Today, we’ll take a look at the most successful fintech startups in Africa
As a continent, Africa faces a lot of economic challenges. However, a great number of problems to solve stimulate rapid innovation growth. In particular, the development of fintech helps the local population to reach financial inclusion, thus, improving their overall quality of life. Therefore, over 54% of all startup investment in Africa in 2019 was in the fintech sector.
According to the Global Financial Inclusion Database prepared by the World Bank, in 2017, in sub-Saharan Africa, 42.6% of all adults had some kind of a bank or mobile money account. This number has doubled since 2011 when only one-fifth of the adult population dealt with financial institutions.
Though in 2018, 370 million people out of the total population of 590 million still remained unbanked, the number of new fintech users has increased by 250% to 7.2 million in 2017 compared to 2012 data.
The financial landscape is uneven across the continent. With Kenya being the top-performer (82% of the population has access to at least one financial product), countries like Nigeria (listed among the globe’s top seven unbanked nations) leave the majority of their citizens out of the formal banking system.
Here are the top fintech startups that are striving to bridge the financial inclusion gap between the different categories of the African population. The first four of them are proud to be among the Fintech 250: Top Fintech Companies of 2020 by CB Insights. Last but not least is one of the most valuable African fintech businesses with a valuation of $1 billion.
Founded: 2018, Lagos, Nigeria.
Services: mobile payments, loans, remittance, ride-hailing
OPay was founded by Opera Software – the developer of the most popular web- browser and search engine. Although Opera has registered OPay as a separate company, they maintain a mutually-beneficial relationship, with Opera holding about one-fifth of the OPay shares.
The e-wallet facilitates P2P transactions, mobile top-up, bill payments, paying for transportation, food & grocery delivery. Its super-app integrates numerous services on a single platform:
- motorcycle ride-hailing ORide,
- OFood delivery,
- wealth management OWealth,
- OKash loans,
- bus-ticket ordering OBus,
- OMall, a B2C e-commerce app,
- OExpress, a logistics delivery service,
- OTrade, a B2B e-commerce platform, etc.
In 2020, OPay also introduced a line of affordable Olla Android smartphones.
Currently, the company is rolling out a digital overdraft product CreditMe. The short-term loan service is mainly aimed at working-class people in their mid-20s and 30s, like students and small business owners, who have a source of income.
Many users also expect the company to start its own remittance service. OPay acquired an international money transfer license last year and announced the partnership with WorldRemit. The partnership would allow people to receive money from over 50 countries directly into their OPay wallets. The full-fledged rollout has faced some obstacles from national regulators but is already approved by the central bank.
The pandemic significantly impacted the company’s activities. Although having enough cash after the last-year generous funding, Opera-backed super-app was forced to limit its scope. In February, OPay suspended part of its operations including the ride-hailing and the logistics businesses to focus on the payments business. This strategy appeared to be very fruitful.
This June, OPay claimed to have 5 million users and process over 60% of all mobile money transactions in Nigeria. In Q3 2020, the company processed $1,4B which is more than a threefold growth since January. Today, OPay processes about 80% of bank transfers among mobile money operators in Nigeria and 20% of non-merchant PoS transactions.
Such a huge success inspired the company to expand its payments service operations to North Africa. Previous plans to expand to South Africa and Kenya have been put on hold due to the disruption caused by the coronavirus pandemic. However, OPay has already introduced its services to Ghana, one of West Africa’s important economies.
Founded: 2019, Lagos, Nigeria.
Services: P2P transactions, mobile payments
Another Nigerian payment startup PalmPay officially launched after raising a $40 million seed round led by Chinese mobile-phone maker Transsion. A strategic partnership with mobile companies TECNO, Infinix, and Itel became a nice addition to generous investments, with PalmPay app being pre-installed on 20 million phones of the partner companies.
During its pilot phase, the startup registered 100,000 users and processed 1 million transactions. Its payment activities were approved by the Nigerian Central Bank. In addition, PalmPay has formed a significant partnership with Visa. Currently, the startup also operates in Ghana. It also boasts to have over 1 million customers.
The payment app developed by the fintech brings users cashback rewards for buying airtime or paying bills. Additional PalmPoints are given for friend referrals, money deposits, and transfers. Although the main function of the app currently belongs to P2P money exchange, PalmPay is gradually onboarding merchants and businesses, allowing the customers of these businesses to make payments using the PalmPay app.
Founded: 2016, Lagos, Nigeria.
Services: Developer APIs, B2B payments, payment gateway systems
Flutterwave startup has developed an API that lets global merchants and businesses process credit cards and local alternative payment methods popular in African countries. Basically, the company’s proprietary software enables both foreign and African sellers to serve pan-African customers while processing payments like a local company. The list of existing customers includes Uber, Booking.com, and Jumia. The company also prepared the payment integration for U.S. pop-star Cardi B’s 2019 performances in Nigeria and Ghana.
Flutterwave enables business owners to accept payments from customers in 150 currencies, including Naira, USD, GBP, Euro, and Yuan. It operates in Cameroon, Ghana, Ivory Coast, Kenya, Mauritius, Nigeria, UK, US, Rwanda, South Africa, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia. The startup is currently headquartered in San Francisco, CA.
Besides using Flutterwave as a payment gateway at the checkout stage, sending invoices and payment links, businesses can also set up their online stores straight from the Flutterwave dashboard. This solution was presented in 2020, with the focus on helping the African SMBs transit to e-commerce models amidst the lockdown restrictions. Business owners may even integrate a card-issuing API to create and manage customized virtual dollar cards for employees. Those can be used instantly through mobile wallets.
In 2019, Flutterwave processed 107 million transactions worth $5.4 billion. It formed strategic partnerships with Alipay, Worldpay FIS, and Visa. The company’s estimatedannual revenue is currently $27.4M.
Founded: 2013, Cape Town, South Africa.
Services: PoS, mobile payments
One of the most promising African fintechs helps 100,000 small businesses in South Africa get paid in-store, online, and on the go with the PoS software. The card machine Yoco Go can be connected to a mobile phone so that even street sellers or those in farmers’ markets can avoid cash transactions. The company also has retail stores in major cities, where merchants can find its hardware and sign up.
In 2018, the company also launcheda new Yoco Capital service, which provides small businesses with fast access to cash advances. Over a three-month trial, the service granted 225 advances to the total value of about US$509,000. The size of the possible advance was determined by the merchant’s monthly turnover.
Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemics forced Yoco to cut its team size. Revenue losses occurred since thousands of its clients had their sales decrease by over 90%. The startup management hoped to be able to re-employ some team members after the crisis de-escalates.
Founded: 2002, Lagos, Nigeria.
Services: digital payments
Nigerian fintech unicorn became the second VC-backed startup on the continent to achieve a ten-figure valuation in 2019 after Visa acquired a minority equity stake in the firm. The company has been pondering IPO for a while, and now investors have more reasons to wait for it. However, the events of 2020 put the plan on hold. Since no VC-backed fintech firm on the continent has listed globally so far, the whole industry is looking for Interswitch to become the game-changer.
Interswitch was the pioneer of the Nigerian digital payment infrastructure. In 2002, the company started offering its innovative solutions in the predominantly paper-ledger and cash-based economy. The solutions include various personal and business finance products, such as Verve payment cards and Quickteller payment app. Since 2019, Verve cardholders can also make payments on Discover global network with new cross border transaction capabilities.
The startup partnered with Kenya-based Credit Bank in 2020 to launch a multi-currency prepaid card. In order to use the card, customers do not need a bank account as funds can be transferred via mobile money. Interswitch also announced it’s going to revive venture investments in African startups.