All posts in “Safaricom”

Update on Nigerian fintech firm Interswitch and its speculative IPO

Nigerian fintech firm Interswitch has been circulating in business news around a possible IPO on the London Stock Exchange.

Last month Bloomberg News ran a story — based on unnamed sources — reporting the financial services firm had hired investment banks to go public on the LSE later in 2019. The piece spurred additional aggregated press.

That Interswitch — which provides much of Nigeria’s digital banking infrastructure — could become one of Africa’s earliest tech companies to list on a global exchange isn’t exactly news.

It’s more déjà vu of a story that began several years ago.

As TechCrunch reported, Interswitch was poised to launch on the LSE in 2016. CEO and founder Mitchell Elegbe confirmed “a dual-listing on the London and Lagos stock exchange is an option on the table,” in a January 2016 call.

Two additional sources wired into Nigeria’s tech market and close to Interswitch’s investors also said the public launch would happen by the end of that year.

The IPO would have made Interswitch Africa’s first tech company to go from startup to a billion-dollar-plus unicorn valuation status. Of course, it didn’t happen in 2016.

In 2017, TechCrunch checked in with Interswitch on the delay and was told the company could not comment on its pending IPO. In other public interviews, executives Mitchell Elegbe and Divisional Chief Executive Officer Akeem Lawal named Nigeria’s recession as a reason for the delay and reaffirmed a likely dual London-Lagos listing by the end of 2019.

After the latest round of IPO buzz, TechCrunch asked Interswitch this week about the Bloomberg reporting and an imminent public stock listing. “Interswitch does not comment on market speculation,” was the only info a public spokesperson could offer.

So, it’s tough to say if or when the company could list. There are still a few reasons why the company (and its possible IPO) are worth keeping an eye on.

One is Interswitch’s growing role as a nexus for payments and financial services infrastructure in Nigeria (home of Africa’s largest economy), across Africa and between Africa and the world. Back in 2002, the company became the pioneer for creating infrastructure to digitize Nigeria’s then predominantly paper-ledger and cash-is-king-based economy.

Interswitch QuicktellerInterswitch has since moved into high-volume personal and business finance, with its Verve payment cards and Quickteller payment app. The Nigerian company (which is now well beyond startup phase) has expanded with physical presence in Uganda, Gambia and Kenya — the latter being home-turf of M-Pesa and Safaricom, which are largely responsible for making Kenya the mobile-money capital of Africa.

Interswitch also sells its products in 23 African countries, through bank partnerships, and has presence abroad. Through its Verve Global Card product, the company’s cardholders can now make payments in the U.S., U.K. and UAE. Interswitch launched a partnership this month for Verve cardholders to make payments on Discover’s global network. The first transaction for the partnership was placed in New York, with an advertisement for the Nigerian company’s payment product flashing across Times Square. Verve Times Square Interswitch  Another facet to a possible Interswitch IPO is its potential to spark more corporate venture arm and acquisition activity in African fintech, which as a sector receives the bulk of the continent’s startup capital. Interswitch launched a venture arm in 2015 called its global ePayment Growth Fund that made two investments, but then went largely quiet.

A windfall of IPO capital and increasing competition from fintech startups could spur Interswitch to fire up its venture investing activity again. Startups such as Flutterwave and TeamAPT (formed by a former Interswitch alum) have already entered some of Interswitch’s product territory. If a public listing led Interswitch to ramp up investing in (or even acquiring) startups, the net effect would be more capital and exits in Africa’s fintech sector.

And finally, if Interswitch does IPO on the London and Lagos stock exchanges, it could provide another benchmark for global investors to gauge Africa’s tech sector beyond Jumia. This spring the e-commerce company became the first big tech firm operating in Africa to launch on a major exchange, the NYSE.

So far, Jumia’s IPO has been an up and down affair. The company gained investor and analyst confidence out of the gate, but also came under a short-sell assault and share-price volatility.

Two successful global IPOs of tech companies from Africa would and could become the best-case scenario for the continent’s startup scene. But for that to be a possibility, Interswitch will have to confirm the speculation and finally list as a publicly traded fintech firm.

Africa’s ride-hail markets are hot spots for startups and VC

When it comes to VC, vehicles, and startups, Africa’s ride-hail markets are becoming a multi-wheeled and global affair.

The big players such as Uber and Bolt are competing in Kampala and Nairobi—where in addition to car-service—they offer rickshaw taxis. On-demand motorcycle startups are multiplying and piloting EVs with funds from international partners. And many ride-hail companies in Africa are adapting unique product solutions to local transit needs.

