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Mines Secures $13M Series A to Grow Digital Credit Platform for Emerging Markets

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Mines, a fintech startup re-inventing credit in emerging markets, has closed a Series A round of $13M led by The Rise Fund, a global fund managed by TPG Growth.

Also participating are Velocity Capital, WesternTechnology Investments, First Ally Capital, X/Seed Capital, NYCA Partners, Persistent Capital, Singularity Investments, Trans Sahara Investments, and the Bank of Industry.

Mines plans to use its investment for talent acquisition, continued growth in Africa, and expansion to South America and South-East Asia.

Mines provides a Credit-as-a-Service digital platform that enables institutions in emerging markets to offer credit products to their customers; no smartphone is required.

Leveraging their own data sets, domestic institutions are able to serve loans to customers ignored by available credit systems and open up entirely new revenue opportunities.

“There are more than 3 billion adults globally without access to credit. Our vision is that every one of them will have instant access to credit in the next 10 years. We believe the best way to realize this vision is to partner with banks, retailers and mobile operators and power digital credit products tailored to their markets so they can create the customers of tomorrow, today,” explains Ekechi Nwokah, Mines CEO.

By mining high-volume data like phone records, bank records, and payment transactions in real-time, Mines can instantly assess credit risk in markets that lack robust credit bureau infrastructure.

It then integrates its risk models with identity, origination, payments, loan lifecycle management, and customer service to form a holistic platform.

The net result is a seamless user experience where partners’ customers can apply for and receive a loan in less than 60 seconds or make instant purchases with virtual or physical credit cards.

The company has hardened its proprietary technology in Nigeria where it has been used by over 1 million customers since launching in 2017.

It is now the leading provider of consumer credit in the country, counting mobile operators 9mobile and Airtel, payment processors Interswitch and NIBSS, along with several banks amongst its partners.

“What we have done differently is take Silicon Valley technology and built it into a product that is robust enough for emerging markets like Nigeria, Brazil, or Indonesia”, says Chief Scientist Kunle Olukotun. “We can extend credit to all types of customers, including customers without smartphones or even bank accounts as these are the people who need credit the most.”

As part of the financing, Yemi Lalude from TPG Growth and Willem Willemstein from Velocity Capital have joined Mines’ Board of Directors.

Lalude says, “Mines combines world-class artificial intelligence and extensive use of data with a strong focus on local partnerships to build financial inclusion. We are excited to partner with them to drive financial access across the world.”

Mines started out as a research project on high performance artificial intelligence led by Olukotun, a professor of computer engineering at Stanford University.

It came to life after a chance meeting with Nwokah, a computer scientist working on big data projects at Amazon Web Services, after which they teamed up to direct the technology towards solving the grand challenge of financial access.

Both founders grew up in Africa and understand the challenges facing technology companies trying to solve problems in emerging markets without a deep respect for the complexities of local culture, knowing they need to take a different approach.

They have been joined by VP Commercial Adia Sowho, who has successfully scaled several digital financial services at one of Nigeria’s largest mobile operators, to grow the business.

Sowho says “Scaling a digital product in Africa requires a deep understanding of two things – distribution and partnerships.

“In Nigeria, Mines has demonstrated that its platform is flexible enough to enable partners with consumer reach across the income pyramid, activate a wide swath of distribution channels, from rudimentary USSD to more advanced web-based ones. We look forward to building more partnerships in Nigeria and beyond”.

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E-Financial

NIA Seeks Tougher Sanctions for Insurance Defaulters

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Nigerian Insurance Association (NIA) has canvassed for a complete enforcement of penalties for insurance defaulters, especially, those who violate the Builders’ Liability Insurance and the Occupiers’ Liability Insurance.

 

Mrs Yetunde Ilori, director-general of NIA, said that penalising defaulters who subscribe to the two classes of insurances will send a strong warning to stakeholders in the construction sector.

 

She was while reacting to the buildings that collapsed at Ita-Faaji on Lagos Island last Wednesday, March 13 and in Ibadan, Oyo-state, on Friday, March 15 respectively.

 

NAN reported that several people were confirmed dead in the Lagos building collapse that accommodated a nursery and primary school.

 

However, no casualties were recorded in the Ibadan building collapse.

 

The D-G also said that the action would enhance sanity in the sector as the contractors would force to abide by quality

 

 

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E-Financial

UBA Earnings Hits N494Bn, Records Profit of N106.8Bn

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United Bank for Africa Plc, Pan-African financial institution, has announced its Audited 2018 Financial Results with impressive growths achieved across major financial lines.

 

According to the 2018 financials filed at the Nigerian Stock Exchange on Tuesday, the Africa’s global bank’s gross earnings grew by 7.0 percent to N494.0 billion, compared to N461.6 billion recorded in the corresponding period of 2017.

