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African women join growing fintech entrepreneurs

When financial analyst Oluwatosin Olaseinde moved back home to Nigeria in 2013 after a decade studying and working abroad, she decided it was time to tackle her own finances, so started reading up on stocks and mutual funds.

Shocked at how little guidance was available for young professionals like herself, Olaseinde began sharing her learnings in fun, bite-sized tutorials on Instagram, and much to her surprise, her posts went viral.

“I had no idea my page would just blow up,” said the 34-year-old by phone from Nigeria’s commercial capital, Lagos.

“Just like me, there were young people who wanted to know how to manage their finances, but needed information in an easy-to-understand way.” Almost four years on, Olaseinde heads MoneyAfrica, an online financial literacy portal providing courses from budgeting and currency risk to inflation and treasury bills, and more recently also founded Ladda, an app-based one-stop investment platform.

Collectively, the platforms have a 300,000-strong social media community and more than 15,000 active users. MoneyAfrica is projected to earn $1 million in revenue this year, said Olaseinde, and Ladda has $700,000 in assets under management.

From digital payments, loans and insurance to share trading and cryptocurrency, Olaseinde is among a growing number of female entrepreneurs in nations such as South Africa, Nigeria, Kenya and Egypt taking a lead in Africa’s fintech revolution.

Since pioneering mobile money services in the late 2000s, Africa has become a hotbed for fintech financial technology — innovation with an explosion of startups vying to tap the region’s unbanked millions.

Last year, fintech companies attracted more than 60 percent of the nearly $5 billion in investments to African startups, according to market intelligence and research firm Briter Bridges.

For female entrepreneurs, however, getting their innovations off the ground is often hampered by gender biases that stifle their ability to access finance, gain exposure and grow their businesses, industry experts and women founders said.

From 2013 to 2021, less than 5 percent of the total $12.6 billion in funding to Africa’s tech startups went to all-female founding teams compared with 82% to all male-ones, data shared by Briter Bridges showed.

But while the sector is very much a “boys’ club,” research shows Africa’s fintech sector fares better than other regions when it comes to women at the top.

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Around 3.2 percent of fintech firms in Africa are founded solely by women — double the global average of 1.6%, according to Findexable, a market research company that tracks gender diversity.

The continent’s fintechs also have more female board members compared with other regions, Findexable’s 2021 data shows.

Trailblazers include Kenya’s Jihan Abass who founded Nairobi-based Lami Technologies in 2018, aiming to boost almost non-existent insurance coverage among Africans.

“I became interested in insurance after having a conversation with a waiter who told me how he didn’t have medical insurance,” said Abass, 28, a former commodity futures trader at a London trading house.

Lami’s application programming interface, or API, enables businesses to offer flexible digital insurance products such as vehicle and health insurance to customers.

Through its API, users can get a quotation for motor, medical, or other insurance products in seconds, then customize the benefits and adjust the premium to suit their needs and get their policy documents instantly.

Since inception, Lami has raised more than $1.8 million in seed funding and partnered with companies including Kenya Commercial Bank and e-commerce platform Jumia to sell more than 72,000 policies.

Lami now operates in Malawi and the Democratic Republic of Congo as well as Kenya, and also runs Griffin, a car insurance app fully built on the startup’s API. Another female-led API fintech company is Lagos-based Okra, co-founded by Fara Ashiru Jituboh.

Launched in 2020, Okra aims to digitise financial services for Africa. Okra has built an open finance platform that enables developers and businesses to build personalised digital services and fintech products for customers.

“Essentially, we play the ‘middleman’ by enabling individuals and businesses to connect their bank accounts directly with third-party applications in real-time,” said Jituboh, 33, a former software engineer.

In less than two years, the startup has drawn more than 400 clients, including more than 20 banks in Nigeria, Kenya and South Africa, and has raised $4.5 million in venture capital. But despite such success stories, many female fintech entrepreneurs struggle to attract investment. ~Reuters 

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