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A ‘second renaissance’ for African payments post COVID

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African payments is fast becoming a ‘gold-standard’ for payments worldwide, and COVID is set to accelerate both the value and funding available to this segment across the continent. Since M-Pesa launched in Kenya, the proportion of Africans (particularly East Africa) paying by mobile has exceeded every other emerging region. In Africa, perhaps more than anywhere else, ‘mobile first’ has given way to ‘mobile only.’ 

Another attraction is, perversely, COVID. Digital businesses across the continent are normalizing the use of payment technology and money transfer in the informal economy (i.e. the part of the economy that is neither taxed nor monitored by any form of government) out of sheer necessity. To encourage the shift, leaders such as Kenya’s largest teleco, Safaricom, have implemented tactics such as a fee waiver for M-Pesa (East Africa’s leading mobile-money product), to reduce the physical exchange of currency and drive increased adoption.

Across the continent there is a renewed drive to reduce reliance on cash. Meanwhile payment data value is only now being leveraged, which sets the stage for creating another ‘value peak’ for emerging African payments vendors in the near future.

This is a perfectly ‘natural’ response for economies with large informal sectors, still-low average  transaction values, and a large proportion of transactions for essential goods and services. The IMF, in its April 2020 World Economic Outlook, recommends countries with large informal sectors further develop their digital payments systems. These systems “may provide an opportunity to improve the delivery of targeted transfers to the informally employed.”

In the coming ‘renaissance,’ what are African payment players doing to differentiate and position themselves for the next stage?

Insights from Leading African Payments Players

Hybrid and Pure-Play Payment Players

African payments companies take two broad forms.  The first is ‘pure play,’ generally based on Payment Service Provider (PSP) functionality. These vendors run a defined set of services and leverage partnerships to achieve scale. The second are hybrid vendors, who are more vertically integrated, usually offering a broader range of services off their core technology stacks:

  • Examples of pure-play: Direct Pay Online, Interswitch, Paystack, Flutterwave.
  • Examples of hybrid: Cellulant, Pesapal, Paga, Jambopay

The definition is important to distinguish as it impacts strategic direction of any company, which would also directly affect the set of longer term buyers or investors for each of the companies.

Winning SMEs & Agent Distribution/Network

Winning in African payments generally means winning the SME sector. There are very few true enterprise corporates, and a significant number of sole-proprietor businesses across all sectors.  The fragmentation of the potential customer base is so much greater than in other fast-growing regions that many payments companies need to adopt a broader ‘ground game’ to target, connect, engage, and maintain a broad SME customer base, often across quite different markets.

To effectively target SMEs, direct selling, agent distribution or agent networks are crucial for payment players, particularly in West Africa, due to the lack of infrastructure. Over the last 10 years, M-Pesa’s rise was closely associated with Safaricom’s dominance in Kenya (70% mobile market share), its broad and tied agent network across the country, and the focus applied to rolling out this service broadly. 

In West Africa, the continent’s largest prize, the market is deeply fragmented, ATMs are virtually non existent or not functional (Nigeria has < 20,000 working ATM’s), and for many of Africa’s 1 billion+ population agents of various forms are the main or only means of transacting effectively. Companies such as Paga and Kudi already demonstrate the requirement for, and value of, developing and maintaining a broad enough agent network on which to drive scale and reach.

Broader number of use cases

Creating and maintaining an agent distribution network is expensive.  The ‘quid pro quo’ are a broad range of use cases enabled as a result, and the first-mover margins available to payments companies which can scale this way.  Across the continent, agents are used for cash in/out, remittances, bill pay, payment for utilities and power, and the purchase of basic goods and services.  While many of these remain cash transactions that are then converted to digital, increasingly payments companies are linking services to make transactions end-to-end digital.

Another benefit for creating broad based agent/direct distribution is that payments companies often can achieve higher margins on transactions than almost anywhere else.  Its not atypical for take rates to be 2x+ what they would be in more competitive markets like India, and even at those levels they are still far below other alternatives. For example, the avg cost of transferring $200 via a bank transaction can exceed 10%, and in remittances many emerging digital players can charge 2x ‘normal’ take rates and still reduce the cost to consumers significantly vs traditional services such as Western Union.

Digital works for payments companies, and for consumers, and the higher take rates are simply a function of the challenges and costs of reaching such a distributed, informal customer base.

Data Value

In developed markets, data value is nearly always under-leveraged within payments providers.  Many have built legacy systems that cannot easily adapt to actioning data insights to deliver value to customers, and increase margins significantly. An African ecosystem only now being built has the incalculable benefit of ‘starting with a clean sheet of paper’ in terms of realizing the value of data earlier and more completely.

