By Nqobile Dludla, Emma Rumney and Media Coulibaly
JOHANNESBURG/ABIDJAN (Reuters) – When COVID-19 hit Ivory Coast, Bonaventure Kra, who works at an import-export business, began to worry. Handling hard cash all day was a risk. Queuing in crowded bank branches exposed him to infection.
Then, in the midst of the pandemic, French telecommunications giant Orange <ORAN.PA> launched an entirely digital bank – its first full banking venture in Africa.
“Going back to cash would be like travelling back in time,” Kra said in the country’s commercial capital, Abidjan. “I intend to use it permanently.”
Africa’s mobile phone operators are ramping up plans to bring banking to millions of Africans, in some cases for the first time, after the coronavirus crisis caused a surge in use of digital financial services.
Orange, MTN <MTNJ.J>, Telkom <TKGJ.J> and Vodacom <VODJ.J> are lowering fees, rolling out new lending services ahead of schedule, and expanding