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非洲:一颗冉冉升起的金融科技产业新星

如果你在推特上关注了一些高质的青年非洲科技企业家,你可能会发现,关于非洲创企获得融资的消息总是此起彼伏。如其他推特大战一般,140字的推文与无尽的相关消息无法捕捉该问题所有细枝末节。但是有一点可以确定——有一个领域的创客却比大多数创企态度更为积极,那就是金融科技。

比如修建基建设施、简化非洲支付程序的支付公司Flutterwave在其新进A轮融资中募资1000万美元,成为最大的非洲创企A轮融资之一。值得注意的是,此轮融资由领军硅谷风投基金Greycroft与Green Visor Capital领投,Y Combinator、Glynn Capital参投。Flutterwave的创始人之一Iyin Aboyeji也是程序员培训机构Andela的创始人,业绩良好,有着“明星”效应,这点对此轮融资亦有助益。过去三年,非洲金融科技创企纷纷募得了资金,Flutterwave此轮融资是该浪潮中最新一起。

Disrupt Africa最近一份报告显示,在所有非洲科技投资项目中,金融科技创企“最具吸引力”。报告追踪的金融科技创企中,20%的企业在过去两年进行了融资活动,2016年,获得投资的金融科技创企数同比增长84%。从2015年至2017年6月,非洲金融科技创企获得融资共计达9300万美元。Flutterwave新进A轮融资将使这一金额突破1亿美元大关。

有些创企获资仅为投资者拓宽了选择。近期新开企业数激增,目前在非运营金融科技创企数已超300家,其中半数企业成立于2015或2016年。然而投资者对于金融科技创企的兴趣,并不仅仅在于选择的多样,还取决于该创企未来在非洲商界的重要性。

从无到有

在较为发达的经济体中,金融科技创企通过转变人们获得金融服务的方式来革新传统银行业。然而在撒哈拉以南非洲,情况却并非如此。实际上,该地区的金融科技创企通常是在创造产品与服务,弥补现存缺口。

换言之,非洲许多国家大量人群无法享受金融服务,也就无甚需要革新。此外,这一现象并不仅存在于农村地区,某些大城市中心居民同样也无法享受某些金融服务。例如,由于缺少消费者数据,许多人群仍无法获得平价信用。实际上,到2014年,撒哈拉以南非洲仅有34%的成人拥有银行账户。仍未享有金融服务的市场规模庞大,为金融科技创企提供了良机。对投资者来说,这些都意味着显著的优势。

Flutterwave首席执行官Iyin Aboyeji认为,金融科技是推动实现非洲数字经济真正价值中至关重要的一环。Aboyeji表示投资者意识到了创建支付基建、实现普惠金融的重要性,且愿意支持尝试解决这一问题的企业。

支付企业Paystack位于拉各斯,成立于20个月之前。该公司首席执行官Shola Akinlade表示,金融科技创企服务的必要性同时也更为有力地保证了高速增长。近期Paystack创下的里程碑式事件体现了这一增长轨迹:Paystack仅在上月单月就处理了300万美元的资金,相当于2016年全年的数额。无独有偶,Flutterwave成立不过一年有余就处理了1000万笔交易,12亿美元资金。负责Omidyar Network金融科技投资的Ameya Updhadyay说道,这些创企的增速可用以衡量该市场压抑已久需求的指标。

Akinlade认为,投资者意识到金融科技企业正为非洲“解决真正市场需求”,“快速采用率与增势”也给予了他们投资信心。2016年12月,Paystack在由腾讯、Comcast Ventures及Singularity Investments领投的种子轮投资中募得130万美元。

从零开始创建数字金融生态系统可能带来巨大收益,为非洲数以百万没有银行账户的人群推进普惠金融也有着不小的社会影响,两者间的重合对金融科技来说是项优势,缺鲜有人提及。这意味着非洲金融科技创企可利用两大资金源,即从硅谷到拉各斯传统早期风险资本,以及具备社会影响力的投资人士,许多投资者集中于内罗毕。

Pezesha是一家位于肯尼亚的小型借贷企业,利用数据分析为低收入借贷人群创制信用评分。其创始人Hilda Moraa也持类似的观点。Hilda表示:“金融服务是经济的命脉。在东非,我们看到金融服务不断成为变革的推动者,不仅是对中产及上层阶级,对低收入人群更是如此。”