In this analysis, I take a look at the leading startups in the mobility space and how the future of transportation on the continent will increasingly come from new entrants.

Africa’s in the midst of digital innovation boom

Africa’s in the midst of digital innovation boom, the components of which are intersecting rapidly across its 54 countries and 1.2 billion people.

Smartphone penetration is improving and in 2017, the continent saw the largest global increase in internet users—20 percent.

By Partech data, the continent surpassed the $1 billion VC mark in 2018. And greater connectivity and venture funding are fueling thousands of startups in every imaginable sector, including digital-transit.

While reliable markets stats for the size and potential of Africa’s ride-hail markets are sparse, there are some indicators of the sector’s potential.

Car ownership and cars per capita in Africa is among the lowest in the world. Parallel to that, any eyes and ears survey of the continent’s big cities reveals that shared transport by buses, cars, or motorcycles is big business that’s already ingrained in consumer culture. Millions of people daily pay fares to pack onto East and West Africa’s Mutatu and Danfo minibuses and Okada and Boda Boda motorbike taxis.

As Africa continues to urbanize, converts to smartphones, and discretionary consumer spending continues to rise—it all adds up to suggest strong potential for conversion to on-demand mobility services.

Unsurprisingly, the most active markets for ride-hail startups and investment in Africa align with the continent’s top spots for VC and tech activity: primarily Nigeria, Kenya, and South Africa.

Opera founded startup OPay raises $50M for mobile finance in Nigeria

OPay, an Africa-focused mobile payments startup founded by Norwegian browser company Opera, has raised $50 million in funding.

Lead investors include Sequoia China, IDG Capital and Source Code Capital. Opera also joined the round in the payments venture it created.

OPay will use the capital (which wasn’t given a stage designation) primarily to grow its digital finance business in Nigeria — Africa’s most populous nation and largest economy.

OPay will also support Opera’s growing commercial network in Nigeria, which includes motorcycle ride-hail app ORide and OFood delivery service.

Opera founded OPay in 2018 on the popularity of its internet search engine. Opera’s web-browser has ranked No. 2 in usage in Africa, after Chrome, the last four years.

Opera Opay NigeriaOn the payments side, OPay in Nigeria has scaled to 40,000 active agents and $5 million in transaction volume in 10 months.

The $50 million investment in OPay is more than just another big round in Africa. It has significance for the continent’s tech ecosystem on multiple levels.

To start, OPay’s raise tracks greater influence in African tech from China — whose engagement with African startups has been light compared to China’s deal-making on infrastructure and commodities. OPay founder Opera was acquired in 2016 for $600 million by a consortium of Chinese investors, led by current Opera CEO Yahui Zhou.

The majority of the investment for OPay’s raise comes from Chinese funds and sources, including Source Code Capital, Sequoia China and GSR Ventures. There’s not a lot of statistical data on the value of Chinese VC investment in Africa, but a large portion of $50 million to a fintech venture stands out.

OPay’s VC haul also has significance vis-à-vis digital-finance in Nigeria. In tandem with other trends, it could support the shift of Nigeria surpassing Kenya as Africa’s digital payments leader. For years Kenya has outpaced Nigeria in P2P digital payments volumes and digital financial inclusion, largely due to the rapid adoption of mobile-money products, such as Safaricom’s M-Pesa.

Some of this is due in part to Nigeria’s Central Bank limiting the ability of non-banks (including telcos) to offer mobile payment services. The CBN eased many of those restrictions earlier this year. This opens the door for mobile operators like MTN, with the largest phone network in Nigeria, to offer mobile-money products. In addition to fintech regulatory improvements, there’s been a gradual increase in VC flowing to Nigerian payment ventures.

The country’s leading digital payment company, Paga, raised $10 million in 2018 to further expand its customer base that now tallies 13 million. OPay’s $50 million-backed commitment to grow mobile money in Nigeria should provide another big boost to digital-finance adoption across the country’s 190 million people.

And not to be overlooked is how OPay’s capital raise moves Opera toward becoming a multi-service commercial internet platform in Africa. Part of the $50 million investment includes diversifying country and product offerings. “Geographic expansion of OPay and other services is a key part of our plans,” Opera CEO Yahui Zhou told TechCrunch via email.

This could place OPay and its Opera-supported suite of products on a competitive footing with other ride-hail, food delivery and payments startups across the continent. It also could mean competition between Opera and Africa’s largest multi-service internet company, e-commerce unicorn Jumia.  