 

The Bank’s total assets also grew significantly by 19.7 percent to an unprecedented N4.9 trillion for the year under review.

 

These results, according to financial analysts largely demonstrates the benefits of the Group’s Pan-African footprints with continued growth in market share in key countries of operation across Africa.

 

The contributions of ex-Nigeria subsidiaries at 40 percent, again confirms the strong footing of the Group’s franchise in Africa.

 

Despite the challenging business environments in Nigeria and across key markets in Africa, the Bank’s Profit Before Tax was quite impressive at N106.8 billion, a 2.4 percent growth, compared to N104.2 billion in 2017 financial year.

 

In same vein, the Profit After Tax rose by 1.4 percent to N78.6 billion, compared to N77.5 billion recorded in 2017.

 

Due to lower foreign exchange trading income, Operating Expenses grew by 4.1 percent to N197.3 billion, compared to N189.7 billion in 2017

 

Reflecting the modest appetite of the Bank in the year under review as well as impact of IFRS 9 implementation, net loans recorded a prudent 3.9 percent growth to N1.72 trillion while Customer Deposits increased by a remarkable 22.5 percent to N3.3 trillion, compared to N2.7 trillion recorded in the corresponding period of 2017, reflecting increased customer confidence and enhanced service channels.

 

Furthermore, Shareholders’ Funds decreased marginally by 4.8 percent to N502.6 billion, reflecting the impact of International Financial Reporting Standards 9 (IFRS 9) implementation.

Kennedy Uzoka

Commenting on the result, Kennedy Uzoka, group managing director/CEO, noted that the year 2018 was important for the Group, as it gained further market share in many countries of operation.

 

More so, the CEO was excited at strategic achievements made in the year, including the start of wholesale banking operations in London, as it seeks to leverage the Group’s unique network across Africa. UBA also opened its 20th African operation.

 

“Defying the relatively weak economic growth in Africa, earnings were positive and we grew our balance sheet by 20 percent, driven by the 23 percent growth in our deposit funding. In a period of economic uncertainty, we have focused on retail deposit mobilization, with exciting results. We recorded a 48 percent year-on-year growth in retail deposits and improved our CASA ratio to 77 percent, optimizing our funding mix, which will enhance our net interest margin (NIM), over the medium term,” Uzoka said.

 

Uzoka remained confident that the Bank’s performance would be even stronger in the years ahead and shareholders would enjoy even greater dividends, as the Group is well positioned to take advantage of imminent fiscal reforms across many economies in Africa, a positive outlook which should stimulate new opportunities in infrastructure, manufacturing, agriculture and resource sectors.

 

He continued: “Our operations in the United Kingdom now offer end-to-end trade, treasury, structured finance, wholesale deposit taking and ancillary services. With this development, we are better positioned to fulfill our aspiration of deepening trade and capital flows between Europe and Africa. We are also pleased with the market acceptance of our new operation in Mali”.

 

“Having said this, I am excited by the profitability of our ex-Nigeria subsidiaries, which now contributes an impressive 40 percent earnings to the Group. At the moment, our Nigerian business is benefiting from our product and operational focus, gaining market share – most importantly, the increasing penetration of our retail offerings is reassuring, as this fundamental progress aligns with our strategy of focusing on sustainable growth”.

 

“With great optimism, we look forward to a more rewarding 2019 for our shareholders, as we further sweat our resources and optimize productivity towards delivering superior returns,” he concluded.

 

Also speaking on the performance, Ugo Nwaghodoh, group CFO, said that the improving mix of the Bank’s funding base and asset pricing, reinforce a positive outlook on Net Interest Margin(NIM) and broader balance sheet efficiency.

 

“Whilst considerable investment in people, digital transformation and channel enhancement masked cost efficiency gains within the year, with cost-to-income ratio at 64 percent, we are convinced that our diligent execution of new initiatives will ensure the reduction of Cost to Income Ratio(CIR) towards our medium-term target. Our balance sheet is being positioned to take full advantage of market swings and our strong 25 percent capital adequacy ratio provides headroom for growth, even under a BASEL III scenario. As it stands, UBA has started the year on a good note and should sustain the momentum, as we work towards improving our Return on Average Equity (RoAE),” Nwaghodoh said.

 

United Bank for Africa Plc is a leading pan-African financial services group, operating in 20 African countries, as well as the United Kingdom, the United States of America and with presence in France.

 

UBA was incorporated in Nigeria as a limited liability company after taking over the assets of the British and French Bank Limited who had been operating in Nigeria since 1949.

