Dare Okoudjou and his MFS Africa team took another significant step last week on their mission to demystify mobile money transfer within, into and out of Africa.
Xoom customers anywhere in the world can digitally send money to African markets where MFS Africa powers mobile money transfers, and the recipient will be credited within minutes. They have now added Xoom, Paypal’s money remittance service, to their network of international money transfer partners.
Though announced formally last week, Xoom’s integration on MFS Africa’s hub has been live for quite a while, according to Okoudjou.
Xoom customers in the US, UK or Europe who want to send money to relatives in, say, Ghana face a simple process. On Xoom, they select Ghana, type in the amount and a conversion will be done. Sender inputs the phone number or bank account of the recipient and sends.
These markets include Cameroon, Ghana, Rwanda, Uganda, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. They plan to scale availability to all 54 states on the continent.
However, before this announcement, the big news about MFS Africa recently, was their acquisition of Tanzania-based fintech Beyonic in June.
Under one roof, both companies are able to help over 200 million users transfer money digitally across 37 African countries irrespective of the users’ mobile money operators. The Beyonic side of the upgraded company will empower SMEs with tools for intra-country payments.
Adding another notable international money transfer company to a network that already boasts Moneygram and WorldRemit, MFS Africa stands out and tall as one Africa’s most mature fintech infrastructure providers.
MFS Africa’s sprawling fintech hub can significantly deepen financial inclusion across Africa.
MFS Africa’s rails for fintech in Africa spans 37 countries, with on-the-ground context, it was possible to then approach individual companies in each country to propose plugging into an API that would make it possible for the companies’ customers to transfer to each other with ease.
The company now has over 15 operators in its network of local mobile money providers. This includes Ecobank, Paga and a number of relatively lesser known firms that have digital systems for storing and transferring financial value.
But how did they get here, and what image of Africa can we realistically expect as the company grows further?
“What we’ve been doing over the last three years is to put the same network at the disposal of money transfer companies that are servicing the diaspora,”according to th CEO, Dare Okoudjou
Where companies like Xoom have previously shied away from Africa due to the fragmentation of markets, there is an appeal in seeing an already made bed to lie on. MFS Africa’s API doesn’t quite unite Africa to produce an India- or China-sized addressable market of a billion-plus people, but it creates an encouraging landscape similar to Mexico or Brazil, Okoudjou stated.
“In the US they all think Africa is one country, we might as well not disappoint them,” he says, tongue-in-cheek. “We provide that one API that makes Africa look like one country.”
Dare Okoudjou is based in South Africa and travels often around the continent. He’s from the Yoruba-speaking tribe in Benin Republic.
While growing up in the small West African nation, he remembers noticing that most of the things they bought or sold crossed borders with Nigeria. That meant money was often exchanged between residents in both countries, sometimes involving relatives sending money to loved ones on the other side of Seme. More often than not, the money transfer process was a chore.
Today, the company employs people from over 35 African nationalities, many of whom have migrated from their countries of birth but retain strong ties that require them to provide financial support back home.
And so for over a decade, MFS Africa’s work has been to fortify a single API structure for sending money across Africa.
The big picture is a network of fintech networks connected within and beyond Africa. The super network is to be built around an existing technology; the mobile phone and also building fintech pipes with telcos, MTN, Econet, Safaricom, Orange, Vodafone, and AirtelTigo are the top mobile money providers on the continent in the telecoms industry.
Due to sparse penetration of formal banking in East Africa, some of these started providing mobile money services to users by taking advantage of their mobile communications infrastructure.