Africa as a whole offers a wide range of opportunities across the fintech and wider tech ecosystem. This includes solutions for those, often not just in Africa but across much of the world, who might not have access to basic digital nor even basic solutions such as bank accounts nor advisory support. The FinTech Times sit down with Viola A. Llewellyn of Ovamba Solutions, Inc.
Viola Llewellyn is the President & Co-founder of Ovamba Solutions, Inc., Africa’s awarding winning tradetech innovator. She and her co-founding team create culturally attuned Shariah compliant SaaS for emerging and frontier markets, with specific focus on Africa. She has held leadership positions with Unisys, IBM, KPMG Consulting, BearingPoint, Rothschilds and a Washington, DC based Investment Fund. She is a 2018 TED speaker and a contributing author with The Brookings Institute and the Wilson Center. Ms. Llewellyn served as an Ambassador and Global Technology Pioneer with the World Economic Forum from 2018 – 2020. Her Family is originally from Cameroon. She was born, raised and educated in the U.K. and lives between the African Continent and the USA.
Viola, for our global audience, can you explain what the digital and fintech landscape across the globe currently looks like
Data and statistics are plentiful with just a little effort, however, the most startling statistic I was made aware of recently was that 800 million people in Africa, with little to no access to traditional financial services from banking Institutions, are responsible for 45% of all the mobile money transactions globally. The more developed markets such as the UK and USA are clearly divided by consumer solutions and B2B solutions, and Banks seem to have embraced the FinTech revolution. Some of the larger banks are carving out internal departments to drive innovation or integrate third-party fintech solutions into their core banking systems. These developed markets are also characterized by the parallel growth of VC and growth investor capital markets. JP Morgan, Morgan Stanley, Standard Chartered and some other banks have been quite active with incubating solutions and using sandboxes to select the best solutions to invest in and use internally.
How does this alter in Africa?
For Africa, the usual narrative of leap frogging and viral adoption still prevails. The Eastern coast of Africa and some of the English speaking nations such as Nigeria and Ghana have long been noted as fintech market leaders rooted in payments and ecommerce solutions, led by Mpesa, Paystack, Flutterwave, InterPay, ZeePay and others. Regulators, ICTs and some banks have had to address the growth of these solutions and their market impact because of customer demand and the challenges with Financial inclusion. West Africa and the French speaking African nations are gaining ground in terms of innovation and solutions gaining traction. The difference here is that policy makers were slow to take fintech innovation as a serious solution to market and economic challenges. In Cameroon where Ovamba has their Central Africa support hub, banks are severely risk averse and resistant to digital transformation without pressure from Central banks. But that is changing slowly. With investment coming from the North of Africa into insurance companies and traditional banks in Sub-Saharan Africa, Sharia compliant (Islamic) Fintech is making a role for itself in the ecommerce and alternative banking solution markets. This has been the direction Ovamba has taken for resolving access to finance and developing a digital business ecosystem to support wealth and growth for SMEs via trade.
How have you developed your subject matter expertise Viola and helped to share it across where Ovamba operates in Africa?
Good Question. I didn’t have the luxury to go to some neatly arranged compendium or data site to get all the facts that one would need to launch a successful start up company. We had to go through a rigorous beta testing phase to innovate and explore a number of solutions and scenarios. This experience taught us that becoming a subject matter expert goes beyond knowing what to do, it involves being able to explain quite clearly why some things don’t work. Because of the way we tested the impact of culture, psychology, financial literacy and the business environment on the SME market, we were able to create tradetech solutions that are appropriate and proven effective for African realities. This is a market differentiator that puts Ovamba in a very different class from other fintech solutions for SMEs, banks and both debt and equity investors.
What are future trends and predictions you see happening in the region? And Viola specifically with your company?
Islamic Finance is gathering momentum, and so is RegTech – digital solutions to support central banks and policy makers. This is really exciting because we see trade and cross-border business engagement as the next frontier for fintech and tradetech. If we can coordinate a simultaneous ‘go-live’ of the Africa Continental Free Trade Zone with all of its’ potential together with continental manufacturing and increased exports, fintech, tradetech, investment and cross-border trade will deliver the beginning of a powerful era for Africa. This is a trend and potential that Ovamba is backing with the existing trade and logistics innovations that we are rolling out to meet demand. Ovamba is also looking at supporting central banks with digital and capital market solutions to maximize diaspora engagement and extend the time-arc on lending. At present, much of Francophone Africa, especially the CEMAC region is unable to increase financial depth because there are not enough long-term savings and investment instruments by which to loosen risk in the SME markets. Ovamba has solutions to resolve this and to get the data points needed to improve visibility into last-mile, bottom of the pyramid economies and address risk.
Any advice or recommendations you would give to other future fintech companies and entrepreneurs based in the Middle East & Africa (MEA) region? Particularly with respect to fintech and the wider digital sector?
It will be very important for future fintech companies to be clear on who they are innovating for. The industry dynamics are complex and sometimes unpredictable. Innovation far outstrips the pace of regulation and capital market responses. Creating Apps and solutions so that VCs and investors help create wealth for the fintech founder is not the same as serving customer demand and contributing to ecosystem growth. Putting customers and challenge/problem resolution at the center of innovation and strategy makes for a longer growth path but a more “sticky” and sustainable business.