European tech firms are eagerly watching Africa, where a billion people are waiting to get connected to the internet. Electrum MD Dave Glass recently joined a group of South African tech entrepreneurs on a trip to Europe to visit leading European Fintech businesses and came back with insights into how South Africans are getting it right!
There’s nothing like a trip abroad to reinvigorate a positive attitude about South Africa. Electrum was recently selected for Discovery’s prestigious Global Entrepreneurs Programme to visit Amsterdam, ‘Europe’s Silicon Valley’. Along with a group of fourteen other South African entrepreneurs, we met with European financial services industry leaders and disruptors.
“Africa is the next billion,” our European counterparts kept telling us. There’s far lower financial services penetration in Africa compared to Europe, where 97% of people have a bank account. For Fintech, that means Africa is a great untapped market.
Common insights that emerged that will impact the future:
- Mobile technology will see Africa leapfrog the legacy approaches of the developed world
- Fintech opens up new possibilities for consumers to have greater control over their financial lives, which will make them more discerning
A climate of innovation
So how do South African firms stack up against their European counterparts in the light of these predictions? South Africa faces constraints and opportunities that are quite different from those in Europe. The payments landscape here has allowed us to develop innovative products that European firms have never even considered. For example, Electrum products help thousands of people send money abroad using their cellphones, allow South Africans to buy value-added services online through their banks, and pay their bills at retailers. Electrum even piloted till-point Bitcoin payments for one of South Africa’s biggest retailers.
Fintech and future careers
It was good to discover that South Africa’s financial infrastructure is admired all over the world for its stability and innovation. With the growth opportunities predicted, the financial technology sector in South Africa has a bright future.
It was also interesting to note that, in contrast to Europe, our young developers are able to work on projects that have engaging technical challenges that touch the lives of millions of people. Generally our developers are given these opportunities at a much earlier stage in their careers than their European counterparts, which means they enjoy rapid career progression and enjoy high levels of autonomy and responsibility.
What’s more, our people tend be much more well-rounded professionals because they’re exposed to strategic business decision-making and client interactions – in Europe developers become super-specialised and are often not privy to the bigger picture. We feel this exposure improves the career development of our developers, making them more competent in the long run.
South Africa is an incredibly exciting place to be in right now. Although we face considerable challenges in politics and economics, these constraints have always led to a search for alternative ways of doing things. This culture of innovation, paired with the imminent explosion of connectivity in Africa, means this is a time of great opportunity. And South African Fintech firms have everything it takes to lead the way.