OPay, an Africa-focused fintech platform owned by Chinese, is reportedly in talks to raise up to $400 million at a valuation of $1.5 billion.
The $170 million raised so far came from mainly Chinese investors who have collectively begun to bet big on African startups over the past few years. Some of them include SoftBank, Sequoia Capital China, IDG Capital, SoftBank Ventures Asia, GSR Ventures and Source Code Capital.
In 2018, Opera, popularly known for its internet search engine and browser, launched the OPay mobile money platform in Lagos. It didn’t take long for the company to expand aggressively within the city using ORide, a now-defunct ride-hailing service, as an entry point to the array of services it wanted to offer. Since then, the company has tested several verticals — OBus, a bus-booking platform (also defunct); OExpress, a logistics delivery service; OTrade, a B2B e-commerce platform; OFood, a food delivery service, among others.
While none of these services has significantly scaled, OPay’s fintech and mobile money arm (which is its main play) is thriving. This year, its parent company Opera reported that OPay’s monthly transactions grew 4.5x last year to over $2 billion in December. OPay also claims to process about 80% of bank transfers among mobile money operators in Nigeria and 20% of the country’s non-merchant point of sales transactions. Last year, the company also said it acquired an international money transfer license with a WorldRemit partnership also in the works.
OPay plays in an extremely competitive fintech market. Nigeria is Africa’s most populous nation, and with a large share of its people underbanked and unbanked, fintech is arguably the most promising digital sector in the country. The same can be said for the continent as a whole. Mobile money services have long catered to the needs of the underbanked, and per GSMA, Africa had more than 160 million active mobile money users generating over $495 billion in transaction value last year.
While fintech upstarts like OPay and Paga are trying to capture as much market share as possible, telcos like MTN and Airtel, with operations in multiple African countries, are spinning off mobile money service arms as billion-dollar businesses to compete as well.
With the money OPay has raised so far, it’s quite surprising that the country until last year December was only present in Nigeria. None of its plans to expand to South Africa and Kenya (countries it expressed interest in during its Series B) has come to fruition yet. Although the company blamed the pandemic for these shortcomings, it has set up shop in North Africa by expanding to Egypt this year. This next raise, likely a Series C, will be instrumental in the company’s plans for geographical and product offerings expansion. According to The Information, OPay’s valuation will increase to about $1.5 billion, three times what it was worth back in 2019.
We reached out to OPay for confirmation but they declined to comment at this time.
Visa To Acquire Swedish Open Banking Firm Tink For €1.8B
Card giant firm, Visa is set to acquire Tink, the Swedish open banking platform, in a deal worth €1.8 billion (roughly $2.15 billion).
The news comes less than six months after the termination of Visa’s planned $5.3 billion acquisition of Plaid, the San Francisco-based fintech firm – a deal that had encountered significant opposition from the U.S. Department of Justice.
Like Plaid, Tink’s platform allows customers to connect with more than 3,400 banks and financial institutions to access aggregated financial data, helping them to build innovative personal finance tools.
“Visa is committed to doing all we can to foster innovation and empower consumers in support of Europe’s open banking goals,” said Al Kelly, CEO and chairman of Visa. “By bringing together Visa’s network of networks and Tink’s open banking capabilities we will deliver increased value to European consumers and businesses with tools to make their financial lives more simple, reliable and secure.”
As part of the Visa deal, Tink will retain its brand and current management team, as well as its headquarters in Stockholm, Sweden.
Tink last raised money in December 2020, when it secured €85 million (roughly $101.5 million) in a round led by Dawn Capital and Eurazeo Growth.
The €1.8 billion transactions, which includes cash and retention incentives, are subject to approval from regulators. Visa will fund the transaction in cash.
Tink’s business model is in part enabled by the EU’s Revised Payment Services Directive (PSD2), which was put into effect in January 2018. The legislation requires banks to give third parties access to the customer data they store, with the aim of driving competition and innovation in financial services.
But the PSD2 framework also paved the way for new payment functionality that allows consumers to make payments directly from their bank accounts without having to rely on intermediaries, like card networks.
In recent months, account-to-account payments have garnered a lot of attention from crypto startups, which see it as a potentially cheaper and easier method of funding wallets.
Bank CEO Speaks to Cultural Change Required as Economy Moves Toward Digitization and CBDCs
Last month, the Kenya Bankers Association had their regular CEO Chat, this time with Alakh Kohli, CEO of M Oriental Bank. During the exchange, he was questioned about the move towards digital products and services, which would include cryptocurrencies, digital assets, and central bank digital currencies. He noted that there was a significant educational component to the change, and that while many in the economy were already participating in it, a greater cultural shift would need to occur as we trend towards digitization.
