May 10, 2020

The silver lining of COVID-19

 

I promised myself that I wouldn’t get all caught up in the daily dialogue on the negative impacts the coronavirus (COVID-19) is having around the world. I will focus instead on the silver lining that is coming out of the urgency and necessity to evolve more rapidly and embrace technology and digital transformation at record speed. Here are my thoughts on where we can expect rapid adoption to occur over the next few months:

e-learning: Schools and universities are shutting down all over the world. Classes are moving to online learning platforms for all ages and curriculums. It is important to acknowledge that millions of students still lack basic access to the internet from their homes.

Telemedicine: Patients are being encouraged to use various apps and online platforms to self diagnose or to speak to doctors on demand through video apps for faster treatments and to avoid crowding at hospitals and clinics. Similar to e-learning, access is limited to those who have it through connected devices. We need a massive movement to get more devices into the hands of the “have nots”

Remote working: From small startups to large corporates like google and facebook, companies are requiring employees to work remotely from home and use video conferencing as much as possible.

Robotics: Tesla could probably manufacture cars at a steady pace without a single person on site. Some ghost kitchens are beginning to test end-to-end solutions for food service that can take an order and deliver a meal without human intervention.

Drone delivery: In the air or on the ground, autonomous drones will deliver everything from essential prescriptions to food, groceries and packages from Amazon and Walmart.

Digital Payments: You can finally say goodbye to cash. It is one of the biggest transmitters of all sorts of viruses and diseases and is extremely costly. With the abundance of credit, debit and prepaid cards and the growing number of contactless payment devices and digital wallets , its time to retire the cash once and for all. Mobile payments can be easily deployed across the masses with little effort. Every phone can become a payment device to make or accept payments. Financial inclusion for the digital lifestyle is an absolute must. Regulations to expedite implementation should be prioritized and just done. What are we waiting for?

All of the above will heavily rely on bandwidth and the capacity of local, regional and national telecom operators. They must provide fast, reliable and secure communications and connectivity to enable the sudden and unprecedented demand in data consumption. Even with 5G, I wonder if the telcos are ready and able to deliver, having had hundreds of billions of dollars in revenue wiped off their books by the OTT players (Over The Top Apps like WhatsApp, Messenger, WeChat, etc…) over that past 10+ years. This could be their chance for a big comeback.

What is surprising is the number of prepaid (pay-as-you-go) customers (85%) that are still topping up their phones regularly or remotely toping up their friends’ and families’’ phones all over the world. What happens when you can’t walk into one of the millions of locations around the world to top-up? I have more to say about this area as well as how and why telcos should become more dominant in digital payments and mobile financial services.

 

AJ Hanna, CEO

Mr. Hanna is an innovator and pioneer in mobile financial services and digital payments with global hands-on experience and expertise across the financial services and telecom industries