Leapfrogging Fintech and Building for Africa’s Future
Perspectives from Flutterwave Co-Founder Iyinoluwa Aboyeji
African industries are quickly evolving, shifting from analog to digital technology and systems. The African Fintech industry is no exception and has been lauded for embracing the new digital economy and using innovation to transform the industry. At the forefront of the Fintech space in Africa is Flutterwave, a Y-Combinator technology company on a mission to connect Africa to the global economy. Flutterwave builds technology and infrastructure for prosperity across Africa using end-to-end payment technology and infrastructure that enables payment service providers, global merchants, licensed money transfer operators and Pan-African banks to process payments across all available payment options in Africa (mobile money, cards, bank account payments and more).
Flutterwave’s Co-Founder and Managing Director Iyinoluwa “E” Aboyeji is an accomplished serial entrepreneur with a passion for the African continent and experience in education, technology, publishing and finance spaces. Aboyeji is a co-founder of Andela, which trains and pairs software developers with global tech firms and raised $24 million in series B funding in June 2016 led by the Chan Zuckerberg Initiative. He also founded Bookneto Inc, a social e-learning platform that was acquired in 2013. Aboyeji was recently selected to advise the Nigerian President on industrial policies as a member of the Industrial Policy and Competitiveness Advisory Council. He was also recently honored as Young Gun of the Year 2017 at the West Africa Mobile Awards this May, which also awarded Flutterwave top honors in the Fintech category, and he is recognized by Forbes Africa as a top 30 under 30 in 2017.
We caught up with Aboyeji to get his views on innovation, Fintech and Africa’s future:
What industries are ready for “leapfrogging”?
Aboyeji: Leapfrogging is a concept that applies well in the African continent. While “disruption” is often used in the U.S. context, we aren’t disrupting any industry in Africa but building to leapfrog existing infrastructure barriers so that the current industries can scale. I believe that any industry that has a substantial infrastructure deficit and serves a large and growing population that its capacity cannot support is in a position to leverage technology to leapfrog.
Digital solutions serve to better scale traditional industry efforts. In Fintech for example, digital solutions have enabled banks to serve more people in a much faster, cheaper and better way. They can also employ data to onboard merchants and build efficiency in their business without the infrastructure constraint of building and powering bank branches. Similarly, in the health space, I see an industry with room for leapfrogging. Healthcare will soon look different from its current or traditional models. Data is increasingly being leveraged to make healthcare more efficient and there are exciting solutions to improve primary healthcare and innovations in health insurance to enable affordable access for more people. A healthcare leapfrog will be critical as we need a healthy population with access to quality healthcare services.
What are the African Fintech trends?
Aboyeji: I see a lot of growth in the payment space, new channels for serving customers, and a greater depth in payment stack specific to industries or segments of the economy. First, there is a lot of focus on money movement in the payment space; people are keen on building scalable value exchange and value creation into a variety of products. Second, there are lot of new channels being created in Fintech which include ways or instruments to pay, conversational commerce, mobile banking, USSD innovation and more. If you think about it, we are moving from an environment with ATMs, bank halls and checks to a mobile world – so there is a shift to mobile focused interfaces and channels. Lastly, there is tremendous new depth and growth around payment stack as new and specific use cases for payments are being built in each industry. For example, in Nigeria we have the Taxi wars. Essentially, many local and global companies have built Uber clones and are aggressively competing in the market. When you strip everything away, Uber is simply a payments company that has built a deep software stack for transporting people and is taking a 25% merchant service charge for doing so. This will happen in every industry.
What are the current challenges in African Fintech?
Aboyeji: I think we need to protect the Fintech ecosystem by collaboratively working together to provide assurances on identity and fraud management to banked or licensed players. We also need to build more technical infrastructure and expertise for payments as well. A lot of the current technology, infrastructure, and expertise are built outside of Africa and they come with assumptions that do not hold true in the African context. Lastly and perhaps most importantly, there is the challenge of fragmentation and scaling. Africa is fragmented with many payment instruments and channels, disparate regulations and more. Those need to be harmonized to provide a fair and open platform for innovators and incumbents alike to scale products faster.
What excites you about Flutterwave and where is the company going?
Aboyeji: I believe that economic integration will precede political integration in Africa, and the waves of prosperity Flutterwave will create by building truly Pan-African technology and infrastructure for payments is a huge plus. Flutterwave is working to create an open technology and infrastructure backbone for financial services across Africa and connect this to the new global and digital economy. In the next year, Flutterwave will be expanding across Africa - East, Francophone and North Africa - and we will be following our mission with new, exciting ways of connecting Africa to the digital economy.
What advice do you have for African innovators and tech entrepreneurs?
Aboyeji: We have a continent to build and lots of work ahead. It’s important to find great partners with shared values and ideally backbone infrastructure you can build on and leverage. Africa is the future’s last stand; our growing population is anticipated to total more than half of the world’s population by 2100. It doesn’t matter if you are sitting in a fancy office or a little room, the work we are doing is very important. Keep at it!