The spread of the Covid-19 pandemic across Africa has seen a surge in digital payments and e-commerce transactions as financial institutions scramble to offer businesses and consumers contactless ways of spending, borrowing and lending, and making payments.

Cashless solutions like mobile lending and digital payments were already growing rapidly on the continent even before the pandemic struck. Now, we could see a scenario where the effects of COVID-19 on our society will create permanent changes in the way Africans use cards and cash, creating both opportunities and challenges for financial institutions, said Lara Burger, CEO at TransUnion Namibia.

“Even in 2020, millions of people across sub-Saharan Africa still pay their bills and send money each month by drawing cash and physically going to a retailer or a bank to make payment or to receive grant payments. Now, their safety concerns mean they don’t want to make physical payments anymore, which means banks and FinTechs will have to rapidly roll out safer, contact-free payment methods,” said Burger.

As markets prepare for life beyond the pandemic, digital transformation is becoming a key strategic initiative for financial institutions across both digital and traditional channels. Financial services providers will need to focus on offering payment and lending solutions, and onboarding customers, digitally in a seamless, easy and secure manner.

They are increasingly being supported by economic policy changes from regulators and national banks to further the digitisation agendas. The Namibian banks have put in place a range of measures, including reduced charges on certain types of transfers and contactless point-of-sale transactions, urging the public to switch to utilising their digital platforms.

As growing numbers of consumers and businesses transact online, one of the biggest obstacles to the mass uptake of digital solutions will be security, according to Burger. TransUnion’s quarterly analysis of global online fraud trends found that the telecommunications, e-commerce and financial services industries have been increasingly targeted by online fraud, with the number of suspected fraudulent digital transactions increasing by 5% comparing the periods Jan. 1-March 10 and March 11-April 28 (March 11, the mid-date, was the date the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus (COVID-19) a global pandemic). TransUnion identified more than 100 million suspected fraudulent transactions globally from March 11-April 28 alone.

This will mean banks and businesses will need to deploy robust identity verification and fraud detection tools to manage their risks and avoid losses at a time when demand for credit is growing. At the same time, they must ensure a smooth customer experience that does not alienate the customer before they have even onboarded.