2022 Columbia University African Economic Forum - Fintech Panel - Osahon Akpata

Osahon Akpata

“Over the last two decades, no other continent has been in the frontier of Fintech more than Africa. The invention of Mobile money like Mpesa paved the way for hundreds of Fintech startups across the continent, which has enabled millions to be banked for the first time while unlocking millions of investments into the continent and enhancing the StartUp ecosystem. FinTech investment in Africa nearly quadrupled in 2021, driven by PayTech and Lending deals. Total capital invested in African FinTech companies grew by $1.49bn in 2021 compared to the previous year, setting Africa’s highest FinTech funding year to date at $2.02bn. Hence, amidst the current global uncertainty with the pandemic and the war in Ukraine followed by the political outfall, we would like to gauge your thinking about what the future holds for Fintech in Africa. Equally, I would encourage you all to think about some of the factors driving this growth while sharing some of the challenges through your experiences with the attendees.”John Kuot, Economic Policy Candidate, School of International & Public Affairs (Moderator)

Speakers: Osahon Akpata (Head, Consumer Payments, Ecobank Group), Zach Bijesse (Co-founder & CEO, Payhippo), Erikan Obotetukudo (Founder & General Partner, Audacity), Diran Otegbade (Founder & Managing Director, Realtor.ng), Yele Oyekola (Co-founder & CEO, Duplo) and Abbey Wemimo (Co-Founder & Co-ECO, Esusu Financial)

Question: What inspires your connection to the African Fintech ecosystem? Could you share a moment in your journey that inspired or catalyzed your current work across the Fintech ecosystem?

Good afternoon, everyone. It is great to be here. As John mentioned, I am an alumnus of Columbia Business School and upon graduation in 2011, I moved back to Lagos, Nigeria, taking up a role at McKinsey’s offices there. I worked at the firm for five years, rising to the lead of their implementation practice, covering West Africa before joining Ecobank’s holding company, ETI in 2016.

When I started at Ecobank, the bank was on a digitization drive and we had just launched our flagship digital channel, the Ecobank Mobile App. I was impressed by the impact digital financial services were having on the continent. For example, the mobile app included an option for consumers to open a light KYC bank account called an Xpress Account. We were able to quickly scale up to 1 million, 5 million, and then beyond that, expanding financial inclusion. Working in the digital payment ecosystem, I was drawn to the fast-paced, entrepreneurial nature of the new kids on the block, Fintech firms

In 2017, Ecobank hosted the first annual Ecobank Fintech Challenge and I was amazed that over 800 participants submitted entries. This, for me, was an inflection point in my journey around payments and Fintech. The Ecobank Fintech Challenge is an annual event where Fintech firms globally get to pitch their solutions to Ecobank. The top 20 participants are invited to pitch in front of a panel of judges. The top 3 pitches win cash prizes and the top 10 are inducted into a fellowship program with the opportunity to scale their services across our 33-country network in Africa.

Shortly after the event, I took on the role of Head, of Strategic Partnerships at Ecobank Group, and started building alliances with telcos, Big Tech, and Fintech firms across the continent. Today, we have a team that focuses on Fintech partnerships, and we are strengthening our partnering capabilities and engaging the ecosystem. Ecobank also developed a Pan African Sandbox where partner Fintechs may test our APIs in a safe environment. We remain committed to building value-adding partnerships with Fintech firms and others

Question: As an Executive for one of the largest banks on the continent, what does Fintech growth represent for your business? Do you view Fintech as a threat or a compliment?

Ecobank is a truly pan African bank with an unrivaled platform of fully licensed operations across 33 African countries. Several years ago, we built a technology backbone and switch connecting all our countries of operation. That is the reason we can offer unique products such as Rapidtransfer, our proprietary money transfer service, which enables instant funds transfers into and across 33 African countries.

We do partner with several Fintech firms, and we can give them access to our pan African network with a single-point integration at eProcess International, our technology company. At Ecobank, we celebrate each Fintech unicorn born on the continent, as we are committed to seeing growth in the ecosystem that results in our problems in Africa being solved.

Growth means more innovative solutions which may be adopted by the bank in partnership with Fintech firms. Last year, over $2B was invested in African Fintech firms. The funding will be used to create much-needed solutions unique to Africa. As a commercial bank, we offer lending, treasury, settlement, and several other services to Fintech firms, so the larger they grow, the more profitable the relationships are.

Fintech firms are great at innovation and are quite nimble. Banks are good at understanding and complying with regulations and they have built strong relationships with regulators. We have a large base of customers who could benefit from innovative solutions that Fintech firms create. I would say that I lean more on the side of Fintech firms as complementary to banks than as competitors

Banks seek to partner with Fintechs largely for three reasons — customer acquisition, expansion of product offering, and improved user interface and user experience (UI/UX). I would like to encourage Fintech founders to read a white paper on bank-fintech partnerships released by QED (a fintech-focused VC) and Boston Consulting Group this week. In their analysis, they found that Adjacent Competitors (Fintech firms providing services banks could but just do not for some reason) enjoy greater value creation than Direct Competitors (Fintech firms that provide the same services as banks). There is plenty of room for the partnership to close the unmet financial services needs of consumers across the continent.

Yesterday, in Nigeria, we hosted the inaugural edition of the Ecobank Fintech Breakfast series which is designed to improve collaboration between banks and Fintech firms for a stronger ecosystem. At Ecobank, we are focused on building win-win partnerships with Fintech players across the continent.

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