Africa — The Latest Fintech Frontier, If Not the Last

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Global payment and remittance companies constantly search for a competitive advantage: service enhancements, promotions, industry segments and target customers to name a few. As the world gets smaller and more connected technologically and in communications, those breakthroughs are harder to find, or at least more difficult to differentiate unique features vs. the available options.

Enter Africa, a large continent of significant diversity, misunderstood by many westerners and now emerging as the latest—if not the last—frontier for the members of the fintech community. Long neglected for its lack of infrastructure, many local languages, varying cultures and just plain ignorance by outsiders, the time has arrived for the “neglected continent” to gain attention.

Remittances to family and friends increase in concert with migration patterns and often comprise the largest source of external financing. Africa houses 8 of the 10 fastest growing migrant populations. In fact, money transfers into “Sub-Saharan” Africa (encompassing all but N. Africa) will total nearly $40 billion this year.

Significant funding from microfinance firms and NGOs (non-governmental organizations), improvements in technology, such as mobile wallets, an ability to ignore reliance on traditional institutions —i.e. banks that cannot or will not meet the ever-increasing needs of the population— have propelled most of Africa into the payments spotlight.

The table below demonstrates the increasing and critical reliance on mobile phones for communication and financial resources:

CountryMobile Phone %Bank Account %
Kenya9075
Tanzania7940
Rwanda7242
Uganda5244
DRC3118

Among other populations benefiting from the surge of African investment and improved technology in Africa are the various refugee populations. Africa is no stranger to the movement of people from one country to another as civil strife, disease, or lack of natural resources force mobility.

Whereas globally, the United Nations estimates that 68 million humans have been displaced, Sub Saharan Africa hosts more than one in four refugees—over 18 million people (Source: UNHCR). Africa plays host to a disproportionate segment trying to start new lives for themselves after being forced to flee, revealing an economic opportunity that can also upgrade millions of lives. A stimulating example of fintech coming alongside to empower families is alive and growing in E. Africa:

At the recent Global Summit in London, organized annually by IAMTN, I was able to introduce the founders of a startup business, LeafGlobalFintech, to the attendees. Leaf has created a “global virtual bank for the stateless and excluded” via a mobile platform that converts cash into portable, stable assets using blockchain technology. Leaf enables customers to safely store and transport their money across borders, travel without carrying cash, and avoid physical cash pickup when receiving remittances from friends and family abroad.

Leaf is currently live with its beta program targeting refugees and migrants living in Rwanda, Uganda, Kenya and Tanzania. These displaced people are now able to cross international borders without the fear of robbery or violence from carrying cash. With the Leaf app, they are able to secure their funds via a mobile wallet, and the unique development is: you don’t need a smart phone to access the service! Leaf is the first live, blockchain-based financial solution for the 2.4 billion people still using feature phones around the world (achieved through USSD technology). Working with a number of mobile wallet providers and aggregators, Leaf also enables remittances to be sent from relevant diasporas around the world to provide further support for this displaced population.

Leaf will have another opportunity to inform the fintech community about its social impact business model at the upcoming IMTC WORLD conference in Miami, November 12-15. I’m excited to gauge attendees’ reactions and to continue my support for a valuable service with global potential.