on society, especially those in the rural areas.
Sthembiso Sithole (SS): What is the current state of cashless societies in Africa?

Riaan Graham (RG): Africa’s quest for a cashless society is gaining momentum. Its lack of financial inclusion and the geographic distribution of the population has forced the continent to look at innovative solutions to banking and financial literacy. Mobile banking has also had a revolutionary impact on society - allowing people, even in rural areas, to transact money to one another, make purchases and even pay for key services like electricity and water. This cashless community is growing throughout Africa - with countries like Kenya and Rwanda spearheading the curve. While the table is set for South Africa to do the same, the uptake has been slower.

Consumers realise the cost, inconvenience and security risks associated with cash, yet are still hesitant to make a full switch-over. As such, we are seeing pockets of cashless transactions and this will grow significantly.

SS: What are you doing to address key challenges regarding cashless societies in Africa?

RG: Not only can we provide the infrastructure and access via wi-fi, but we are also able to address security risks for over-the-air transmissions/transactions - which opens up the opportunity for those who do not have access and those who are wary of the security risks associated with online/mobile banking - two of the biggest challenges associated with a cashless society.

SS: Is Ruckus Networks providing access to Africa’s unconnected communities through partnerships?

RG: Absolutely. We are committed to providing connectivity to people in the most remote areas of the world and have a number of initiatives and partnerships to do that. Facebook’s Express Wi-fi Certified programme is one such initiative giving individuals access to high-performance wi-fi networks.

It's a solution to help operators and local entrepreneurs offer fast and affordable internet access in public spaces. Facebook partners with licensed local internet service providers or mobile operators to provide the service to local entrepreneur retailers who sell pre-paid wi-fi connectivity to community residents.

SS: What infrastructure is required for mobile and wi-fi for the unbanked?

RG: Despite the number of people banking online, financial institutions are still under pressure to offer wi-fi access at regional branches In a market where mobile connectivity is not ubiquitous, it is also vital to the provisioning of banking solutions Service-centric businesses that do not provide it are losing out to the competitors who do. From an infrastructure point of view, we are ready. All the technology is in place to bring mobile and wi-fi to the unbanked. It’s just a matter of addressing the cost of data.

SS: If access is a problem, what will it cost the consumer to connect and transact?

RG: The reality of being mobile comes at a price. One of the most problematic aspects remains firmly rooted in how much mobile data costs. This has resulted in the telecommunications environment on the continent undergoing significant changes in recent years. One of the driving forces behind this is investments being made in terrestrial fibre-optic infrastructure. Many African countries have installed fibre-optic backbones connecting to undersea cables carrying bandwidth. The ensuing evolving dynamics are forcing mobile operators to adapt or risk falling behind All of this points to a changing of the guard in terms of data access.

SS: What is the future of cashless payments in Africa?

RG: We are likely to see additional solutions and options coming to the fore from handset manufacturers and fintech innovators. We are also likely to see the prevalence of different connectivity mediums. There will also need to be a strong drive for merchant buy-in and the willingness to update and refresh their infrastructure to allow for cashless payments.