The idea of the African El Dorado is a long-standing one. At first, it referred to the continent’s rich natural resources – but with the uptake of technology and rapid urbanization, the definition has since expanded to include opportunities to be had in the banking and financial sectors, and more recently, in FinTech. With a population of over 1.2 billion people, the African continent shows immense potential for FinTech companies, as has also been demonstrated in the past, with fintech startups raising almost $3 billion in funding across Africa in 2021, according to marketing insights by Briter Bridges.
But it is also necessary to remember that while all of Africa holds great promise in terms of FinTech, choosing the right market is key when making an entry in the continent. After all, not all African markets are the same: some are more mature, others emerging, and others still in need of a push. Read on to find out what exactly makes FinTech in Africa stand out and which countries would make for the best investment opportunities.
There are two main factors that set the scene for FinTech success in many African countries: the generally less developed banking and economic infrastructure and the rapidly growing, increasingly urban population. The gap between the demands of the market and the supplying abilities of the main banking actors creates a white space – in other words, an opportunity to fulfill a need or want. Besides, as the market grows so does funding and with time, regulatory frameworks become more and more supportive, creating the ideal habitat for innovation in the financial sector. According to reports by McKinsey, revenues for African fintechs could be multiplied up to 8 times should penetration levels reach those of market leaders.
Widely known as an excellent FinTech destination, with approximately 154 FinTech companies, South Africa boasts a long history as a banking and economic centre of excellence. As such, the country houses some of the continent’s top banks and financial organisations, including Standard Bank Group, Absa Group, FirstRand, Investec and Nedbank Group – making it an attractive location for Fintech entrepreneurs. Additionally, South Africa has one of the world’s most considerable premium penetration rates. According to the FSCA’s 2022 Financial Sector Outlook Study, almost 60% of South Africans report using some kind of insurance product, and insurance penetration, calculated by using premiums as a proportion of GDP, was 13.7% in 2020 – one of the highest in the world, surpassing even the US and the UK. This represents an opportunity for companies specialising in InsurTech.
Being one of the more mature markets in Africa and boasting a GDP of $418.02 billion, South Africa is a stable location with good banking and financial infrastructure for investment in FinTech. However, an argument that often comes up against investment in South Africa is that perhaps it is too developed, leaving fewer opportunities for new actors. It is worth mentioning that the USA, with a population of 330 million has over 8,775 fintechs. The UK, with a population of 68 million, has over 2,500 fintechs. When compared to South Africa’s population of 59.31 million for about 150 fintechs, it is clear to see that there is still much room for growth and disruption within the industry.
Still, being more advanced than other African countries, reports by McKinsey suggest that South Africa will likely have the capacity to support and cater for more advanced needs, such as B2B liquidity and anti-money laundering services. Doubtless that companies that have the capacity to fulfil those needs will thrive in the market.
A real fintech powerhouse, Nigeria is a land of opportunity for those looking to make their mark in Africa. Firstly, the city of Lagos is the most developed African city for startups and has ranked in the global top 50 cities for E-commerce & Retail Technology, if one is to believe the StartupBlink Ecosystem Index Report 2021. Besides, the country also has several more achievements to its trophy board, with Nigeria receiving 42.1% of the total funding secured in Africa in 2021, 59% of which went to FinTechs, according to the 2021 African Tech Startups Funding Report by Disrupt Africa. What’s more, three private Nigerian start-ups reached unicorn status in 2021, being valued at $1 billion.
Also densely populated, with over 205 million inhabitants, Nigeria is home to just over 200 fintechs – a proportionally lower number than leading countries around the world. This gap is once again, filled with opportunities for companies that can fulfil the local population’s needs.
An exemplary figure of FinTech innovation in Africa, Kenya is home to over 90 FinTech companies for a population of over 53 million people. One of the most noteworthy facts about the country’s technology advancements is its mobile penetration rate. Indeed, mobile ownership is so widespread in Kenya that there are 12% more mobile phones than there are people. It is not surprising then to learn that mobile phones have been used to deliver more innovative FinTech services. In addition, the Nairobi International Financial Centre (NIFC) was recently opened in Nairobi. It is meant to provide investors in the financial services industry with support and offers, such as tax and immigration incentives and even office space in the new building – making it an excellent opportunity for newcomers in the FinTech industry.
1. Rapid entry into the continent
Entry into the African market does not come cheap or easy. Setting up your own entity can take months, if not years, depending on the different requirements and regulatory frameworks of each African country. In the dynamic FinTech space where new actors are rapidly cropping up and seizing opportunities, this initial time loss can be critical for your FinTech company. Thanks to an Employer of Record (EOR), FinTech companies can fast-track their entry into the continent, and begin operating legally in a fraction of the time. Simultaneously, these companies may then start procedures to set up their own entities locally.
2. Simplified approach to local regulatory frameworks and compliance
Besides, as a relative newcomer to the market, there is much your company must learn about the local regulatory frameworks surrounding FinTech in your host country. These are notoriously complex and may prove burdensome for recently implanted companies. With their knowledge of local law and experience in the country, EORs can help organizations overcome these legal concerns, achieving and maintaining compliance with local legislation.