Right for Education met Ismail Ahmed at the LSE Africa Summit in March 2019. The two day summit hosted world-renowned speakers discussing the future of Africa today.
R:Ed: PLEASE GIVE US A QUICK INTRODUCTION TO YOUR LIFE AND WORK:
My name is Ismail Ahmed, I am the founder and Executive Chairman of WorldRemit the leading digital money transfer business.
R:Ed: HOW DID YOU END UP SETTING UP WORLDREMIT? WHAT IS THE STORY BEHIND IT?
I founded WorldRemit in 2010, to move the outdated, offline-dominated remittance industry to a mobile future. Before that I was a researcher at the University of Sussex where I focused my research work on remittances. Since I arrived in London, I have regularly sent money back home to Somaliland. I have had first-hand experience of the high costs and inconvenience of working a long day and traveling hours to send money home in cash over the counter or at high street agents. The goal of WorldRemit was to digitize remittances, to improve speed and convenience for users, while also lowering costs. On the sending side, our customers are increasingly using our app to send money transfers, allowing them to send money 24/7 with just a few taps on their smartphone.
For those receiving money, WorldRemit offers a wide range of options including bank deposit, cash collection, mobile airtime top-up and mobile money. We are the global leader in international remittances to mobile money accounts. We are connected to 33 mobile money services in 23 countries, including the major players globally such as M-PESA, MTN and bKash. Mobile money enables recipients to receive their money to a basic feature phone, driving mobile-to-mobile payments.
R:Ed: THIS TWO DAY CONFERENCE IS ABOUT BREAKING DOWN FRONTIERS AND LOOKING MORE GLOBALLY. ACROSS AFRICA, AND THE WORLD, HOW DO YOU THINK THINGS LIKE MOBILE MONEY ARE GOING TO IMPROVE BUSINESS ACROSS COUNTRIES IN AFRICA, AND FROM AFRICA TO THE REST OF THE WORLD?
The beauty of digitizing money transfers is that people who were previously storing their cash under their mattress can now store, receive and send money using their mobile phone. This is transformative as it lowers costs and accelerates speed of transfers for small business owners who no longer need to travel to a wholesaler to purchase goods. Instead the whole transaction can remain digital: customers can negotiate on the phone via text or WhatsApp, and then pay for the goods using mobile money before they are delivered.
Mobile money is also democratizing payments, which makes conducting business across the continent more accessible to those who might not own a bank account. What used to complicate the process for companies sending money within Africa was the reliance on a cumbersome SWIFT banking system. Now with mobile money and services like ours, it has become increasingly easier for businesses to send money across borders which will foster integration across the continent.
R:Ed: WHAT DO YOU THINK THIS WILL DO TO THE PROSPECTS OF AFRICAN ECONOMIES IN THE NEXT 10 YEARS?
Many countries in Africa are becoming cashless. A good example is Somaliland, a place that is often associated with the perils of economic isolation and hyperinflation but is now widely recognised as being a global pioneer in the shift towards a cashless economy. The penetration of mobile phones is not only taking place in Somaliland but also across the continent as Africa “leapfrogs” from physical to digital infrastructure through mobile technology. In the next 10 years I predict that around 50% of African GDP will be cashless, driven by booming economies such as Nigeria, Ghana and Kenya. As this digitisation continues, it will be easier for businesses and micro-enterprises to attract and access funding and conduct business.
R:Ed: YOU SAY THAT CASHLESS ECONOMIES WORK TO HALTER CORRUPTION. COULD YOU EXPAND ON THAT?
Cash-heavy, offline remittances are more likely to breed finance terrorism, money laundering, corruption and bribery. When someone goes to a cornershop to send money, the agent doesn’t know where the money has come from as there is no trail. When money becomes digital, there is a digital trail. Telecommunications companies can see how many transactions a person has received since the day they open up an account, how they use that money, where they go, and so on. As a result of this incredible wealth of data, especially with artificial intelligence, technology can track patterns of fraudulent behaviour.
Economies across the globe are benefiting from this digitisation. With mobile money we have seen that attempted fraud has significantly dropped. In some markets like Somaliland, if the telco blocks your mobile number, which also acts as your digital identity, there is a stigma attached to it. It is not worth the risk for somebody in Hargeisa to live without mobile money, as you also lose your digital identity.
R:Ed: MY FINAL QUESTION IS ABOUT ENTREPRENEURSHIP. WHAT WOULD BE YOUR ADVICE FOR SOMEONE WHO DOESN’T NECESSARILY HAVE A BUSINESS DEGREE, BUT HAS A GREAT IDEA?
It has become increasingly easier for people to set up businesses. You don’t need a degree or high-level qualifications: all you need is the right idea and skills. In the past, if you wanted to set up a company in the technology sector, you would need to purchase a server which could cost several hundreds of pounds. Now, with software such as cloud computing and smartphone technology, people can set up businesses in the tech sector. Once you have a good business idea and build the right skillset, you don’t need a lot of money to build a successful business. If anything, I should have started my business sooner.