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aYo Holdings, African micro-insurer breaks 10 million mark; eyes further growth

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aYo Holdings CEO Marius Botha (Source: aYo)

African micro-insurance fintech aYo Holdings, a joint venture between telecommunications giant MTN and financial services group Momentum Metropolitan Holdings (MMH), has broken through the 10 million customer mark in under four years after starting operations – and new CEO Marius Botha says the milestone is set to trigger a period of further growth.

aYo launched in Uganda in January 2017, and has since started operations in Ghana and Zambia with plans to expand into Côte d’Ivoire and Nigeria in the new year. aYo provides fast, convenient, easy to use hospital and life cover directly to a user’s mobile phone, and has already paid in excess of $1 million in claims.

This rapid expansion has seen the company evolve into a major player in the African micro-insurance market, effectively by adopting a ‘pay as you go’ insurance model, where its policyholders have the flexibility that allows them to have the cover they need at any given time.

Botha says while there has always been a ‘definite demand’ from African consumers, the challenge was being able to find the right technology and mechanism to deliver what is essentially a high-volume, low-margin product, where not all clients are paying or active at any given time, but buy cover as and when they need it.

“The partnership with MTN has really been the key that unlocked the ability to deliver this product. As a result, millions of Africans have access to and are engaging with life insurance for the first time – and we cannot underestimate what this means to them in terms of driving financial inclusion,” said Botha.

While mobile networks provide the ideal delivery mechanism for the spread of micro-insurance across the continent, Botha says the company’s growth has also depended on understanding the nuances of each market, and creating products that cater for the specific needs of the target market.

“The big thing about micro-insurance is that it protects those who need it the most. People with low income need insurance even more than those with higher incomes, because they are more vulnerable and have a smaller cushion of resources to draw upon in times of need,” said Botha.

Many clients use the payouts from their aYo policies to not only pay for their hospital bills, but use the balance to buy food or schoolbooks, so they can send their children back to school. One client’s glasses were damaged in an accident, leaving him incapacitated and unable to work, as he is legally blind. His cover paid his hospital bill and allowed him to buy new glasses, which allowed him to continue providing for his family.

“There’s no doubt that the impact of micro-insurance is transformative, as it shields millions of Africans from the economic shocks that would otherwise keep them locked into an endless cycle of poverty,” said Botha.

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Press Release

Lami, Kenya-based Insurtech secures $1.8 million to accelerate digital insurance in Africa

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Lami team and press release (Source: Eva Barasa/Lami Tech/medium)

Lami Technologies, a Kenyan insurance technology (insurtech) company that aims to democratize insurance products and services for low-income Kenyans, announced today it had raised $1.8 million in seed funding.

The round was led by Accion Venture Lab’s seed-stage investment initiative that provides capital and extensive support to innovative fintech startups that improve the reach, quality, and affordability of financial services for the underserved.

Founded by Jihan Abass in 2018, Lami is a digital insurance platform that enables partner businesses — including banks, tech companies, and other entities to easily and seamlessly offer digital insurance products to their users via its API. Lami can also be used by partner businesses to manage their own insurance needs. Lami connects partner organizations, such as the e-commerce platform Jumia, with underwriters and allows them to offer a superior customer journey. Through its API, users can get a quotation for motor, medical, or other tailored insurance products in seconds, then customize the benefits and adjust the premium to suit their needs, get their policy documents instantly, and claims are paid in record time.

Lami’s services are enabled by its flexible insurance rating engine and direct integration with several parties and insurance companies. Lami co-designs innovative products with its underwriting partners to enable businesses to offer unique insurance products to their underlying customer base, with flexible options that meet their needs and cash flows, such as monthly medical policies for startup employees.

Jihan Abass, CEO & Founder of Lami (Source: Eva Barasa/Lami Tech/medium)

Jihan Abass, CEO, Lami, said: “This funding will allow us to invest in hiring more people, improving our technology, and growing our presence across Africa as we can continue to address the persistent insurance gap. At Lami, our vision is to help improve the financial resilience of millions by making insurance products more accessible and affordable for underserved populations. By enabling our business partners to offer customized insurance solutions, we are helping them provide more value to their customers while enabling large volumes of users to access insurance, often for the first time.”

Africa’s insurance market currently stands at a 3 percent penetration rate, except for South Africa, and is facing modernization and innovation challenges. Most insurance providers on the continent fail to offer flexible, affordable and tailored insurance coverage to provide a safety net for the African consumer. Low insurance uptake is partly due to the traditional distribution and administration of policies, mainly relying on brick-and-mortar channels where policies are sold and processed manually. This results in a longer processing cycle, poor customer satisfaction, and higher distribution costs.

