• Purpose

Smartphones and fintech growth in Africa

10 October 2023

By the end of the decade, Sub-Saharan Africa and India will account for nearly half of the world’s new mobile subscribers. But what does greater smartphone adoption mean for Africa’s increasingly youthful and urbanised population? JUMO’s President Joe Mucheru talks about what he believes will constitute a formidable market.

Africa’s Growing Population and Smartphone Adoption

‘Africa’s population is projected to reach 1.7 billion by 2030. And more than 80 percent of this population growth over the next few decades will occur in cities, making it the fastest-urbanising region in the world. At the same time, Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) will see some of the biggest increases in smartphone adoption this year, reaching 87% by 2030, up from 51% in 2022. Indeed, mobile data traffic per mobile in Africa is set to almost quadruple by 2028.

Of course, smartphone usage is no longer just about staying connected. It is now an integral part of the way we work, shop, socialise and, crucially, manage our finances. While streaming your favourite radio station and scrolling through social media, you can now access quick loans, save money, make withdrawals, payments and even invest in stocks and shares.

It is no surprise that the fintech boom in Africa has coincided with the rise in mobile money adoption and now the relative surge in smartphone adoption.

Fintech Growth and Infrastructure Development

This rise in fintech companies comes at a time where telecommunications companies and Internet service providers have rolled out huge infrastructure and many of them are partnering to better serve Africa. 

The ever-increasing accessibility to mobile devices, internet connectivity and network infrastructure has accelerated Africa into the second fastest growing market for global banking and payments businesses. Between 2020 and 2021, the number of tech start-ups in Africa tripled to around 5,200 companies. And just under half of these were fintechs, all making it their business to augment or fill in the gaps left by traditional financial services. 

As the former Cabinet Secretary for the Ministry of ICT, Innovation and Youth Affairs in Kenya, I have seen first-hand the link between mobile connectivity and financial inclusion and the potential for both to accelerate socioeconomic advancement. And I have witnessed time and time again how technology can deliver digital services and solutions to hundreds of millions of people, transform their everyday lives and expand opportunities for business. For fintech founders ready to solve problems and innovate to meet the continent’s unmet needs, there is more tremendous opportunity for growth now than ever before. And with Africa already the youngest continent, and soon among the most populous, these fintechs can solve big problems for vast potential user bases, helping make finance available to everyone and all at the touch of a button.   

JUMO’s Role in Financial Inclusion

Our work at JUMO bears testament to that. JUMO’s advanced data engine runs machine learning algorithms on millions of mobile wallet, cellphone, and transaction data signals every second. Insights gleaned from this data are used to build increasingly accurate credit profiles for people across Africa helping credit providers reach millions of SMEs and micro-SMEs with the credit and savings products they need. These deep, data-driven insights have allowed us to significantly increase the ability of previously excluded people to access finance, across countries such as Uganda, Zambia, Côte d’Ivoire, Tanzania, Ghana and Kenya. 

Real-World Impact: Benny’s Story

And every day we see the positive effect this is having on the ground. 

Benny Musonda, for example, joined his uncles in construction when he was just 11 years old, first helping them mix cement. He quickly made a name for himself in the community and now, at 32 years old, runs a small construction business in Lusaka, Zambia.  

Despite being a customer for 10 years, Benny was unable to get a loan from his bank to grow his business. He then received access to mobile financial services through JUMO’s platform which helped him to purchase critical supplies and materials, finance his education and expand his team to eight people. Access to a smartphone and, in turn, access to credit is offering entrepreneurs like Benny the financial growth opportunities they critically need.  

Benny has access to financial services platforms via USSD short codes that don’t require data or a smartphone, but due to the growth in smartphone usage in Africa, JUMO has also developed a white label app integration for e-Money operators wanting to provide app-based financial services, such as credit and savings, to small business owners like Benny. Since launching with the MTN Mobile Money service in Zambia eight months ago, the platform has started managing an average of 18,000 successful app sessions per month. While these numbers are comparatively low, the stage is set for the next stage of mobile growth in Africa – the migration to smartphone usage.

Future of Fintech in Africa

The driving force of the fintech revolution can be felt all over the world but particularly in Africa where SMEs are reaping the rewards of increased mobile connectivity and financial inclusion. Yet two-thirds of adults in SSA still don’t have access to formal financial services, meaning they don’t have a secure and efficient means to save, transact or access credit. As fintech matures and mobile penetration increases, financial services on the continent is at an inflection point, and several African countries have a significant opportunity to capitalize on the momentum of recent years to help change this. 

To scale up the benefits, stakeholders, including governments, telecoms companies, data providers, investors, the traditional financial-services sector, and fintechs, have a critical role to play in creating the conditions for greater access to both connectivity and financial products and services. As Africa embraces the smartphone revolution and realizes the potential of fintech, the region stands poised to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the digital era. 

And even as all these developments take place, a new revolution is loading with generative AI. Watch this space.’

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