实现普惠金融,在很大程度上与推进移动电话与互联网普及率相关联,金融服务利用这两者广泛的触达率科帮助更多非洲人群享受数字金融服务。然而重点却并不完全在于智能手机。DFS Labs的常驻企业家Ben Lyon表示,金融科技企业数猛增,原因还在于身份验证基建的改进。DFS Labs是一家位于西雅图的早期孵化器,曾投资Pezesha等非洲金融科技创企。例如,2015年,尼日利亚为用户推出了银行验证码,以遏制诈骗,消除账户欺诈。随着诈欺率的降低,Lyon表示金融科技企业成功的机会更大。

豪赌方获巨利

Safaricom旗下的移动支付平台M-Pesa被普遍视作非洲最为成功的科技成功范例之一,并成为肯尼亚金融科技界的标杆。对许多金融科技创企而言,M-Pesa更成为其衡量所创服务是否可行的参考。

Updhadyay表示,金融科技创企互动有所增长还与非洲金融科技创企“主流”相关,此前风险资本企业有所投资,500 Startups等硅谷加速器越来越关注该地区。

然而随着这一趋势持续演进,还需使投资目的地更为多样化。Updhadyay表示许多资本都流向了尼日利亚、肯尼亚与南非等“试点”国家,其他地区所获资金较少。所收集的数据也验证了这一观点:2016年,在数量与价值上,尼日利亚、肯尼亚与南非合集均超过非洲其他地区总和。Updhadyay对Quartz说道:“许多资金同样也应流入其他不那么‘瞩目’的国家。”他认为,为确保其他区域长期来看获得投资,创始人与投资者需制定更为“区域性议程”。

即便投资者对金融科技兴趣渐浓,要实现真正普惠金融,还需为保险、养老金、储蓄等“有趣”领域创企注资,弥补各类金融创企间资金缺口。Updhadyay说道:“没有人使用移动支付账户吃饭。用户可以拥有移动支付账户,但除非其可防范未来风险、避免老龄贫困、积累资产、为未来储蓄,那就称不上是普惠金融。”

未来几年,更多投资者可能将目光转向非洲金融科技。然而,尽管这对创企来说是件好事,Moraa表示现在远非安于现状的时候。“机会巨大,我们尚未触及其万一。”Moraa如是说。

If you follow the right accounts for young African tech entrepreneurs on Twitter, it can feel like there’s a never ending debate about who gets funding or not in Africa. Like many Twitter debates the 140 characters and even the endless threads don’t capture all nuance of the issue, but while many of those debates have grown, founders from one sector of the startup space have been more positive than most: fintech.

Take Flutterwave, a payments company which builds infrastructure to ease processing payments across Africa, it’s just raised $10 million in its Series A round. It’s one of the largest Series A rounds by an African startup. Significantly, the round was led by leading Silicon Valley venture capital funds Greycroft and Green Visor Capital, with participation from Y Combinator and Glynn Capital. It helps that Flutterwave was co-founded by Iyin ‘E’ Aboyeji, who has a track record, and star power, as a co-founder of developer training company, Andela. But it’s also true that Flutterwave’s raise is the latest in a string of African fintech startups that have raised money over the past three years.

Fintech startups are the “most attractive,” for tech investors looking towards Africa, according to a recent report by Disrupt Africa. Nearly 20% of fintech startups tracked raised money in the last two years and in 2016, there was a 84% increase in the number of fintech startups secured investment compared to the previous year. In total, since 2015, fintech startups in Africa had raised $93 million in investment as of June 2017. Flutterwave’s raise takes that total past the $100 million mark.

Some of that activity is simply down to a larger pool of startups which investors can pick from. Following a recent surge in launches, over 300 fintech startups—more than half of which set up shop in 2015 or 2016—are currently operational in Africa. But it’s not just down to having more choices, investor interest in fintech startups is also linked to just how important they are for the future of business in Africa.

Building from scratch

In more advanced economies, fintech startups are focused on disrupting the traditional banking industry by changing how people access financial services. But in most parts of sub Saharan Africa, that’s not the case. In fact, fintech startups are typically creating products and services to plug many of the gaps which currently exist. “Rather than disrupting an existing infrastructure as their counterparts in the developed world are, they are in fact building a whole new infrastructure of their own,” says Wim van der Beek, managing partner of Goodwell Investments.

Put another way, with large swathes of the population across many African countries unable to access financial services, there’s not much to disrupt. But its not just rural areas as some residents in major city centers also find certain financial services out of reach. For instance, many still can’t access affordable credit due to a lack of consumer data. Indeed, as of 2014, only 34% of adults in sub Saharan Africa had bank accounts. Given the sheer size of the market which remains under-served, fintech startups are presented with a huge opportunity. And for investors, all that represents a major upside.