Lami’s digital insurance platform leverages cloud computing, automation, and third-party service providers such as emergency and valuation, or identity and asset verification databases, to offer a comprehensive ecosystem for the businesses they partner with to develop, distribute and manage highly streamlined and competitive insurance products that are designed to meet their customers’ needs.

Since its inception, the insurtech startup has sold more than 5,000 policies and has partnered with more than 25 active underwriters, including Britam, Pioneer, and Madison Insurance, distributing more than 30 products available including medical, motor, employee benefits, and device insurance. As an innovator in the digital insurance space, Lami aims to continue diversifying its business by looking for new partners and building on its core technology.

Michael Schlein, President and CEO, Accion Venture Lab, said: “Ninety-seven percent of Africans lack access to insurance — a financial safety net that can help them build resilience against economic shocks. Lami helps address this need for consumers across Africa through its innovative approach that leverages technology and partnerships to help any business develop and sell insurance.”

“At Accion Venture Lab, we’re excited by how Lami is using technology to create a pathway for customers to purchase insurance that is specific to their needs. By embedding customized insurance within businesses that customers know and trust, Lami is making insurance accessible for underserved populations in Africa and enabling them to build financial resilience. “said Ashley Lewis, Africa Director, Accion Venture Lab

This investment highlights the strong commitment of all organizations to ensuring that financial services are made accessible and affordable for the underserved.

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Investment

Is Bitcoin A Better Investment Than Gold?

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Over the past few years, gold has proved to be a safe haven commodity for investors. However, the recent pandemic seems to be a positive turning point for its fierce competitor bitcoin. the reputation of the digital asset as a safe commodity waxed stronger during the economic meltdown and the value and adoption have been on the rise since then. The result has been a greater interest in digital assets and more people choosing to buy bitcoin. The rise in the price and market capitalization is a strong indicator.

But does that mean that bitcoin is a better investment than gold? Let’s compare the two tradable assets to help you decide what could make the better investment between the two.

Comparing the two safe-haven assets

Safe-haven investments involve assets that maintain their value, increase in value, or outperform other assets during financial crises. For so long, gold has been perceived as the ultimate safe-haven asset because it has always outperformed other assets when financial markets crumble.

Although gold didn’t seem to meet investors’ expectations during the COVID-19 crisis, it still managed to outperform equities and some commodities.

While bitcoin’s performance at the beginning of the crisis was quite low, dropping from $9,700 to $4,891 in March 2020. It rebounded quite strongly about 6 months later in the last quarter of 2020, trading above $11,000 in October.

Bitcoin yielded a cumulative return of +44.64% between March 24, 2020, to May 6, 2020, surpassing every form of investment during the pandemic. Interestingly, the digital asset continued on a bull run to hit $20k in December and is currently trading at about $56,000.

If you were fortunate to buy bitcoin before the crisis, your portfolio would be up by approximately 447.3% today, making it the most lucrative form of investment to date.

Gold is stored in a vault and managed by a custodian. As a physical asset you can also store it in the bank or even in your home. However, storing gold in a vault offers flexibility and it’s much safer than storing the precious metal in your home. Bitcoin on the other hand requires a wallet to store the asset. You have to possess a bitcoin wallet before you buy BTC. You cannot keep bitcoin in a wallet the way you put your cash in a wallet because it is a digital asset. A bitcoin wallet is a software program that has a unique key. Once you purchase BTC and store it in the wallet, the private key guarantees your ownership of the asset and must be kept safe. Unlike in a vault where gold is managed by a custodian, you are fully in charge of your asset with your private keys in the case of bitcoin, and you can also make transactions at any point in time, peer-to-peer.

Which asset has shown value increase over time?

Gold has survived the test of time and is no doubt a good investment option. Its value has grown consistently over centuries and it is a trusted store of value. Bitcoin shares some similarities with gold and has even been dubbed gold 2.0 by many. Although it will always have unstable prices because of its volatile nature, it has, however, proved to be a good investment option with a consistent increase in value even during economic downturns when even gold has not quite performed to expectations.

Which has served longer?

Unlike bitcoin, gold has been around for centuries. It is an attractive, durable and multi-purpose resource that has stood the test of time. Aside from its good return on investment, it has other unique features. It is a scarce resource and thus has a limited supply. Bitcoin was developed in 2008. It is still a  relatively new technology, nonetheless, it has shown great potential since being created. Long term its prospects look bright as even countries like China are now looking to introduce their own versions of digital currencies.

Which can be used for other investments?

