In an era of rapid technological advancement, Africa’s financial payments industry has undergone a period of remarkable transformation in recent years. As technology continues to evolve and the global landscape becomes increasingly digital, the need for robust integrated payment platforms to facilitate seamless transactions has become more of an imperative.
Many developing nations across the Africa continent are challenged due to their limited access to world-class financial services and products, thereby hindering their economic growth and development.
For years, the Sierra Leonean payment system was riddled with challenges such as a fragmented and inefficient payment system, limited interoperability among financial institutions, high transaction costs, and limited access to financial services for the unbanked population.
Owing to the fragmented and inefficient payment systems, the Sierra Leonean financial industry and market was dominated with small to medium sized financial institutions who struggle to scale and exert impactful influence in the financial industry. Moreso, regulating the industry was becoming increasingly difficult, thereby jeopardising the safety of the citizens and investor’s funds and investments, respectively.
The inefficiencies in the payment system naturally resulted in high transaction costs, limited service, and product offerings, which are detrimental for an emerging market such as Sierra Leone with an expected economic growth rate of 3.8%, predicted for the periods between 2023-2025.
The Bank of Sierra Leone in its capacity as the primary regulator of the financial industry has continued to proactively seek solutions to address these issues, seeking out transformative solutions to modernize the country’s financial systems. This search has resulted in strategic partnerships with organisations like Interswitch who have proven themselves capable of driving transformation within financial sectors across Africa.
Together with stakeholders, the Bank of Sierra Leone embarked on a collaborative journey to develop the National Payment Switch (NPS) platform, and integrated banks in Sierra Leone with the understanding that an efficient payment switch will revolutionizes transaction processes in the country and drive the development of the payments and financial industry as a whole.
The NPS platform enables seamless and secure electronic transactions across multiple financial institutions, promoting interoperability across financial institutions, reducing transaction costs, and expanding access to financial services. It eliminates the need for multiple fragmented systems, making payments more convenient and seamless for customers. Consequently, the NPS is expected to drive the growth of financial inclusion in Sierra Leone, offering customers more payment options through the internet, mobile phones and debit cards.
Furthermore, the platform has improved data security by implementing advanced encryption methods. This ensures that users’ personal data remains safe during payments or fund transfers, reducing the risk of fraud or identity theft that would otherwise occur without proper encryption technology in place.
The Bank of Sierra Leone’s quest for financial inclusion, interoperability, and data security as well as Interswitch’s digital infrastructural support for the participating banks was a match made in Freetown. With this collaboration, Interswitch is extending its over two-decade-long success in other African markets, to the Bank of Sierra Leone. In addition to preparing the banks for smooth integration in the NPS, Interswitch’s work in Sierra Leone is a building block for the exploration of more opportunities for collaboration in the country’s digital payment space.
One of these opportunities is the issuance and acceptance of Verve, a cost-effective debit card, which will allow seamless transactions across various channels and further deepen the financial inclusion drive in Sierra Leone. Another opportunity is the deployment of POS terminals with Thales Payshield, providing the highest level of security for customers against card-based fraud. Others include Software Licenses for FEP, fraud solution and reconciliation tools, world-class mobile app development for banks, biller aggregation, collections, and disbursement services.
Being a one-stop-shop for Third Party Processing, with services that encompass brands such as MasterCard, Visa, Verve, UnionPay, Discover/Dinners Club, and JCB, Interswitch is positioned to serve financial institutions in Sierra Leone for all processing needs. This will further drive interoperability within the financial ecosystem in the country and provide support to the national switch in terms of transaction processing.
Another key area to explore is the building of infrastructure for cross-border remittance to enable payment transactions between consumers in Sierra Leone and other African countries.
Speaking on the potential of cross-border remittance to boost Sierra Leone’s economy, Akeem Lawal, Managing Director of Payment Processing and Switching (Interswitch Purepay), emphasized Interswitch’s commitment to building a prosperous African economy by developing innovative intra-country and cross-border payment products and solutions. These products aim to drive business growth across Sierra Leone and Africa, offering seamless integration to newer payment channels, protecting customers against digital payment fraud, and enhancing customer experience.
Furthering its commitment to deepening the growth of digital payments in the country, Interswitch recently introduced a range of products and solutions to the Sierra Leone market. These offerings include Postilion Retail Payment, Interswitch Banking-as-a-Service, Interswitch Payment-as-a-Service, Agency Banking, and Card Fusion. Designed for banks, fintechs, microfinance banks, and other financial institutions, these products address customer needs, enhance business development, and boost Sierra Leone’s digital payment ecosystem.
Based on these strategic growth drive across Sierra Leone and the rest of the continent, Interswitch’s impact on Africa’s financial payment industry cannot be overstated. The company has played a pivotal role in shifting the continent from a predominantly cash-based economy to a digitally driven one. Through its innovative solutions and unwavering commitment to enabling seamless payments, enhancing financial inclusion and driving continental prosperity, Interswitch has emerged as a catalyst for progress, reshaping the landscape of digital payments across the continent.
Interswitch was established with a vision to bridge the gap in financial services across Africa. Recognizing the vast unbanked population and the potential of technology to transform lives, the firm has continued to create cutting-edge payment infrastructure and solutions that would reach every corner of the continent. This vision remains at the core of Interswitch’s operations, driving its continuous growth and influence.
Indeed, Interswitch continues to lead the way, with others following suit. By enabling digital payments, empowering businesses, and prioritizing financial inclusion, Interswitch has not only revolutionized Africa’s financial payment industry but has continued to contribute to the economic development and well-being of millions of people on the African continent and beyond.