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Startup Spotlight on Fido



With our next Pears Challenge soon launching and focusing on improving digital financial inclusion in East Africa, we were lucky enough to sit down with Alon Eitan, the CEO of an Israeli-Ghanaian company doing just this. Fido is on a mission to empower individuals and entrepreneurs to take advantage of opportunities in Africa. Founded in 2016, they have built an automatic banking platform (based on machine learning models) with unique risk management models, which process hundreds of thousands of data points in real time with credit insights as well as estimating risks and identifying fraud. These enable immediate credit decisions to be made even if customers have no previous financial records or access to banks. The app is available country-wide to any smartphone holder, even in regions with no bank branches. In addition, “Fido Score” was introduced to empower customers to build and maintain a digital financial track record, allowing them to have a digital financial identity, and reap the benefits of being visible to the financial system. To date, they have provided services to over 600,000 customers throughout Africa, and distributed over $300 M worth of credit. What is Fido’s mission? Fido’s overall mission is to make financial services accessible to individuals and small businesses across Africa. We believe true economic growth begins with people wanting to maximize their potential and grow, and when financial services are out of reach for them, this is simply impossible. Fido was created to be completely accessible - no matter where you are or where you start from, you will have something to keep you going and growing. In the countries we work in, the banking systems are mostly complicated, slow, bureaucratic and inefficient meaning that few people have access to basic financial services like obtaining loans, savings and payments. We’re trying to build a new financial culture in Africa - not only improving accessibility to financial services, but also making them better - faster, simpler and transparent, and so on. Something we’re specifically passionate about is growing existing businesses that have been working on a smaller scale, and helping them take it to the next level. With that being said, we have no qualification period for businesses looking for loans, and are always looking for new and creative indicators and proxies to evaluate credit worthiness. What’s the division of responsibilities between the offices in Africa and Israel? Generally, the core R&D activities are located in our Israel office (as well as teams in Ukraine & Accra), and all the operational activities are located in Ghana and Uganda. Despite this, we are trying to shift away from the tech vs. operation separation between the countries, and increase the tech-capacity on the Africa side of things (particularly at Fido’s HQ in Ghana). There are so many aspiring and ambitious young developers that are full of motivation, but come with very little experience in building a product to scale, and we see this as an uplifting opportunity for them to learn from our Israeli developers and bring the tech component of Fido to the continent. In terms of the operations, each country is a standalone operation following the guidelines of a global playbook. We have a local team in both Uganda and Ghana, each with a country manager. One of our proudest success stories so far is the fact that one of our first employees ever (and first in Ghana at all) from 9 years ago, Sebastian Quansah, has worked his way up the ladder to be the Managing Director of Fido Ghana and Director of Customer Experience for the whole group. Why is Fido focused on Africa? First of all, there is a huge business opportunity/potential here to build a sustainable financial institution to serve a mass market which does not exist. Africa has the largest working age population that is only set to increase, a history of leap frogging, and a true desire for economic growth. Looking at microfinance, from where we stand, it seems this sector is still reliant on impact money which means it is not sustainable from a business perspective. The business we’ve built and continue to build is sustainable, and our overarching goal is to create something that will outlive us on its own merit. One of the biggest challenges we face is the loss of attention that comes after investors hear the word ‘Africa’. Africa in their eyes is about philanthropy, and we wish they would look beyond this and judge businesses by the merit and untapped opportunities in Africa. Besides the huge business opportunity, we find such purpose and meaning in the work we do everyday. From hearing success stories from local staff, or even from comments on our Facebook posts, the impact we are making in people and small businesses’ lives is tangible and makes every day at work worth it. What is the difference you feel that you’re making in the lives of your clients? Our customers come to us when they have a dream. Maybe that dream is to go to school, maybe it's to have a medical procedure, maybe it's to start or grow a business. We’re proud to say that most of these people get to fulfill this dream with the help of Fido. With the loans we provide, we’re able to take a photographer with old technology, lend him money for a new camera, and eventually see him today with multiple cameras and a whole staff working for him. We see people that are able to get malaria treatment, people with small stores in a village able to expand to six cities, and so on. But our impact doesn’t stop there, and we are very passionate about providing opportunities for growth for those working at Fido. It's in our DNA to provide opportunities for the masses, and we look forward to many years ahead of us of doing just that.

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