In light of the new directives from the National Bank of Ethiopia opening the financial sector to other actors, we organised a webinar series about the future of FinTech in Ethiopia, together with IceAddis, the first Innovation hub in Ethiopia, and the Israeli Embassy in Ethiopia.After going over the general FinTech landscape and understanding the opportunities opening up in Ethiopia, we discussed the topic of financial inclusion and the role of digital services, in the first two events of the series. The third webinar, on November 10th focused on the journey of FinTech entrepreneurs. Watch again the event here!
Hanna Felleke, Consulatnt at IFC’s Manufacturing, Agribusiness and Services, presented the Ethiopian agricultural value chain in a short but very comprehensive keynote speech. She mentioned that agriculture is the backbone of the Ethiopian economy, making up 85% of the labor force, and includes farmers, aggregators (unions/co-ops), agro business (distributors), logistics, and end markets. The country’s exports rely heavily on the agricultural commodities that are produced mostly by smallholder farmers. In terms of infrastructure, Hanna mentioned a few interesting points of data:
Mobile coverage is 85% of the land and penetration is 50m users,
Mobile money has 1% penetration
Only 35% of the population is banked
44% of the population has access to electricity.
There is potential for digital tools in the agriculture space to improve efficiency, streamline processes, and increase transparency. Farmers, agribusinesses, and digital payment providers would gain productivity if they go digital and partner with other stakeholders in the agricultural value chain. Indeed, if the network is reliable and regulation allows for it, digital tools would increase transparency and security of transactions and allow scalable solutions to reach rural areas.
Nonetheless, there are barriers to digital payment expansion such as connectivity, digital literacy, and the need for Cash In/Cash Out Points. Therefore, there is a need to scale more solutions like financial literacy programs or leveraging microfinance organisations.
Hanna concluded by adding that there is immense potential for agriculture technologies, but nothing can be done without sector collaboration in the public, private, civil sectors to ensure adequate policies, increased digital inclusion, and the building of digital skills. See the presentation here.
Following Hanna’s presentation, we opened the discussion to a panel of 4 entrepreneurs.
We discussed their entrepreneurial journeys and discussed their views on the opportunities of FinTech in Africa.
Hilina Damte, founder of G&H Blockchain, based in Ethiopia, shared that she created a blockchain solution for the Agri industry that aims to solve inefficiencies and build transparency for farmers by eliminating the middleman. According to Hilina, the biggest challenge for the financial sector in Ethiopia is the governmental regulation of technology adoption and access to finance.
Her advice to FinTech entrepreneurs: “Focus on innovative solutions that take the local market context into consideration.”
Boaz Jacobi, FIDO credit’s CEO, presented his fast growing startup that is operating in Ghana. FIDO is offering quick credit in emerging markets using a proprietary method for evaluating applicants’ credit worthiness with phone surveys and digital footprint. It is based on the mission that credit should be fast, easy, and available.
An interesting milestone that Boaz mentioned is that he witnessed the penetration of phones in emerging markets and came to understand the imminent need for credit.
His advice to FinTech entrepreneurs: find the right people locally to start your venture and build a market model without using any external data.
Shalom Ben Or, CEO at Avenews, presented his platform that digitizes the supply chain and provides banks with relevant knowledge to understand the workings of the local supply chain and embed and deploy financial services to smallholder farmers and agribusinesses. An important milestone for Avenews is Barclays’ accelerator program in South Africa that the 3 co-founders participated in. The accelerator was a crucial step to understanding the local context and forming partnerships with local stakeholders.
His advice to FinTech entrepreneurs: “An innovation or acceleration program is helpful for entrepreneurs and can help lay the cornerstone for strong companies.”
The last entrepreneur presenting his venture was Simon Schwall, OKO Finance’s CEO. OKO is a micro-insurance company providing digital evaluations for protecting crop investment using index insurance. They are providing smallholder farmers with tools to protect their investments through a simple phone. OKO monitors weather using satellite data. If a drought or flood is observed, farmers will automatically receive compensation.
His advice to FinTech entrepreneurs: “Find an early partner, like a financial institution, to help with scaling and licensing. Do not view them as competitors.”
We closed the event and the webinar series with those practical pieces of advice. The Ethiopian financial transformation is opening up great opportunities for Ethiopian and foreign entrepreneurs subject to partner with local entrepreneurs. We look forward to exploring more collaboration opportunities by organizing events which will create a stronger link between the Ethiopian and the Israeli ecosystems.