It is extremely difficult to focus on FinTech when SWIFT organizes its largest event for the African market in Mauritius. SWIFT chose an amazing venue and attracted around 500 participants from 40 countries.
But it’s only fair to start with the obvious and state that Mauritius is beautiful and it makes going to the conference exhibition and sessions a lot less attractive. However, I successfully survived the temptations all around.
The highlight of the conference was the Innotribe Startup Challenge. It had a huge success in its second year focusing on the African FinTech ecosystem. It attracted about 90 applications, most of the companies coming from South Africa, Nigeria and Kenya. It is interesting to see the evolution of problems these companies have been addressing over the last couple of years. Initially, FinTech startups focused a lot on online payments, mobile wallets, financial education and gamification, personal financial management solutions and a couple of other. The main focus of the companies that applied for the 2016 African competition was around areas like payments, new banks, big data, lending, settlement, e-commerce and cross-selling, compliance, messaging.
9 great companies pitched on stage for 6 minutes sharp, explaining what they do and the top three won a USD 10,000 USD prize and have been invited to Sibos Geneva to showcase their offering to the 9000+ Sibos audience.
Hello Paisa from South Africa is a low cost international money transfer solution for remittances.
The Sun Exchange from South Africa as well is a peer-to-peer lending platform for investors to fund solar energy projects across the globe.
WeCashUp from Cameroon has created a cross border mobile money platform, enabling users to make secure payments via their mobile phones all across Africa.
The theme of this year’s SWIFT ARC was “Facing Global Challenges” and there was a great focus on compliance, financial inclusion and the role of disruptive new technologies.
An interesting figure released at the event is that SWIFT’s messaging traffic grows by 12.5 percent in Africa. Africa remains the fastest growing region for payments traffic, showing good economic growth in the region. Still, to quote Ike Williams from Heritage Bank, there is only so much that banks are currently doing in many countries over the African continent. They usually serve urban areas and stop at these boundaries, not being able to reach rural areas where money is needed. Even MPESA fails to address the problem of cash, which is still king, as people often cash out the money received in their wallets.
Bottom line is that countries in Africa are a very interesting playground for both banks and technology providers with a sense of creativity and many surprises are expected to emerge from this restless environment. The Innotribe Startup Challenge is there to look for novel FinTech products and services and select the best to bring them in front of the banking community and make the link between them, to better serve people who benefit of their offerings.