November 10, 2021 Fintech in Africa 2021
By Tom Wilde
By Sam Ancer
Africa has always been a continent that holds value for investors, due to the potential for growth. However, for certain parts of Africa, infrastructure has been an issue. Financial technology has the potential to disrupt these infrastructural barriers, and while currently, the African market is not a big part of the financial technology sector, there are large indications that it will be a force there sooner than you might think.
SARS-CoV-2 or more commonly known as Covid-19 disrupted day-to-day business operations globally. This led to a push to digital spaces where business could be done safely and remotely. While this may seem to be an additional challenge to a continent where infrastructure is a concern, it did prompt established banks and entities within the financial sector to adapt to their new global environment. What this meant was that practices that opened up accessibility gave access to more than just existing markets. While there are still hurdles to overcome, the Covid-19 pandemic set the stage for explosive expansion in African fintech.
Mobile Phones and the Digital Divide.
The digital divide is a concept around access to digital technology and the gap that exists between developed and developing countries. Mobile phones have been one significant way to overcome this divide as they require less infrastructure but still provide access to the internet and digital resources. While the African continent is collectively still behind the rest of the world in this way, there is continuous growth which indicates that the use of Fintech resources will be in high demand. Some countries have recognised the importance of digital access and have made significant inroads in addressing the digital divide.
Recent studies in Kenya have noted the significant differences in digital access between the rich and poor citizens within the country. This has only been made worse by the Covid-19 pandemic. However, the country is still at the forefront of digital access in Africa, with 85% internet penetration, 12% more than Nigeria, and almost 30% more than South Africa. The country was also the second to introduce 5g technology, meaning it has some of the fastest connections in the entire continent. With most of the country having access to the internet in one form or another Kenya looks to be a promising market in the Fintech world, it is just a matter of someone taking initiative and seizing the opportunity that is available.
While lagging behind Kenya in terms of the percentage of people with access to the internet, Nigeria has one of the largest populations in the continent, so 73% of access actually translates to around 150 Million internet users in the country. With its oil and mineral wealth, Nigeria is also the richest country in the continent, so it makes sense that three of the four existing African Fintech “Unicorns” were founded in Nigeria. However political and social instability, as well as extreme inequality, have led to concerns with both foreign investors and citizens of Nigeria. But with continuous growth in tech fields, it makes sense to familiarise yourself with the Nigerian market as they will likely emerge as one of the significant players in not only Fintech but tech as a whole.
African Fintech Unicorns
A “Unicorn” is a company that is valued at over a billion US dollars. In the African Fintech world, there are three Unicorns, two founded in Nigeria while one has been founded in Egypt. There is a fourth Unicorn, Jumia, but they are largely involved in E-Commerce as opposed to Fintech.
Africa’s leading digital payments provider was founded by Mitchell Elegbe in 2002. After having his card swallowed by a Scottish ATM, Elegbe had a now billion-dollar idea. Nigeria at the time did not have many ATM’s, however, Elegbe found his experience with one in Scotland to be informative, and soon began developing a digital payment citizen that would remove the need for ATMs in the first place. With support from his at the time employer Telnet, Elegbe would develop switch technologies and then founded Interswitch. The company offers a variety of B2B and B2C payment solutions, from its flagship Verve card to its online payment gateway Webpay, Interswitch is looking to become a Fintech giant in the near future if it manages to continue its continental dominance.
Founded in 2016 Flutterwave uses APIs (Application Programming Interface) to make digital payments. In 2021 the company announced a deal with the online payment platform PayPal to allow users globally to pay merchants in Nigeria using PayPal and Flutterwave. This opens markets in Nigeria to whole new avenues of E-Commerce and international clientele that will forever alter the way business is done in Nigeria. With partnerships like this bringing in new markets to Africa, Fintech in the continent can expect rapid expansion in the near future.
Founded in 2009 the first Egyptian “Unicorn” reached over 20 million users within a decade. The online payment platform has recently partnered with the rideshare giant Uber to provide an avenue for online payment for users. The company has also begun to expand, investing across Africa including places like Sudan, to develop markets and provide infrastructure. With organisations like Fawry paving the way, one can expect the continent to do well in regards to Fintech in the next few years.
With the existing infrastructural issues that the African continent faces, disruptive technologies within the Fintech sector may just be the best avenue for addressing these problems. In this regard it becomes clear how valuable the African Fintech space is, and why it should be on every business’s radar, regardless of the market they are in currently. With companies like Interswitch, Flutterwave, and Fawry leading the way for digital development, Africa can expect to be a significant player in the Fintech world at the end of the decade.