As a result, intelligent leverage of data and insights from an early stage could vault the strategic value of payment players to an entirely different level than current valutions. And since in the data monetisation game, ‘better data always beats better algorithms’, it is our view that many African payments companies are sitting on a large and growing ‘gold mine’ of proprietary insights on customer and SME behavior which can be leveraged in many ways to drive margins. 

In time, many payments vendors will have greater insight into consumer spending habits to deliver targeted offers via mobile in a way which is simply impossible to envision in developed markets, where that ecosystem is already dominated by much larger incumbents. For example, both Square and Stripe have introduced and expanded significantly in the financing area.

Square extended almost $700m SMEs loans per quarter in Q4 2019, highlighting the massive market potential. The point is that through the value of data and insights, many African payments companies can grow value well beyond pure payments value, because what they are ‘seeing’ are truly unique insights.

Capital Efficiency & Unit Economics

Because of structural inefficiency in Africa (‘reinventing the wheel’ is by definition required as there is no ‘wheel’ of infrastructure that functions successfully today) there is a degree of inherent capital inefficiency presumed to be required to get to minimum size to scale.  Second, targeting SMEs and consumers is inherently more expensive than enterprise sales, with higher churn, greater cost to acquire and service, and a still-limited ceiling on realistic customer lifetime value.

Also Read: Viero: A SaaS Platform Enabling Entrepreneurs Create Food Delivery App Without Code In 60 Seconds

We see that emerging African payments leaders go through different stages of capital inefficiency.  For most, there is a multi-year period of greater inefficiency, as basic vertical integration is built. However, once companies pass a ‘tipping point’ of scale, rising take rates, and the leverage available from layering on additional services and use cases quickly turns that inefficiency into a highly capital efficient set of assetsIt is particularly important to distill, frame, and articulate these metrics as investors / buyers value a ‘perpetual motion machine’ that targets, acquires, services and ‘up-sells’ customers.

Having a well-crafted set of unit economics also underscores the value of the existing and prospective customer base, and validates the ‘ground game’ execution strategy of local distribution across Africa. Buyers of equity can also rationalise paying more upfront because there is no significant $ required to subsequently drive customers to profitability.  This transition from inefficiency to hyper-efficiency is a key element of story telling for African payments companies to sell equity at rising prices.

Conclusion

Africa presents maybe the biggest payment opportunity in the world today. For companies with some degree of scale, they have already done much of the hard work to generate long term embedded value, and only now are many starting to see the benefits of high marginal unit economics.  With more capital, and compelling equity stories to tap the next generation of larger investors, we see several potential ‘unicorns’ emerging in the space in the next 5 years. M-Pesa and Interswitch are only the tip of the (value) iceberg.

Credit: Magister Adivors

Press Release

Dream VC Launches Its 2024 Venture Capital Fellowship Program

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Dream VC, Africa’s foremost venture capital institute and investor accelerator announces the commencement of applications for the 2024 cohorts of their flagship African-focused Venture Capital training programs. Founded in 2021, Dream VC has trained more than 170 African and Africa-focused investment professionals across 3x successive cohorts and 5x programs, many of whom are currently leading and operating in different investment roles across over 65x African investment firms.

The annual remote venture capital fellowship programs provide the ideal launchpad for all aspiring and current investors to break into the African venture space, with an extensive curriculum, practical training, and direct exposure to world-class investors provided to both junior and more venture enthusiasts.

Dream VC’s tailored educational investor training programs are dedicated to creating the necessary pipeline of talent, the next generation of African-focused investors. Investor Acceleratorand Launch into VC are Dream VC’s remotely delivered flagship venture capital fellowship programs, both run entirely virtually. The two concurrently running programs provide an ideal launchpad for all aspiring and current investors to learn, practice, and sharpen the skills needed to successfully find, invest in, and grow African technology businesses.

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“The Dream VC fellowship was a big part of my journey into Venture Capital, it allows you to work alongside enthusiastic venture capitalists in the African VC ecosystem, gain hands-on experience in due diligence and deal sourcing, and build a strong network in the industry,” said Cinderella Alinaitwe, now an Investment Analyst at Pearl Capital Partners, a Dream VC alumni (2021 cohort).

“Dream VC is what I wished I had access to when I started my VC journey. The barrier to entry is high for anyone looking to break into the African VC industry, and going through Dream VC equips individuals with the necessary skills set needed to land that entry-level role at an African VC firm. With more African funds springing up every year, there is a huge opportunity to fill positions and get the best talent. The current gaps in the market for talent are huge, and Dream VC is plugging into a critical pain point. With Dream VC, you are sure of the best talents to hire from.” echoes Dayo Koleowo, General Partner at Microtraction and a past speaker at Dream VC’s venture capital training programs.

