The 2023 EMEA Women in Payments Symposium took place last week, on 19 and 20 April, and in attendance were over 250 remarkable women from the banking and fintech industry. Discussing life in payments, the conference tackled topics including the challenges of being a woman in the sector, mentoring and coaching – especially in a transition period, career growth, sponsorship, the secret to career success in the industry and how the narrative is changing.
Manon Quillere and Adeyanju Pinheiro-Aina represented FXC Intelligence at the symposium, joining panel discussions on the future of crypto and digital currencies, as well as closing the global financial inclusion gap while supporting emerging and developing economies.
The collapse of FTX and Silicon Valley Bank, the ongoing crypto winter, the rise of CBDCs, Web3, the metaverse and AI were among the many topics discussed at the conference. In addition to these business and operational discussions, the various panels also promoted diversity, equity and inclusion in the payments industry.
Below, we take a look at some of the key topics covered during the conference and some of our major takeaways.
Gen Z continues to shift payments products and strategies
Payments has evolved in numerous ways over the years and now Gen Z is shaking up retail and banking services in an unprecedented way. As a user segment, they are major users of mobile wallets but also lack strong brand loyalty towards any particular wallet. Digital natives, they care about three things: frictionless experience, price and speed. Payment companies are increasingly taking their preferences into consideration when creating products and developing future strategies.
Financial inclusion is growing in emerging economies
One of the biggest challenges in emerging economies has been low financial inclusion and access to credit, largely due to the continued dominance of cash in these regions. However, thanks to smartphone penetration, tech-savvy youths and favourable government policies, neobanks are spreading in these markets and are serving demand that has traditionally been unmet. Nigeria was mentioned as a particular example of a region where neobanks have been thriving.
Efforts are ongoing in different emerging economies to move towards seamless payments – such as the South African Reserve Bank’s launch last month of PayShap, a low-value, real-time rapid payments platform – as well as boost financial inclusion and reduce reliance on cash. Governments in emerging markets are working to build strong fintech ecosystems that can drive financial inclusion among lower-income populations, and women generally, in order to stimulate economic activity at the grassroots. An inclusive financial system is essential infrastructure for a thriving economy in every country.
Digital currencies are expected to see increasing payments integration but require regulation
Digital currencies have not reached the large-scale usage in payments that some expected, yet it is believed that digital currencies will still become integrated into the future of commercial and retail transactions. The collapse of crypto or crypto-affiliated companies such as TerraLuna, FTX and SVB has done a lot of damage to consumer trust and support in the space, but mainstream adoption of crypto and digital currencies is still a possibility. Stablecoins will be key here, as they have different regulatory restrictions, and perhaps most importantly are more transparent and less volatile.
However, the sector also comes with new risks and current regulations will not be sufficient to combat them. Broadly speaking, regulations towards more transparency, clarity and controls will be influential in driving adoption. The MICA legislation signed in the EU last week is creating a comprehensive set of rules for crypto companies and will be helpful in that regard. Other markets such as the UK are also likely to set their own stablecoin and crypto assets service rules shortly.
Crypto remittances have high potential
Crypto remittances have a lot of potential, despite some industry scepticism, and offer several advantages over conventional remittances. Foremost among these is the speed of settlement. While conventional remittances can take a few days to settle, crypto remittances are settled instantly, which is particularly convenient from a treasury and foreign exchange risk perspective. Crypto remittances are also a good alternative to conventional remittances in periods of strong volatility and in countries with cross-border restrictions, suggesting that their potential remains significant for niche applications in particular.
Open banking is gaining momentum across the world
Open banking offers more opportunities for innovation and collaboration, especially for cross-border payments, but it is still lacking in some areas of development. For interoperability, standardisation and security to continue to improve, stakeholders including regulators, banks, financial institutions and the fintech industry need to get aboard. It remains to be seen what the future of payments with open banking will be.
Web3 is already impacting payments
Web3, a concept riding on the back of decentralised peer-to-peer networks, is much closer than we think. It is putting emphasis on data ownership and privacy. According to Marieke Flament, CEO of the NEAR foundation, Web3 is already real and tangible, with companies such as Checkout.com, Stripe and Shopify offering fiat-to-crypto payment options. Other players such as Starbucks are embracing Web3 as part of their loyalty programs. Digital collectibles are also becoming an integral part of brand strategies for the likes of Nike, Gucci, Manchester United and a host of others.
Finally, wise words that stuck with us from the symposium were for women in payments to find their tribe and maximise networking opportunities.