Fintech is a fundamental piece to driving the real value of having a digital economy in Africa, says Iyin Aboyeji, chief executive of Flutterwave. Aboyeji says investors realize how crucial building payments infrastructure and bridging financial inclusion is and “are willing to back companies trying to solve that problem.”

The necessity of fintech startups’ services also offer investors a better guarantee of high growth, says Shola Akinlade, CEO of Paystack, a 20-month old Lagos-based payments company. A recent milestone marked by Paystack exemplifies that growth trajectory: it processed $3 million last month alone—as much as it did throughout 2016. Similarly, just a little over a year since setting up shop, Flutterwave has processed $1.2 billion in payments across 10 million transactions. The pace of growth of these companies can be held up as a measure of the pent-up demand in the market, Ameya Updhadyay, who leads fintech investment at Omidyar Network, says.

Akinlade believes investors realize fintech companies are “solving a real market need” across the continent and are encouraged by “the quick adoption and growth.” Last December, Paystack raised $1.3 million in a seed investment round led by Tencent, Comcast Ventures and Singularity Investments.

That overlap between the potentially massive returns from building a digital financial ecosystem from scratch and the social impact from enabling financial inclusion from millions of unbanked Africans is a rarely mentioned advantage for fintech companies. It means an African fintech startup is able to tap into two significant funding pools. There is traditional early stage venture capital from Silicon Valley to Lagos and there are also social impact investors, many of whom are concentrated in Nairobi.

Hilda Moraa, founder of Pezesha, a Kenya-based micro-lending marketplace that helps low income borrowers generate credit scores using data analytics, shares similar sentiments. “Financial services are the lifeblood of the economy,” Moraa tells Quartz. “In East Africa, we are seeing [how] financial services continue to be agents of change not just for the middle or upper-class but particularly to low-income earners.”

Much of this is linked to deepening mobile phone and internet penetration which allows financial services leverage that reach to help more Africans plug into digital financial services. But it’s not just about smartphones. The spike in fintech operations is also due to improvements made with identity verification infrastructure, says Ben Lyon, entrepreneur in residence, at DFS Labs, a Seattle-based early-stage incubator which has invested in African fintech startups, including Pezesha. For example, in 2015, Nigeria introduced bank verification numbers for account holders in a bid to curb fraud and eliminate duplicity of bank accounts. With lower chances of fraud, Lyon says fintech companies have a better chance of success.

Big bets, big rewards

Safaricom’s M-Pesa mobile money platform is widely held up as one of the continent’s biggest tech success stories and has become an anchor around which Kenya’s fintech community is built. For many fintech startups, it’s also validation of what’s possible as they build services to plug gaps in countries they operate in.

Investors are also wise to the reality of the size of the opportunity and are looking to ride the wave looking for the next big thing. “Because of the history of the impact seen with M-Pesa, investors are getting more confident that there’s something here,” Moraa tells Quartz. Previous knowledge and perception gaps which existed around the industry are “starting to close,” Lyon says.

The increased activity is also linked to the “mainstreaming” of African fintech following investment by venture capital firms and more attention coming from Silicon Valley-based accelerators like 500 Startups, says Updhadyay. “People are sitting up and taking notice,” he says.

But as that continues to happen, there also needs to be more diversity in investment destination. Updhadyay says a lot of capital has gone into “pilot” countries such as Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa leaving other parts of the continent much less funded. Data backs up that claim: in 2016, put together, Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa accounted for more deals, in terms of number and value, than the rest of the continent. “A lot of capital also needs to flow into countries that are not ‘shiny’,” Updhadyay tells Quartz. To ensure that happens in the long-term, founders and investors need to have a more “regional agenda,” he says.

Even as interest is growing, to ensure true inclusion, the funding gap between various types of fintech startups have to be plugged with more money going to startups involved in other “engaging” spaces such as insurance, pensions and savings. “Nobody eats mobile money accounts,” Updhadyay tells Quartz. “You can have a mobile money account but unless you’re protected from future risks, or you can avoid old-age poverty or you can build assets and save for the future, that’s not financial inclusion.”

In the coming years, more investors will likely look into African fintech but while that’s a boon for the startups, Moraa says it’s not yet time to rest on their laurels. “The opportunities are tremendous,” she tells Quartz. “We have not even scratched the surface yet.”


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