This year, Dream VC is back in full force with an expanded team and a success rate evidenced by the many funds that count Dream VC alumni on their teams. In 2024, the investor accelerator will accept applications for their now-familiar venture capital training programs from today, the 27th of February 2024. The two programs running for this year are:

Dream VC’s focus on accessibility continues, and Dream VC is proud to share that they have once again secured a round of commitments from their partners and alumni to enable the Dream VC Access Foundation (Dream VC’s scholarship arm) to provide much-needed support and financial assistance to any aspiring investor-in-training, who makes it through the application process but cannot cover a portion of the program costs.

“Our commitment at Dream VC extends far beyond merely churning out a set number of investors within a specific timeframe. We’re dedicated teachers and builders, meticulously identifying and bridging gaps within the investor ecosystem across Africa. We firmly believe in the immense potential of African talent. Through our programs, we’re shaping future leaders poised to enter various roles within the venture capital landscape, from joining VCs and launching funds of their own to becoming angels, venture builders, and ecosystem enablers at ESOs,” remarked Mark Kleyner, Co-Founder of Dream VC, highlighting Dream VC’s pivotal role and continued success rate in nurturing and empowering investors, funds, and corporate entities to actively participate in Africa’s burgeoning startup scene.

Applications for the 2024 cohort for “Launch into VC (LIVC)’’ and “Investor Accelerator” programs open on Tuesday, February 27th, and will close at 23:59 GMT on the 14th of April 2024.

Both programs will run concurrently from summer to autumn. Launch into VC runs for 4 months from June to Late September. The Investor Accelerator program commences in June and runs until October for a total of 5 months.

Interested applicants can apply for the 2024 cohort of Dream VC’s programs here before 23:59 GMT on April 14th, 2024: https://forms.gle/DJuY7QHsMMYxBEBZ9

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Fawry partners LA Market to empower local brands in Egypt

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Fawry, the leading company in the field of banking technology and electronic payments signed a strategic cooperation agreement with “LA Market”, an exhibition and conference management company. As the first choice in the electronic payments market, “Fawry” seeks to support women empowerment initiatives within the region, which not only strengthens the business but also the landscape.

“Fawry”, a company specializing in financial technology solutions, aims through this partnership to bring mutual benefits to both parties and contribute to the overall development of the market within the framework of its commitment to the Egyptian market by contributing to spreading the culture of digital transformation and digitization and providing multiple electronic services to all the various sectors of the country.

Heba El-Awady, Chief Business Officer at Fawry, said: “The agreement highlights the bridging of international and local markets, demonstrating a commitment to creating a global impact while focusing on the specific needs of the Egyptian market.”

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El-Awady added: “The agreement has a positive impact on the local community by creating opportunities for businesses to thrive, thereby contributing to economic growth.”

On the other side, Lydiaa Akram, founder and CEO of LA Market, confirmed that the cooperation helps to promote women’s empowerment by incorporating specific initiatives or programs within the partnership.

Akram said: “We are proud to be the ideal partner for “Fawry”, the leading company in the field of banking technology and electronic payments”.

She added: “we hope to benefit from Fawry’s sizeable experience and unique resources in the Egyptian market, and to combine the strengths of both companies to serve our customers better.”

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Press Release

Amila Africa Launches Amila Insights

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Amila Africa Founder, Lethabo Sithole 

Amila Africa is thrilled to announce the launch of Amila Insights, a revolutionary division that is committed to providing advanced analytics, research and comprehensive solutions for businesses, governments, and international organisations looking to achieve success in African markets. The company offers a range of services, including syndicated market intelligence reports, customized research solutions, high-level market access events, content development, and value communication. 

As a budding pan-African and women-led advisory firm specialising in policy, enterprise and infrastructure development within the trade, investment and energy sectors, Amila Africa brings unparalleled expertise to the forefront with the launch of Amila Insights. 

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“With a focus on demystifying development trends and delivering data-driven analyses of opportunities across Africa, Amila Insights serves as the strategic partner organisations need to thrive in the region” said Lethabo Sithole, Managing Director of Amila Africa. “Our suite of services is meticulously designed to empower clients with the tools and knowledge necessary to drive growth and achieve sustainable success.” 

With a steadfast commitment to collaboration and partnership, Amila Insights collaborates closely with clients to develop tailored solutions aligned with their specific goals and priorities. “By leveraging its extensive network and deep understanding of local dynamics, Amila Insights assists clients in identifying new opportunities, enhancing competitiveness, and optimising business strategies,” said Noluthando Mthonti-Mlambo, Executive Director at Amila Insights. 

Amila Insights strives to be more than just a provider of information and data to clients. It aims to challenge the existing narratives on Africa, African businesses, countries, and multilateral organizations and become a trusted source of inspiration and change. 

For businesses, governments, and international organisations seeking to unlock the vast potential of African markets, Amila Insights represents a compelling opportunity to gain useful insights into the complex, evolving and growing African market. With a focus on excellence and a dedication to delivering tangible results, Amila Insights stands ready to be the trusted partner organisation to rely on to navigate the dynamic landscape of African business.

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