The CBC convened the 4th Digital Financial Inclusion Public-Private Dialogue, a hybrid event, under the theme, “Towards a Regional Digital Retail Payments Platform for MSMEs in COMESA”. This event was held on 10th March 2022, in Lusaka Zambia at the Taj Pamodzi Hotel.
“For the region to move closer to achieving digital financial inclusion and contribute to the reinvigoration of intra-regional, and ultimately continental trade flows, strong collaboration between all stakeholders across the public and private sector is crucial,” said Marday Venkatasamy, President of the COMESA Business Council (CBC), in his opening statement at the High-Level Public-Private Dialogue.
CBC Convenes High-Level Public-Private Dialogue for the final Validation of the Business Model on the Implementation and Operation of the Regional Digital Retail Payment Scheme for MSMEs in COMESA.
The hybrid event brought together over 200 participants from the nine pilot-study countries of the CBC Digital Financial Inclusion Program, to validate the Business Model that will inform the design, governance and implementation of the proposed regional digital retail payments platform for MSMEs in the COMESA region. The stakeholder groups represented comprised Central Banks; Ministries of Finance; ICT Regulators; manufacturers; Mobile Network Operators; Commercial Banks; FinTechs; Microfinance Institutions; and MSMEs.

The Dialogue also launched the CBC Digital Financial Inclusion Recognition Awards, in acknowledgement and appreciation of the exceptional commitment and contributions made towards the implementation of the Digital Financial Inclusion Plan for Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) in COMESA.
The award recipients comprised Airtel Africa; Bank of Zambia; Bankers Association of Zambia; Bayer; Coca-Cola East and Central Africa Franchise; COMESA Clearing House; KCB Bank; Kenya Bankers Association; Rwanda Information Society Authority; Techno Brain Group; and Vodacom.

“We are honoured to be recognized through this Award; financial services designed for smallholder farmers and rural MSMEs, who form part of our value chains, are critical to attaining financial inclusion goals. Understanding the characteristics, needs, and preferences of these demographics is key for there to be successful uptake of formal financial services by these unbanked clients. We are proud to be on this journey with CBC, and have achieved a lot – from development of the Business Case to where we are now, validating the Business Model for the proposed regional digital retail payments platform for MSMEs in the COMESA region,” said Diana Apio, Public Affairs & Communications Director at Coca-Cola East and Central Africa Franchise, and also a member of the CBC Digital Financial Inclusion Advisory Committee.
“This scheme intendeds to create affordable, transparent low value services that will boost intra-trade in COMESA and the larger Africa. Closing the MSME financial inclusion gap in the region would significantly help increase COMESA’s annual economic growth,” said Ms. Sandra Uwera, CBC’s CEO in her opening statement.

In alignment, Dr Robert Ochola, CEO of AfricaNenda noted, “Sub-Saharan Africa alone has 44 million micro, small, and medium enterprises, almost all of which are micro. For these businesses to grow, create more jobs, and generate economic growth, we need to remove certain constraints especially the challenges they face with the current regional payments arrangements.”
Speaking on the importance of financial literacy, Dr Francis Chipimo, Deputy Governor of Bank of Zambia, and the event’s guest of honour stated, “despite the growth in active Digital Financial Services (DFS) accounts in Zambia, low customer awareness of new and existing DFS products is still a major obstacle. Improvement of financial education on Digital Financial Services has become an essential next step to enable both cash-lite and mobile money to expand further and empower the population in Zambia and the region.”
In the same vein, Amb. Dr Kipyego Cheluget, the Asst. Secretary General-Programs of COMESA cited, “though progress has been made towards broader financial inclusion, there are still some key challenges to be addressed, namely low levels of financial literacy in most COMESA Member States, high cost of services, regulatory frameworks not keeping pace with innovation, and weak consumer protection policies.”
In Agreement, expressing shared views by the Bankers Association of Zambia on the need to install and commission the regional digital retail payments platform for MSMEs, underpinned by digital financial inclusion as a region-wide goal, Mrs. Mizinga Melu, the Association’s Chairperson, and Managing Director of ABSA Bank Zambia stated, “the importance of Consumer Protection on Digital Financial Services cannot be over emphasised, hence the need for well secured platforms to avoid Cyber-attacks. This will ensure that data and money being sent by MSMEs is well protected.”

The Public-Private Dialogue’s (PPD) fruitful deliberations on the Draft Business Model on the Implementation and Operation of Regional Digital Retail Payments Scheme, had the following outcomes:

i. The PPD adopted the Business Model Report. The meeting further agreed that the one of the three business models should be agreed upon at the DFI Advisory committee level, prior to the meeting of the COMESA Committee of Governors of Central Banks where they will be presented in order of preferred scenarios.
ii. It was agreed that the oversight role of the Digital Retail payments platform should be undertaken by COMESA Committee of Governors of Central Banks or alternately, the COMESA Committee of Governors of Central Banks can delegate their authority on day-to-day operations.
iii. It was further agreed that the COMESA Scheme management team of Regional Digital Retail Payments System should spearhead the rule writing in conjunction with participant working groups. Both banks and non-banks Digital Financial Services Providers (DFSPs) should be members/participants depending on their criteria defined in the rule book.
iv. It was agreed that pilot phase of the Digital Retail Payments scheme, would be undertaken in Member States who show readiness in respect to meeting criteria in Digital legal framework and Technology infrastructure.

About COMESA Business Council
The COMESA Business Council (CBC) is a business member organization bringing together a diverse group of businesses and associations in the region from 34 sectors in 21 countries of COMESA. CBC is the recognized regional apex body of the private sector in the region. CBC as the key advocacy driver for business, provides a link between the private sector and organs of the Common market. We seek to improve the competitiveness and deepen the participation of the private sector in regional and global trade, through advocacy, business facilitation and enterprise development. This includes prioritizing and taking specific advocacy strategies to address key business impediments and measures that affect our industries and have a direct bearing on the participation of our businesses in trading in the COMESA region.

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