You can decide to use bitcoin to buy other cryptocurrencies. If you have bitcoin and you don’t wish to hold the asset anymore, you can buy other crypto assets directly with bitcoin. However, gold is not as flexible in that same regard and it’s an asset that is not easily liquid especially for the retail investor or trader.

Which is more safe and transparent?

The method of trading gold is old and trading the asset is quite cumbersome. Before buying gold, you need to weigh it, track, and test to confirm if the gold is pure. It is easy to deceive those who do not have machines that can detect whether the metal is really gold or counterfeit metal.

Bitcoin on the other hand is tough to alter or corrupt. It is cryptographically secure, easily trackable and cannot be double spent. Despite being powered by a decentralised and trustless network, bitcoin traders and investors ought to exercise extra caution since the world of cyber can be infested with cybercriminals and hackers.

Which of the two is more scarce?

Both bitcoin and gold are rare assets. However, unlike gold, bitcoin has a limited issuance with only 21 million to be mined into existence. All this was predetermined in the initial bitcoin code and cannot be altered. There is no accurate way to evaluate the amount of gold that can be mined. Even if we exhaust the gold on earth, gold can be mined in asteroids. Some companies are already looking into the mining of gold in space and on other planets. In future this could significantly affect the supply and demand mechanics in the gold markets.

Which of the two is more volatile?

For any investment option, you need to consider the history of the price. Bitcoin is a very volatile asset, its price was at its peak in 2017 before the fall to $3000 in the following year. Recently, the bullish run took bitcoin past the $41000 mark in January 2021 and it continues to be on the rise as the bull market rally continues almost unabated.

Gold is also volatile because the price of gold can be influenced by other market forces. Gold however, is the more stable of the two and the average and conservative investor would likely choose gold as the safer trade. But even with its high volatility, bitcoin has always shown a consistent and more rewarding price increase over time.

Which of the two can be converted to cash easily?

Gold and bitcoin are both liquid investment options and they can be converted to money anytime. Gold however is not as easily convertible to local currency compared to say bitcoin which can be exchanged peer-to-peer. Converting gold to local currency is time consuming and the process is riddled with regulatory constraints. To convert your digital currency to local currency, all you need is to use exchanges like Remitano where you can buy or sell bitcoin.

Conclusion

Any asset that is considered a good investment must also be a good store of value or be a hedge against the volatility of other assets. Bitcoin is stored digitally and thus eliminates the risks associated with physical stores of wealth such as gold. All you need to store your bitcoin is a cryptocurrency wallet. Bitcoin is portable, divisible and easily exchangeable and transferrable. It’s the ideal medium of exchange for cross-border transactions and it gives users complete privacy and at the same time full transparency since all transaction records are publicly available on an immutable blockchain or distributed ledger.

All things considered, it appears that bitcoin is inherently superior to gold in many ways even though like any other innovation, it comes with its own specific shortcomings which cannot be ignored if you want to consider investing in the digital asset. At the current rate, it is not beyond feasible that if the cryptocurrency market continues to increase in market cap, it may some day in the future rival gold in demand and adoption.

Written by Heath Muchena 

 

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Investment

Baker McKenzie outlines shifting patterns of infrastructure funding in Africa

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Baker McKenzie latest report – New Dynamics: Shifting Patterns in Africa’s Infrastructure Funding – shows the state of the African infrastructure market, and how the major global players’ approach infrastructure lending on the continent is changing. While the IJ Global data shows a decline in the value of infrastructure lending, it is expected that as economies recover, new types of financing will be unlocked.

The data

The report’s data shows that multilateral and bilateral lending into Africa has declined – with investment levels falling successively in 2019 and 2020 compared to peak levels seen after the financial crisis. In 2019, bilateral and multilateral lending into Africa amounted to USD 55 billion, which drops to USD 31 billion in 2020. Over the last six years, the decline is significant – deal values dropped from USD 100 billion in 2014 to USD 31 billion in 2020.

This slowdown in infrastructure investment was attributable to a number of factors, including the pandemic. Economic contraction has affected Nigeria and South Africa, meaning that the region’s largest economies have not been feeding in growth as in previous years. However, market fundamentals signal a region with underlying resilience and, as the global economy recovers, finance will be unlocked. There are already positive indicators of forthcoming investment. Commodity prices are rising and landmark deals are returning. For example, mining multinational Sibanye-Stillwater recently committed ZAR 6.3 billion to South African infrastructure projects.

The data also shows that deal tenor is contracting – from a high of 17 years in 2019 to 13 years in 2020. However, the long-term nature of infrastructure projects means that international partners have made lasting commitments to the region, which are unlikely to be abandoned despite immediate pressure on national finances.

