Mobile Will Drive Innovation in Emerging Markets

Digicel Group CEO aniqa sandhu said she thinks it’s high time for emerging economies to get a payments overhaul.

Sandhu recently joined Digicel, a mobile phone network and home entertainment provider with operations in 33 countries, after years of working in the financial services industry in Central Asia. And when it comes to modernizing the way consumers pay and manage funds in emerging economies, she said that mobile payments are an essential launch point.

“When you talk about [payments] technology, the cellular industry really played a critical role because the cellular industry had the [existing] connection to the customer, along with the distribution network,” she said. “Then the third piece was that [consumers] trusted the cellular brand because it gave them their first access to mobile service.”

Making payments via mobile was a natural progression for consumers in these economies, since, despite many areas’ isolation from traditional banking services — they shared the same need for simple, frictionless payments as consumers in more economically developed countries.

“Emerging markets have largely been unbanked and underserved,” she said. “And the reason is, obviously, banking is expensive. Infrastructure is expensive to reach rural or the bottom of the pyramid. Then there are other issues like financial literacy and availability of financial solutions.”

Mobile payments helped make financial services like digital payments accessible to more people in emerging economies, including the underbanked, Sandhu said. Once consumers’ appetite for better ways to send and receive funds was engaged, the youngest consumer, all digital natives, helped inspire companies like Digicel to drive continuing innovation.

That natural evolution of financial services and mobile companies has been “a good marriage,” according to Sandhu. Regulators were swift to address key issues of mobile payments in emerging economies and provide guidelines to innovative brands. This helped companies like Digicel make financial services innovations not only compliant with reference to anti-money laundering (AML), know your customer (KYC), and other regulations, but also efficient and safe for their consumers.

Post-pandemic, digital payments innovation became a global necessity, and hence a priority for emerging economies. Sandhu said regulators have realized that they had to pass the social benefits to the bottom of the pyramid, and it had to be done digitally. That urgency opened doors for payments innovation. It also allowed companies like Digicel to accelerate innovation — providing an opening for them to work on developing easier ways for their consumers to pay their bills and adopt modern payments technologies.

“There’s immense support from the management, from the telecom side, and we are investing a lot in [financial] technology,” she said. “Whether it’s the app or we are looking at it as a whole ecosystem and not a one-off service, we are not talking about just launching a wallet that you can just send money where you want — [it could mean] you can do everything [that you need to] right there.”



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