“Kohli is certainly right, in terms of the need to create cultural change as our financial system further digitizes. There is a sizable segment of the population in every country which prefers in-person transactions. That is exacerbated by the threat of hacking and identity theft, particularly among the eldest in our societies. In places like Africa, that is even more pronounced because of lesser access to digital devices,” noted Richard Gardner, CEO of Modulus, a US-based developer of ultra-high-performance trading and surveillance technology that powers global equities, derivatives, and digital asset exchanges.
In the interview, Kohli noted that “one of the challenges we are seeing is that while there is a lot of interest and focus on getting digital products, there are always a group of clients that still prefer to do their transactions physically…one of the biggest challenges we face is introducing such clients to digital banking and encouraging the uptake of these products for such clients. We have done this through one on one sensitization and educative trainings and discussions with our clients. It speaks to a culture change which is required.”
“As we begin to see governments move towards CBDCs, and we will, there will be a necessary shift in cultural preferences. Older citizens and those without access to smartphones may find themselves outside the mainstream as central banks issue digital currencies. Even during the pandemic, when areas found themselves with a coin shortage, some businesses discouraged — or even stopped accepting — cash. Governments will favor the digitized currency for the many advantages it will provide, not the least of which will be a less expensive and more centralized financial infrastructure. The citizenry will likely find significant benefit, as well. For example, imagine how much faster stimulus payments, in places where they were issued, would’ve been processed if there was already a CBDC in place,” said Gardner.
Modulus is known throughout the financial technology segment as a leader in the development of ultra-high frequency trading systems and blockchain technologies. Over the past twenty years, the company has built technology for the world’s most notable exchanges, with a client list which includes NASA, NASDAQ, Goldman Sachs, Merrill Lynch, JP Morgan Chase, Bank of America, Barclays, Siemens, Shell, Yahoo!, Microsoft, Cornell University, and the University of Chicago.
“While there will be a cultural and educational aspect to any CBDC rollout, I think that the populace will, by and large, enjoy the benefits of digital assets. Even beyond central bank digital currencies, the ability to participate in digital assets will be huge. For example, the ability to chop up real estate investments into small chunks will allow Main Street investors an inexpensive way to own a piece of a strip mall or multifamily development in a much more liquid fashion than any investment vehicle currently available. That’s the technological power of blockchain,” explained Gardner.
Lack of Digital Infrastructure and Mobile Services Affecting Remittance Risks Leaving Millions of Rural Families in Poverty – IFAD
Despite a massive increase in migrants sending money home via digital transfers due to the COVID-19 pandemic, millions of their rural family members struggle to access mobile banking services which could help lift them out of poverty.
The President of the UN’s International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) has called for urgent investments in digital infrastructure and mobile services in developing countries to ensure rural families are not left behind.
“Migrants have shown their continued commitment to their families and communities during the pandemic with more remittances transfers made digitally than ever before,” said Gilbert F. Houngbo, President of IFAD, speaking on the International Day of Family Remittances. “Unfortunately, families in rural and remote areas – where remittances are a true lifeline – the battle to access cash outlets or even more convenient alternatives such as mobile money accounts. Governments and the private sector need to urgently invest in rural digital infrastructure to address this.”
Mobile remittances increased by 65 percent last year, rising to US$12.7 billion. This change was driven by a switch from cash due to lockdowns that limited informal channels and social distancing rules for senders and recipients alike. In spite of the global economic recession due to the pandemic, migrants continued to send money home to their families, with remittances in 2020 reaching $540 billion – a drop of only 1.6 percent compared to the previous year.
However, in many countries, people living in remote rural areas have sparse local access to banking services or limited mobile connectivity. In addition, there is limited availability of agents offering mobile money services such as payouts in cash. Often mobile money service providers are only located in urban centers. This means millions of poor, rural people have to travel long distances to towns or cities, often at significant cost, to receive the cash sent digitally by their migrant family members.
Digital transfers are cheaper than traditional cash transfers, and mobile banking services also provide the opportunity for migrants and their families in their countries of origin to access useful and affordable financial products to better manage their finances, including savings, loans and insurance.
Across the globe, 200 million migrants regularly send money to their 800 million relatives. This plays a crucial role in their lives and livelihoods. Almost half of these families live in rural areas of developing countries, where poverty and hunger are highest. Families use the funds sent by migrant workers to cover basic household needs such as food, housing, school and medical bills, as well as to start small businesses. These resources can often transform both families and local communities.
“While the pandemic accelerated the adoption of digital transfers and mobile money accounts, it also highlighted pervasive gender inequality,” said Pedro de Vasconcelos, the head of IFAD’s Financing Facility for Remittances. “Research shows that women are 33 percent less likely than men to have a mobile money account. We must focus on closing the gap by addressing the barriers that prevent women from accessing and using mobile financial services.”
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