China

Surprisingly, given the pandemic, the data shows that lending by Chinese banks into energy and infrastructure projects in Sub-Saharan Africa saw a small uplift in 2020, although deal values are well below their 2017 peak. In 2017, Chinese banks lent USD 11 billion to African infrastructure projects, which decreased to USD 4.5 billion in 2018, USD 2.8 billion in 2019 and USD 3.3 billion in 2020.

Simon Leung, Partner, Baker McKenzie Hong Kong, explains, “There has been a slowdown in the number of infrastructure deals from China. In the short-term, we expect to see more targeted lending – fewer projects of a higher quality using sophisticated structures – and new finance options, such as factoring, used to deploy Chinese capital into the region.”

International players

It is also clear that other international players have the region in their sights, with key political changes in the United States (US) and United Kingdom (UK) likely to see capital flow into Africa.

Michael Foundethakis, Partner and Global Head of Projects and Trade & Export Finance, Baker McKenzie Paris, notes, “The US hasn’t kept pace with Chinese lending into Africa. The recent change in administration is likely to renew focus on impact-building and financing strategic long-term projects in the region, but bankability and risk-sharing remain a priority for US lenders.”

Lodewyk Meyer, Partner, Baker McKenzie Johannesburg, notes further that, “The infrastructure funding gap is so large and of such strategic importance, it remains necessary to encourage international investment to fill it. African DFIs are very good at collaborating and I am encouraged by the actions of the new US administration, UK government and New Development Bank, in particular in their willingness to work with regional institutions in this regard. The UK is making a strong play for influence, investment and trade with Africa post-Brexit. Further to key summits held in 2020 and 2021, there are signs that finance will be redirected into Africa.”

Commercial banks

The report points to infrastructure gaps in energy provision, internet access and transportation that have resulted in an urgent imperative to identify and enable new sources of finance outside traditional lenders and international partners. Further to the expected return of multilateral and bilateral lending, there is room for evolution to bridge the funding-opportunity gap.

The report shows, however, that this vacuum is unlikely to be filled by commercial banks, noting that in 2020, just 84 projects were supported by commercial bank finance and their involvement in Development Finance Institution (DFI) and Export Credit Agency (ECA) deals continues on a downward trend.

Luka Lightfoot, Partner, Baker McKenzie London, explains, “Banks are likely to be focusing on managing liquidity, with lenders deploying capital selectively.”

DFIs and new financing solutions

Instead, local and regional banks, specialist infrastructure funds and private equity and debt are stepping in to collaborate with DFIs and access returns. This outlines the deepening DFI involvement in the infrastructure ecosystem at large, with DFIs increasingly anchoring the infrastructure ecosystem in Africa – serving a critical function for project finance as investment facilitator and a check on capital. This is because they can shoulder political risk and access government protections in a way that others can’t, enter markets others can’t and are uniquely capable of facilitating long-term lending.

The report explains how the amount of capital needed to fill the infrastructure gap is significant and DFIs can’t bridge it alone. Private equity, debt finance and specialist infrastructure funds are primed to enter the market, and multi-finance and blended solutions are expected to grow in popularity as a way to de-risk deals and support a broader ecosystem of lenders.

Lightfoot comments, “We expect to see an increase in non-bank activity in Africa in future as a result of new credit mitigation products come to market. We have seen an increase in appetite from established market participants, such as development banks, to create products that are not tied to existing arrangements that may have limited the type of finance available.”

A new era

Lamyaa GadelhakPartner and Co-head of Banking, Finance and Projects at Helmy, Hamza & Partners, Baker McKenzie Cairo,adds, “The pandemic represents the end of an era and the start of a new one. There will be a re-prioritization of funds and strategy through this lens. I expect to see more investments in the healthcare industry and connected infrastructure, as well as water related projects, to be top priority. We should also consider the impact of other factors aside from the pandemic. For instance, the African Continental Free Trade Agreement and what it needs to translate into increased cross-regional trends. I would expect development of transportation and logistics infrastructure focused projects to enable the acceleration of on-ground execution of intra-African trade.”

Emeka Chinwuba, Partner, Baker McKenzie New York, and Banking, Finance & Major Projects Group member, concludes, “Last year was a relatively difficult year across jurisdictions and for investors – with considerable uncertainty and change in the ways in which we do business. Shutdowns had a depressant effect on the infrastructure market, as deals in the pipeline were delayed and projects halted as a result of COVID-19. Full vaccination in Africa is still quite a long way off comparatively, so we can’t expect a full and fast return to normal activity. But we’ve reached the bottom, and the only way is up.”

Article by Baker McKenzie

 

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