Today Richie Santosdiaz delves into the recent fintech and wider tech developments in the Francophone West African nation of Senegal.
As highlighted in my previous Fintech: Middle East and Africa 2021 Report, Senegal’s ambitions are represented by one vision – an emerging Senegal in 2035, with a cohesive society under the rule of law.
The Senegalese government’s strategic guidelines that direct the initiatives needed for translating this vision into tangible actions and results for the benefit of population, are based on three priorities aimed at: bringing about a structural transformation of the economy, promoting human capital and enabling good governance.
Becoming a major Francophone hub in the African continent, Senegal wants to do that with the wider tech and digital sector. By 2025, it aims to create 35,000 new jobs in the field of technology.
Mobile phone usage in Senegal has surpassed more than 60 per cent this year. In terms of traditional finance usage, Senegal only had seven per cent of its population use it.
Like across much of MEA, the rural population is at a disadvantage here. For instance, with traditional financial institutions, almost two-third (63 per cent) of ATMs and another almost two-thirds (64 per cent) of point of service for traditional financial institutions are located in the capital and largest city of Dakar.
Dakar is ranked ninth in Africa by the Global Fintech Index City Rankings 2020 and it is estimated there are 24 fintechs and 47 enablers and funding partners in the country.
In terms of its fintech subsectors, the majority at 42 per cent are in payments. In second place are marketplace for financial services and aggregators at 29 per cent and in third place are process and technology enablers at 17 per cent.
Senegal last year made headlines when the first African Francophone fintech achieved unicorn status. Wave Digital Finance, founded in 2018, raised $200million from four big Silicon Valley venture capital firms, pushing its valuation to $1.7billion.
Prior to this, the ecosystem – home to around 70 startups – had only raised around $26million in the whole of last year. In the case of Wave, it shows just how popular mobile money has become in the African continent and has expanded beyond just East Africa.
This year, Wave has been granted an e-money licence by the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), a central bank serving the eight Francophone West African countries – Benin, Guinea Bissau, Burkina Faso, Côte d’Ivoire, Mali, Niger, Senegal and Togo – that form the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU).
Also, as highlighted in the Global System for Mobile Communications (GSMA) State of the Industry Report on Mobile Money 2022, mobile money usage in Senegal is high. For instance, in terms of consumers using mobile money to get a loan in the past 12 months, Senegal had 12 per cent of people do this. Also, more than 70 per cent of adults in Senegal reported using mobile money within the last 30 days while almost half of the respondents had difficulty or didn’t know how to read or write.
Notably, some of its key barriers are around the relevance of mobile money and their knowledge of it. For example, 56 per cent of people in Senegal still prefer to use cash, while 58 per cent of people also say that they have friends/family with mobile money accounts that they can use – which disincentivises them to get one for themselves.
Despite that, Senegal, similar to mobile money’s pioneer of Kenya, has a near universal awareness in the country. Its popularity and availability have made millions of people gain access to financial services they otherwise would have been excluded from. To note, there were 113.95 mobile subscriptions registered for every 100 people in 2020.
Despite the positive announcements like the Startup Act in Senegal, there still is little progress with respect to fintech regulation and definitions of it. There really isn’t a specific regulator for fintech businesses. For the sector to further progress in the country more needs to be done in the space. This includes the likes of a regulatory sandbox and clearer guidelines on fintech as well as more diverse licences of different fintech subsectors.
Also, previous projects that didn’t work out, such as the eCFA, the digital version of the CFA Francs national currency, is still top of mind in the country.
There was also headlines when singer Akon, who has roots in Senegal, outlined plans to set up a crypto-style Akon City. There is also Nourou, who founded Bitcoin Senegal end of last year. Like the rest of the world, cryptocurrencies has also made its way in the West African nation.
On a more serious note, back in April this year the BCEAO announced the creation of its fintech bureau. Dubbed BCSF (French acronym for fintech supervision bureau), the department will promote and support the development of startups offering financial services in West Africa. BCSF will organise discussions between the central bank and fintech startups, ‘collect and process information or interview requests’ and handle other tasks ‘related to technological innovation and financial sector regulation.’
Senegal presents an opportunity for not just Francophone Africa but the African continent as a whole to showcase its innovation and talents.