 

The United Bank for Africa merged with Standard Trust Bank in 2005 and from a single country operation founded in 1949 in Nigeria – Africa’s largest economy – UBA has become one of the leading providers of banking and other financial services on the African continent.

 

The Bank which was awarded the Best Digital Bank in Africa by the Euromoney awards in 2018, provides services to over 17 million customers globally, through one of the most diverse service channels in sub-Saharan Africa, with over 1,000 branches and customer touch points and robust online and mobile banking platforms.

 

The shares of UBA are publicly traded on the Nigerian Stock Exchange and the Bank has a well-diversified shareholder base, which includes foreign and local institutional investors, as well as individual shareholders.

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Payment Service Banks in Nigeria, Lessons from the Past

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By Emmanuel   Okoegwale

Ten years ago, there was great optimism that the licensing of mobile money providers will usher in a new era in the drive for greater financial inclusion and fill the vacuum that the banks failed to fill for many years.

Ten Years after, the country has recorded some decent incremental improvements in the financial services sector through the mobile money operators but not the expected transformational leap, we had hope for. On the march again, the country has created a new category of financial services providers to be called, Payment service Banks.

The CBN in furtherance of its mandate to deepen financial inclusion in Nigeria is actively seeking to license Payment Service Banks in Nigeria which had been similarly deployed in other jurisdictions such as India.

Both countries are similar in areas of regulation that excluded mobile networks from mobile money and Banks that are cannot fill in the gaps, in serving the hard to reach places.

What’s difference between PSB and mobilemoney?

Permissible services for both in Nigeria are similar with few advantages for the PSB such as ability to mobilize deposits from individuals and small businesses, issue debit and pre-paid cards, invest in FGN bonds while both cannot give out loans, provide insurance underwriting and trade on foreign exchange market. No cap was mentioned in the framework on deposits mobilization allowed for PSBs.

Many reasons had been raised for the slow uptake of mobile money in Nigeria from low capitalized operations, fragmented agency network, exclusion of mobile network operators and some underlying bottlenecks like extensive delays in granting mass access channels like USSD and Sim tool kit channels to mobile money operators, were major hindrances to early take off and adoption.

The operational levers to drive a successful deployment are network effects, lack of financial access points in many rural areas, available mass market access channels, heavy marketing, channel leverage and incentives to drive last mile operations.

These are domain areas of mobile networks and these are some of the levers that mobile money operators lacked in India and Nigeria because they are non-Telcos however some of them, still managed to keep their heads, above the waters.

The Indian story so far

In 2015, 11 organizations were approved to commence payment service Bank services in India however three dropped out even before launch, with one of them citing, increased competition and time to recover profit on investments.

Some of the operators had been clamped by the regulator, due to inappropriate Know-you-customer implementation and some of the providers struggle to convert their huge subscriber base as envisaged to bank customers, the license also excluded the providers from lending.

Due to its limited offering, the commercial viability was no longer appealing to providers hence they struggle to stay afloat.

Shape of things to come in Nigeria

As Africa’s most populous nation, prepares to soften the ground for mobile network operators to participate in the financial services sector which had predominantly been the turf of the banks, it will be interesting to see how they will successfully convert their network assets to serve the large unbanked population in the country.

With MTN Nigeria woes seeming to be coming to an end over tax dispute with the Central bank of Nigeria and a planned listing on the Nigerian Stock Exchange later this year and armed with an approval -in-principle to launch payment service Bank, it will be the honey on the cookie pie for local and international stock investors.

The challenge non-telco operators of PSB will face, will be similar and may even be more than what the mobile money operators faced with them in the early days and even till date.

Why will the mobile network operator give equal-footing access to a competitor? What will the regulator do to enforce fair competition? What are the risk of granting non-telcos PSB licenses only for them to face similar challenges faced by licensed mobile money operators for ten years?

Some recommendations

The regulator may consider to upgrade some of the mobile money operator’s license to PSB if they have proven ability, maybe on a regional basis so that they don’t have spread themselves very thin to compete with what will be a significant competition (mobile networks) with lower paid-up capital requirements to compensate for their investment as frontier providers.

Addition of   retail and low value lending approval to their license while they isolate the customer deposit pool if possible or allow only for a small percentage of the deposit pool for retail lending.

A proper assessment of non-telco and non-mobile money applicants for the PSB license to ensure they have compelling business cases, well capitalized and ability to overcome the challenges that almost muscled the mobile money operators in the last ten years.

In view of many initiatives in the market place that are driven largely by industry associations and regulations, innovations should be allowed to rather drive these initiatives, fair completion are enforced by the regulator for all technology access channels from telcos and access to government standard setting agencies for BVN, National ID for robust KYC and risk management purposes.

Emmanuel Okoegwale is Principal Associate, MobileMoneyAfrica

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