These startups are locating in SF and Africa to win in global fintech

To become a global fintech player, locate your company in San Francisco and Africa.

That’s the approach of payments company Flutterwave, digital lending startup Mines, and mobile-money venture Chipper Cash—Africa-founded ventures that maintain headquarters in San Francisco and operations in Africa to tap the best of both worlds in VC, developers, clients, and the frontier of digital finance.

This arrangement wasn’t exactly coordinated across the ventures, but TechCrunch coverage picked up the trend and some common motives among these rising fintech firms.

Founded in 2016 by Nigerians Iyinoluwa Aboyeji and Olugbenga Agboola, Flutterwave has positioned itself as a global B2B payments solutions platform for companies in Africa to pay other companies on the continent and abroad.

Clients can tap its APIs and work with Flutterwave developers to customize payments applications. Existing customers include Uber,  Facebook,  Booking.com and African e-commerce unicorn Jumia.com.

The Y-Combinator backed company is headquartered in San Francisco, runs its operations center in Nigeria, and plans to add offices in South Africa and Cameroon.

Flutterwave opened an office in Uganda in June and raised a $10 million Series A round in October. The company also plugged into ledger activity in 2018, becoming a payment processing partner to the Ripple and Stellar blockchain networks.

Partnering with Visa, emerging market lender Branch International raises $170 million

The San Francisco-based startup Branch International, which makes small personal loans in emerging markets, has raised $170 million and announced a partnership with Visa to offer virtual, pre-paid debit cards to Branch client networks in Africa, South-Asia and Latin America. 

Branch — which has 150 employees in San Francisco, Lagos, Nairobi, Mexico City and Mumbai — makes loans starting at $2 to individuals in emerging and frontier markets. The company also uses an algorithmic model to determine credit worthiness, build credit profiles and offer liquidity via mobile phones.

“We’ll use [the money] to deepen existing business in Africa. Later this year we’ll announce high-yield savings accounts…in Africa,” says Branch co-founder and chief executive Matt Flannery.

The $170 million round from Foundation Capital and its new debit card partner, Visa, will support Branch’s international expansion, which could include Brazil and Indonesia, according to Flannery. Branch launched in Mexico and India within the last year. In Africa, it offers its services in Kenya, Nigeria and Tanzania.

A potential Branch customer

The Branch-Visa partnership will allow individuals to obtain virtual Visa accounts with which to create accounts on Branch’s app. This gives Branch larger reach in countries such as Nigeria — Africa’s most populous country with 190 million people — where cards have factored more prominently than mobile money in connecting unbanked and underbanked populations to finance.

Founded in 2015, Branch started operating in Kenya, where mobile money payment products such as Safaricom’s M-Pesa (which does not require a card or bank account to use) have scaled significantly. M-Pesa now has 25 million users, according to sector stats released by the Communications Authority of Kenya. Branch has more than 3 million customers and has processed 13 million loans and disbursed more than $350 million, according to company stats.

Branch has one of the most downloaded fintech apps in Africa, per Google Play app numbers combined for Nigeria and Kenya, according to Flannery.

Already profitable, Branch International expects to reach $100 million in revenues this year, with roughly 70 percent of that generated in Africa, according to Flannery.

In addition to Visa and Foundation Capital, the $170 Series C round included participation from Branch’s existing investors Andreessen Horowitz, Trinity Ventures, Formation 8, the IFC, CreditEase and Victory Park, while adding new investors Greenspring, Foxhaven and B Capital.

Branch last raised $70 million in 2018. The company’s overall VC haul and $100 million revenue peg register as pretty big numbers for a startup focused primarily on Africa. Pan-African e-commerce startup Jumia, which also announced its NYSE IPO last month, generated $140 million in revenue (without profitability) in 2018.

Startups building financial technologies for Africa’s 1.2 billion population have gained the attention of investors. As a sector, fintech (or financial inclusion) attracted 50 percent of the estimated $1.1 billion funding to African startups in 2018, according to Partech.

Branch’s recent round and plans to add countries internationally also tracks a trend of fintech-related products growing in Africa, then expanding outward. This includes M-Pesa, which generated big numbers in Kenya before operating in 10 countries around the world. Nigerian payments startup Paga announced its pending expansion in Asia and Mexico late last year. And payment services such as Kenya’s SimbaPay have also connected to global networks like China’s WeChat.