Founded in 1838, Mauritius Commercial Bank (MCB) is the oldest and largest banking institution on the island, as well as the oldest bank south of the Sahara. Alain Law Min, CEO of MCB, explains the success of the bank’s mobile payments app.
What role do you see Mauritius playing as an international financial centre?
I think Mauritius has the credibility and standing to become a regional financial hub for Africa. It is an attractive and compliant jurisdiction with political stability, a bilingual workforce, strong capabilities and competencies in legal, accountancy, capital market and wealth management services. The one thing that’s lacking is a little bit more connectivity between Mauritius and the continent, but the government is currently working on this.
How do you see regulators positioning Mauritius in the global economy?
The banking industry is Basel III compliant, and we’re busy working on IFRS 9, which is another piece of regulation. We’re signed up to FATCA, which is the American Foreign Account Tax Compliant Act. We’re signed up to the OECD Exchange of Information treaty, and we’re on the whitelist as far as Brussels is concerned. Mauritius is a low-tax jurisdiction that is fully compliant.
In what ways is MCB keeping up with technological trends?
Mauritius is at the forefront of the digital revolution, and we have incorporated that to MCB. Three years ago we introduced MCB Juice, our mobile payments platform, and today we have 90,000 customers that have downloaded the mobile application onto their smartphone. That’s out of a population of 1.2 million, so there’s a lot of potential still. Imagine, our Internet banking customer base is 120,000 and that took us 20 years but in only 3 years we built our mobile customer base and it’s not far short of the size of Internet banking. We’re adding customers at about 3,500 to 4,000 a month, so you can see within six months we’ll probably have another 20,000 to 30,000 which will probably take it past the level of customers for internet banking. Now, that’s very significant.
What makes the MCB Juice so appealing?
It is a very dynamic app in constant evolution, and very practical. We’re adding features all the time. The latest feature we’ve added is a link to PayPal. PayPal has a very good brand name and it has clearly established itself as a method of payment. There are currently only 600,000 customers for PayPal in Africa as a whole, and Mauritius has 100,000 of those. That’s a lot. The advantage of PayPal is that it is an intermediary account. This means you can credit your PayPal account from your MCB account, and you can also take funds from your PayPal account back to your MCB account. This is one of the first times that PayPal has linked a bank account through a mobile platform. We are the only bank that has an application like this. So we’re very much in the forefront of the digital payments revolution here in Mauritius.
How do you envisage this app growing in the future?
We are well ahead of everybody, but this is just the beginning of a revolution. This will become, with time, the digital portal for the bank. So, there will be links on this that will enable you to inquire about mortgages, inquire about a car loan, education loan, long-term savings product; all the products eventually will be on here.
Could you please develop on MCB´s expansion plans for Africa?
We have a strong market share in Mauritius, and therefore to grow at a rate faster than GDP growth – which is 3.5% — we need to look at markets outside Mauritius. We’re expanding private banking into Sub-Saharan Africa. We have representative offices in Kenya and South Africa. In this regard, we think there are good reasons why customers should have a bank account in Mauritius. Mauritius is a member of all the important treaties, tax treaties, investor protection and promotion agreements, plus all the trade groups, such as SADC, COMESA, the Indian Ocean Rim, and the East African Community. Mauritius, as a country, is a member, so that gives MCB good respectability. Africa is a complicated, multi-faceted, diverse continent of 54 countries. And for a bank like us, it’s important to have the long-term view.
Asian countries are looking to use Mauritius as a staging point for investment in Africa. What role do you see Mauritius and MCB playing?
It’s got a lot of interesting potential just like the trade finance market has. China has got growing extensive investments in various African countries where they take commodities. And we think that the trade finance related to this business is currently done in Hong Kong and Singapore and there’s no reason why it can’t be done in Mauritius going forward; no reason at all. So, we are keen to work with Bank of China, we’re keen to establish a representative office in Singapore. We are currently studying this, but our main objective today is to do more trade finance for Africa here in Mauritius.