In an era defined by free-flowing fungibility, Africa’s currencies more closely resembled a deep iceberg than free-flowing water. That is, until fintech entrepreneur Olugbenga “GB” Agboola entered the chat.
Agboola, a native of Nigeria, honed his technical skills working with giants like Google Wallet and PayPal. He furthered those bona fides by taking positions with international banks across the globe. So, when he returned to his home continent, he was quick to notice the slow speed of the e-payments system.
While Western countries had spent years creating ways for consumers to access credit and transfer money over the internet, Africa was adopting this technology at a slower pace. More than of Africa’s population don’t have traditional bank accounts.
To complicate matters, many countries took different approaches to modernizing their financial systems, leaving a patchwork of payment services that rarely talked to one another and severely slowed international transfers.
“The way Africa is, different payment methods work for different regions and different markets,” Agboola explains. “Bank transfers are very popular in Nigeria, but not as much in South Africa. Mobile money is very popular in Kenya, in East Africa but not as much in Nigeria.”
Agboola and his company, Flutterwave, see this as an opportunity.
In many cases, African banks would transfer information to the United States or Europe, where they would be assessed, processed, and sent back. The process took days.
In the meantime, workers waited on paychecks, vendors counted down the hours until they received compensation, and corporations moved at a snail’s pace. Without fast access to cash, projects that hit a snag could be stalled for lengthy periods of time, leading to frustration and wasted money.
The predicament struck a chord in Olugbenga Agboola. If he could create a technology that would allow businesses to move money more efficiently, he could correct a market inefficiency and help his home continent take advantage of modern technology.
Flutterwave began as a one-stop shop that would allow enterprise businesses to collect transactions from customers and send their money across international borders quickly. Once it succeeded and showed a remarkable ability to cut through red tape, Olugbenga Agboola wanted to expand his platform to incorporate small businesses and individuals.
“That is our one guiding principle in expansions and partnerships: We try to bring payments close to the people,” Agboola says. “We give people what payment method they’re very comfortable with.”
Olugbenga Agboola: Meeting People Where They Are
But to make the product work for smaller accounts, Flutterwave had to change. Corporations are willing and able to adjust their payment practices if it means saving money and time. But regular consumers are more resistant to banking changes. Instead of offering a new way to do things, Olugbenga Agboola needed to meet consumers where they were. That meant offering local businesses and individuals a faster way to use the payment systems they felt comfortable using.
“If in your market what people like using is a bank transfer, we make it available in your market,” Agboola shares. “If it is mobile money, we make it available in your market. But we also help you do business in other places.
“So, if you’re trying to pay off a tariff, you’re going to see suggestions on the platform for the best way to do that. If you want to make a payment, you see mobile money and all the popular payment methods there.”
His efforts have led Flutterwave to unprecedented heights. As the most valued startup in Africa, it has achieved rarefied success — and it’s not slowing down.
Making money more mobile across the continent has opened Africa to itself; people in different countries on the continent can buy from one another.
Olugbenga Agboola sees the increased use of e-payment services in Africa as a way to bolster the economies of many countries, bring African art and products to new consumers, and create a new generation of business leaders across the continent.
“E-commerce is a big part of growing the economy of Africa. A lot of things are happening and businesses are trying to get online. And in fact, we have this new campaign that says ‘start anywhere.’ What this means is that payment technologies, logistics companies, and e-commerce platforms, are all joining hands together to ensure that somebody in Kigali, Rwanda can just sit down in their room and get started on a business on their phone thanks to a combination of technologies, and begin to sell online,” he said.
“I find that very, very interesting for what it promises the user, what it promises the owner, and what it promises the budding entrepreneur who is starting something new.”