In 2020, payment companies raised the bar with bold innovations and products to help bridge financial inclusion and the bottlenecks in payment across developing countries. This is an indication that there are more potentials and opportunities in the space.
In this interview with Nairametrics, Femi Oshinlaja COO, Cassava Fintech, disclosed that the company is also open to embracing digital currencies as long as there’s a use case that benefits people and businesses across the continent.
Oshinlaja, who is formerly a member of Airtel Africa Group Limited where he oversaw the entire operations of Western Nigeria, also observed that traditional brick and mortar channels of sending money still remain as the dominant or preferred way of remitting money home. Excerpts:
What is Cassava Fintech and the services it provides in the market?
Cassava is a diversified and integrated pan-African Fintech Group that partners mostly with Telcos, Banks and Merchants to enable digital financial services for Africa’s mobile consumers. Our Services include Mobile Money, Mobile Micro Insurance, Digital Banking, Remittances and Payments with a presence in Zimbabwe, South Africa, Burundi, Lesotho and UK and partnerships in other African countries.
We envision a socially and financially inclusive future that leaves no African behind.
With financial inclusion in South Africa, and other countries in southern Africa skewed to high income earners, what role will you be playing in deepening financial inclusion among households in the lower income gap?
Strategically, we have made migrants our primary target market. Most are in the lower group, marginalised and excluded from the mainstream financial services market due to various factors such as documentation, accessibility and affordability. Cassava seeks to provide the migrants with financial use cases such as cross border and domestic remittances; digital wallets and mobile micro insurance services.
How well has Cassava Fintech fared with online money transfers – transaction volume and value?
The traditional brick and mortar channels of sending money still remains as the dominant or preferred way of remitting money home. This is undergirded by the confidence, trust and limited risk the customers associate with walk-in outlets to send money. Customer behaviour and habits take time to change and educating them on the value of the online channels is key.
However, with the growth in smartphone penetration and greater pervasiveness of the internet we see the convergence of the online channels with more consumers opting to use digital channels to send money home as they see the convenience of doing so from the comfort of their homes and not having to queue to make the transaction in addition to the affordability of the online option.
Cassava Fintech is amongst the few cross border money operators which has adopted a hybrid model or approach for sending money home, providing access via the walk-in channels as well as online via the mobile app. Some of our source markets e.g. UK and EU are 100% online and others like South Africa are still predominantly offline but with online growing significantly. We project as a business that in the next three to four years more than 80% of our money transfers will be done through online.
How do you intend to position Cassava Fintech in the Digital Banking industry considering the presence of competitors who are majorly startups and traditional banks?
Cassava is primarily focused on providing solutions that solve customer needs as opposed to finding niche segments of the Fintech value chain to play in. Our integrated value proposition is focused on bringing financial inclusion to all and in the process redefining the concept of banking for all Africans. Our approach and position is one of co-opetition with our competitors and as the African proverb says, “if you want to go fast, go alone but if you want to go far, go together.” Consistent with our “integrated platform play”, we are bringing all the players together on one platform.
There are other applications like Chippercash that provide similar services with Cassava Fintech, what stands Cassava Fintech out in terms of its unique value proposition to its end users?
While we have seen a plethora of Fintech companies in Africa launching various services in the past 1-2 years, most of these have positioned themselves within specific segments of the market, playing to their key strengths. So from a competition perspective, it is turning out to be a congested space, with most players focusing on their specific area of strength, for example, remittances, online payments, insurance, digital banking solutions, and so forth. While Cassava plays across most of these individual areas, what truly sets us apart is our integrated model, that has allowed us to uniquely combine all these services, and to deliver unified value propositions offering unparalleled customer value.
Share more about this and your long term plans as you drive the financial inclusion agenda?
You will be aware of our recently launched integrated social payments platform, branded Sasai, which is really the pivot of our strategy going forward. Through the Sasai super-app, we are able to offer users the ability to pay, chat and consume a diverse range of online services, all within a seamless digital environment.
What are the plans for Cassava Fintech to expand to other African countries aside Zimbabwe and South Africa?
