The SARB recognises that advances are rapidly being made in financial technology (fintech) and related novel financial services platforms.
Fintech is transforming business models and increasing innovation in financial services. Innovations include crypto assets, online peer-to-peer platforms, insurtech, alternative digital payment platforms and even central bank-issued digital currencies.
Fintech has the potential to deliver benefits to consumers through improved access to financial products, greater flexibility, more efficient delivery and service, and competitive prices. Regulators therefore need to carefully balance the risks and benefits that this innovation can bring.
In August 2017, a Fintech Unit was established within the SARB to explore the implications of fintech innovation for the SARB and financial services in South Africa in a structured, organised and proactive manner. The main goal of the Fintech Unit is to respond to the rapidly changing environment with agility, flexibility and speed by assessing how financial services innovation driven by technological developments impact on policies and regulations, and to assist in aligning policies and regulations with emerging innovation when required.
Within the SARB, the Fintech Unit has contributed to papers on topics such as crypto assets, the cross-border implications of central bank digital currencies, and stable coins. It developed the SARB’s initial position on innovation facilitation structures (such as regulatory guidance units and sandboxes), which was used in further discussion with the broader regulatory community. The team has also been responsible for initiatives such as hosting the Southern African leg of the Global Fintech Hackcelerator, Project Khokha, and the launch of the Innovation Hub.
The Global Fintech Hackcelerator, is a fintech acceleration programme that creates a platform for fintech firms to demonstrate their innovative solutions to complex financial challenges in the Southern African region. The SARB views these types of global fintech acceleration programmes as enabling processes to embrace fintech, while allowing regulators to appraise benefits and risks in a balanced manner.
Project Khokha I successfully achieved its objective of exploring an emerging technology with industry to consider its potential impact and did so with a systemically important payment system — the real-time gross settlement system — in a short period of time.
The team delivered a real-world trial of a distributed ledger technology-based wholesale payment system proof-of-concept in an agile manner and within a quick timeframe, proving that it is possible for the SARB to receive international and local recognition as a forward-thinking central bank.
The IFWG aims to develop and adopt a coordinated approach to policymaking on financial services activities emanating from fintech. The IFWG website contains further information on the Innovation Hub and its inter-regulatory guidance unit, regulatory sandbox and innovation accelerator. The IFWG also established a working group specifically to review South Africa’s position on crypto assets and develop an appropriate policy and regulatory framework. A consultation paper was issued in January 2019 and a revised policy paper was published for public comment in April 2020.
The founder members of the IFWG are the SARB, Financial Intelligence Centre, the Financial Sector Conduct Authority and National Treasury. IFWG membership has grown since its establishment and now includes the National Credit Regulator, the South African Revenue Service and the Competition Commission.
Aside from local collaboration, the Fintech Unit actively participates in international regulatory and standard-setting bodies through work undertaken by entities such as the Financial Stability Board and the Bank for International Settlements. The Fintech Unit has contributed to papers published by these international bodies on topics such as the impact of fintech on financial stability and the impact of distributed ledger technology on payments and securities markets. Other contributions include ongoing work on machine learning, artificial intelligence, open banking and central bank-issued digital currencies.