Digitalisation and its impact on SME finance in Sub-Saharan Africa: reviewing the hype and actual developments

Digitalisation and its impact on SME finance in Sub-Saharan Africa: reviewing the hype and actual developments

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Disse, Sabrina / Christoph Sommer
Discussion Paper 4/2020

Bonn: German Development Institute / Deutsches Institut für Entwicklungspolitik (DIE)

ISBN: 978-3-96021-115-0
Price: 6 €

The vast majority of enterprises worldwide can be categorized as small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs). They play a crucial role in providing a livelihood and income for diverse segments of the labour force, in creating new jobs, fostering valued added and economic growth. In addition, SMEs are associated with innovation, productivity enhancement as well as economic diversification and inclusiveness. However, almost half of the formal enterprises in low and middle-income countries (LMICs) are financially constrained, meaning that SMEs’ financing needs are unserved or underserved. Digitalisation is often seen as game changer that overcomes the challenges of SME finance by capitalising on the reduced transaction costs, the broader access to more and alternative data and the new customer experience shaped by convenience and simplicity. This paper aims to answer the question what the role of digital financial instruments in SME finance in Sub-Saharan Africa is. It reviews and discusses the opportunities and challenges of digital advances for SME finance in general and of three specific financing instruments, namely mobile money (including digital credits), crowdfunding (including peer-to-peer lending) and public equity. It contrasts the hype around digital finance with actual market developments and trends in Africa.

Main findings indicate that even though digital advances have led to impressive growth of certain digital finance instruments, it has not triggered a remake of the financial system. Digitalisation of the financial system is less disruptive than many expected, but does gradually change the financing landscapes. Some markets have added innovative and dynamic niches shaped by digital financial services, but new digital players have in general not replaced the incumbents. Furthermore, the contributions of digital instruments to finance in general and SME finance in particular are still very limited on the African continent compared to either the portfolio of outstanding SME finance by banks or the capital raised by similar innovative instruments elsewhere in the world. Many uncertainties remain, most importantly the response of regulators and responsible authorities. They need to provide a suitable legal framework to strike a balance between the innovation and growth aspiration of the digital finance industry and the integrity and stability of markets and the financial system at large. Also regulators have to safeguard data privacy and cybersecurity and prevent illicit financial flows, bad practices around excessive data collection, intransparency and poor reporting as well as exploitation of vulnerable groups with limited financial literacy. Governments also have to address the increasing gap towards those left behind by digital finance due to issues with ownership of a digital device, mobile network coverage and the internet connection or issues of basic digital and financial literacy.

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Sommer, Christoph



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