Firstly, l would like to point out that as we speak, we already have presence in at least 10 African markets. These include our key markets where we have a significant in-country presence, namely Zimbabwe, South Africa, Burundi, Lesotho and the UK, while in the rest we have maintained indirect presence through strategic partners. Going forward, we will maintain this hybrid-model, but placing a lot more emphasis on establishing direct presence in a number of key targeted markets. In this regard, our focus over the past year has been on building the necessary rails that would see us spread our tentacles across Africa. Over time, we plan to have significant presence in most of Africa’s largest and fast-growing markets, but more immediately, our focus is on markets such as Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, Ethiopia, Zambia, Botswana, Rwanda and Uganda.
With cassava Fintech indicating strength and presence in vast segments or sectors of the digital economy such as Mobile money, social payments services, Digital Banking, international remittances, mobile micro insurance, social networking and digital media services, where do you see Sasai in five years, and what role do you see the company playing in the global digital economy?
Our view is that Sasai is Africa’s beacon of hope for creating true value designed by Africans for Africa. Our hope is to help facilitate payments and commerce for small to medium sized businesses, provide a platform for African content creators to tell African stories, and be the overall one stop shop for the ambitious African entrepreneur and business person looking to make impactful lasting change in their communities. Being a platform that facilitates financial liberation for all Africans is key to achieving this. However, we have been guided and informed by consumer insights which says that in the course of conducting business people feel the need to combine this with the social aspects of day to day life and this is an important aspect of Sasai.
Sasai has over 100k+ downloads on play store, and it’s number 24 on the rank of the top social networking app on apple store, how do you intend to add value to the Social Payment and the Chat aspects of Sasai leveraging your expertise and the uniqueness of the app which uses a peer to peer network?
Despite the 100k downloads reflected on the app stores, we are cognizant of the fact that there remains an established phenomenon across Africa were, to avoid the cost associated with downloading Apps from the different app stores, users will prefer to use the APK files and these represent a significant number of customers on the App which are not recorded on the stores and therefore the actual app downloads and usage is significantly higher. Today Sasai has been downloaded in more than 180 unique countries, and is being used in more than 25 different languages on the app.
Sasai is more than a social networking app, the social elements were to address the needs of the attention economy and mine data to enable development of RIGHT products and merchants sell RIGHT services informed by big data, this also creates VAS such as customer profiling based on non-traditional financial data sources such as payments history and more flexible credit support.
With the demand for video conference service at all time high, and with the huge prospect for growth projected into the future, how do you intend to grow the user/customer base of Sasai teamtalk, given it was launched this year?
One of the biggest opportunity for Sasai TeamTalk (voice and video calling, including conferencing) in terms of growing the client base is based on building the enabling rails, digital and social inclusion is key, especially in Africa where data costs is average 8% of income (compared to developed countries under 2%), we are building these rails through Sasai Wi-Fi Finder (affordable and accessible) and believe this will make TeamTalk more attractive that competitors such as Zoom.
What other products and services are in the pipeline from Cassava Fintech from 2021 and beyond?
We will continue to leverage our main delivery channel, which is the Sasai social payments platform, to offer innovative, relevant and accessible digital solutions across Africa. To our customers, this means a bigger, better and feature-rich Sasai super-app, and they can look out for enhanced digital payments and financial use cases, e-commerce, remittances, and so forth, as well as integrated value-added services with a special mention of digital media. Furthermore, we are aware of the data requirements associated with digital apps nowadays, made worse by the high cost of mobile data in Africa. For this reason, we will continue to focus on our WiFi offerings (Sasai WiFi Finder), extending it to many new markets as a way of addressing these issues. We call this initiative the “Africa Missing Network”, which is a partnership between Cassava Fintech and Liquid Telecom, one of the largest providers of fixed broadband connectivity in Africa.
What role do you think cryptocurrency will play in transactional exchange in Africa – Is Cassava Fintech looking to adopt digital currencies?
Cassava is absolutely open to embracing digital currencies. As long as there’s a use case that benefits people and businesses across the continent, Cassava will be there. We have some exciting partnerships and we are working on this space and look forward to introducing these into our key markets in due course.