Africa’s Fintech Unicorns: Who Are They and What Do Telcos Need to Know About Them?
It can be difficult to keep track of the rapid pace of change happening in tech and services across the African continent. The widespread adoption of feature smartphones coupled with the rising demand for access to mobile banking, mobile money lending and spending have turned Africa into a global mobile money wallet hub.
A report from GSMA states that out of the 1.2 billion registered mobile money accounts around the world, 560 million are registered in Africa alone. It should come as little surprise, then, that Africa has spawned at least 6 fintech unicorns, putting financial capabilities and potential in the hands of African consumers.
Backed by powerful US venture capital, these startups are bridging the gap between African consumers and access to instant mobile funds. But while this is undoubtedly an incredible achievement and a great leap forward for the tech spcessarily been exciting for Africa’s largest MNOs.
Keep reading to find out why and what telcos can do to future-proof their longevity against Africa’s fintech unicorns.
Who Are Africa’s Fintech Unicorns?
Founded in 2016, Flutterwave is a true embodiment of the term “unicorn”, helping customers to build customisable payments applications through its APIs.
Flutterwave offers payment processing, payment collection, invoicing, e-commerce sales and virtual card issuances. As it stands, Flutterwave has expanded operations and currently operates in more than 20 African countries.
Interswitch is a digital payment platform founded in Nigeria in 2002. Although it went largely unnoticed for a long time, it confirmed its “unicorn status” in 2019 when American payments giant Visa acquired a minority equity stake in the firm.
Interswitch provides secure transaction processing, digital payments processing, digital card issuing and consumer financial services.
Chipper Cash is a money transfer startup, offering zero-fee person to person payment services currently in seven African countries, with plans to expand to the UK.
In addition to Chipper Cash, the startup also runs Chipper Checkout, a payment product for merchants that enables secure payment transactions and receipts.
In May 2021, Chipper Cash was certified as a unicorn when it managed to raise a total of $100 million in Series C funding, raising its valuation to $1 billion.
Fawry is an e-payments platform founded in Egypt in 2008. It provides secure digital payment processing for settling bills, accounts and purchases. It also equips merchants such as grocery stores, pharmacies, etc with point-of-sale machines. Fawry officially became a unicorn in 2020, hitting a $1 billion company valuation.
Founded in 2018, OPay is a Nigeria-based, Chinese-backed fintech platform that offers mobile money payments, secure transaction processing, and other lifestyle services. OPay claims to process about 80% of mobile money bank transfers in Nigeria in 2020.
After initially raising $50 million from its first round of funding in 2019, OPay then raised $120 million a few months later. It eventually secured unicorn status with an additional $400 million in new financing and a company valuation of $2 billion.
What Does This Mean for MNOs?
While the advancement of these tech unicorns in Africa is no doubt impressive, their presence and expansion of services is a warning sign to mobile network operators: evolve with the times or risk falling behind.
MNOs need to form a rapid response plan to push back against the expansion of these tech giants to preserve and retain their customer bases.
The power of connectivity is what drives these tech unicorns to offer the financial services they do to customers. Similarly, telcos rely on connectivity for their businesses to thrive, but the nature of that connectivity is rapidly becoming outdated.
As the demand for voice calling and airtime wanes, MNOs need to tap into alternative revenue streams to remain agile and competitive, and they need to do it quickly.
The longer telcos wait to watch what Africa’s tech unicorns do next, the more likely they are to lose customers to them. The question for MNOs then becomes...are you going to wait for foreign, internationally-backed tech giants to eat your lunch right under your nose?
By harnessing the capabilities of smartphones, the internet of things (IoT) and AI, telcos can leverage new, innovative services, namely financial services and mobile money wallets to customers.
Tapping into the growing demand for access to mobile money and transactions allows MNOs to diversify their service offerings, retaining their customer base and increasing their ARPU.
Telcos who do this will drive customer loyalty and better position themselves to weather the fintech unicorn storm while remaining agile.
Airvantage is one of the largest service providers to MNOs across the African continent, specializing in mobile money services, data and advanced airtime provision, handset financing, and financial profile generation, among other services.
If you’re ready to expand and diversify your business offerings to drive business growth and expand your customer base, contact us.