An open interview with Startupbootcamp and Pride Capital about boosting financial inclusion in Cairo through a new FinTech program
In this day and age, it’s hard to imagine life without a bank account and not having access to essential transaction services such as paying your rent or asking for a loan. But this is the stark reality for almost 2 billion people in the world today who don’t use formal financial services. It’s a key stumbling block in life and no wonder that financial inclusion is becoming a priority for policymakers, regulators and innovation agencies globally.
FI (Financial Inclusion) cuts across all segments of life, it knows no boundaries in geography, age or culture. And still, there’s one particular market which I am very intrigued about, and that’s Cairo, Egypt.
In 2017, the World Bank Group and its partners selected Egypt as one of the pilot countries for its Financial Inclusion Global Initiative. The world began noticing the untapped potential of this market and so did Startupbootcamp.
Tucked away in a co-working office in Shoreditch, London where space is buzzing with startups, I rang Todd O’Brien, CEO of Startupbootcamp MENA to find out more about their collaboration with Pride Capital and the launch of the new Fintech Cairo program. We were joined by Ahmed Elsherif, Startupbootcamp Fintech Cairo Program Director and Rami El-Dokany, Co-Founder and CEO of Pride Capital. In this open interview, they share how Egypt’s tech startup ecosystem looks like today and their vision for accelerating financial inclusion in the region.
WHY FINANCIAL INCLUSION MATTERS TODAY
Most of the time we associate financial exclusion with increasing poverty, and still, we are only scratching the surface of its overall impact on the world’s population. Asked why financial inclusion matters today, Todd explained that it’s a huge untapped market and people need more assurity and assistance with their financial futures for them and their families.
“When 66% of the adult population in Egypt is unbanked, and a huge percentage of the banked population is underbanked, both consumers and financial institutions are struggling in reaching out to each other,” Rami adds. This creates a void or what he calls “Not Knowing Your Customer (KYC)”. Trust is key and the impact of helping these users have solid banking and financial services will provide a new level of satisfaction and financial security to the population.When 66% of the adult population in Egypt is unbanked, helping these users have solid banking and financial services will provide a new level of satisfaction and financial security to the population. Read more about the new FinTech… Click To Tweet
WHY CAIRO AND WHY NOW?
Startupbootcamp has an established presence in Mexico City and ran programs in other emerging markets such as India and China. Two years ago we entered South Africa and it has been a successful program reaching many regions across the continent. Surely it would have been easier to engage the existing ecosystems to tackle financial exclusion. Still, we are launching a new program in Egypt.
No doubt Egypt is facing a lot of challenges including lack of infrastructure and red tape issues, but Ahmed sees this tough market as the perfect opportunity for finding entrepreneurial solutions. He refers to Cairo as a “fertile testing ground for entrepreneurs and startups that are eager to drive game-changing businesses”.
“Financial Inclusion in Egypt gives us a chance to impact many lives for the better while providing jobs and stability in a near 75% cash environment” continued Todd. The cost of starting and testing business in Egypt is comparatively lower than most MENA countries, which presents a long-term opportunity for scaling internationally in the future. This should be an inspiration for entrepreneurs who love to create new things and Egypt needs more than just Fintech startups for a tech ecosystem to empower Financial Inclusion.
CHALLENGES & OPPORTUNITIES IN EGYPT’S TECH STARTUP ECOSYSTEM
This is exciting, but we know that getting a startup off the ground is no easy task! Every new business experiences pushbacks, trying to secure a new round of funding or hiring the right talent. But are these the same challenges that founders in Cairo would face?
Ahmed and Rami believe the “Lack of Fintech knowledge” is a major shortfall in the Fintech ecosystem in Egypt and it applies to both sides of the market, to new businesses and existing incumbents.
First-time entrepreneurs have never experienced failure, so they don’t understand the importance of validating their business model hypotheses with real customer experiments and market testing strategies. There is an evident shortage of vertical-specific support or mentors with deep industry background that could help these founders achieve product-market fit.
On the other side of the spectrum, established players must also learn how to work with startups, how to deal with uncertainty and to adopt new technologies going beyond traditional business models that have been on the market for decades.
Ahmed noticed there is a tendency of replicating proven business models (delivery, marketplaces, and transportation) both by new startups and the entities that support them.
“It seems that the market prefers to find business models that are already working and invest in them; there’s nothing wrong with this approach, but I don’t think it works well in an emerging markets ecosystem that presents a clear opportunity in tackling a lot of unsolved problems, such as Financial Inclusion” he adds.
These hiccups make the collaboration between startups and corporates even more difficult. “We must involve financial institutions and insurance companies in the process early on; this gives new businesses the chance to test if there is potential for a commercial engagement and therefore, added value,” explains Rami.
WHAT FINTECH CAIRO CAN DO
We have seen earlier that financial exclusion is, in fact, an untapped opportunity for innovators to remove the wall between banks and the unbanked.
The tech ecosystem in Cairo is still young which is why organisations such as Startupbootcamp and Pride Capital see an enormous opportunity in the Fintech Cairo program to educate, empower and give exposure to real innovators. The accelerator combines world-class Fintech expertise with a strong local network of financial institutions, regulators, and mentors.
“Financial inclusion needs more than just Fintech startups: it needs non-Fintech companies to help address the challenges of a cash-only society. Just think of what could a solid AI company do for Financial Inclusion?” Todd says.
HOW DOES THE PROGRAM WORK
This is an intensive six-month program where ten selected Fintech companies benefit from hands-on mentorship from over 100 industry experts, office space in the heart of Cairo, seed funding, and access to a global network of investors and corporate partners from across the Fintech industry.
“In addition to the acceleration program, this time we are supporting the startups to scale their products in collaboration with established players in Cairo during a further three-month Proof of Concept phase,” adds Todd. This structure is unprecedented in the history of Startupbootcamp programs which usually run three months of acceleration. “We want the local banks to embrace the technologies and see it proven out in a real way that has a direct impact in providing services in Financial Inclusion”.
Financial inclusion needs more than just Fintech startups: it needs non-Fintech companies to help address the challenges of a cash-only society. Just think of what could a solid AI company do for Financial Inclusion? Read more about the… Click To Tweet
Looking at sectors such as Payments, Capital Market, Investment and SME Lending, Insurance and Identity Authentication, FinTech Cairo will invest in competent entrepreneurs who are determined to execute, adapt to the market’s dynamic conditions, and who are seeking a growth partnership. “We have structured our equity funding to accommodate for different maturity stages of startups,” explains Rami.
Applications are now open for SBC/Pride FinTech Cairo. APPLY HERE.Startupbootcamp launches new FinTech program in Cairo to boost financial inclusion in the region. Applications are now open for startups in Egypt and North Africa - https://www.f6s.com/sbcfintechcairo2019/apply #financialinclusion… Click To Tweet
WHO IS BEHIND THIS MOVEMENT
FinTech Cairo is a joint venture between Startupbootcamp, one of the world’s largest networks of innovation programs, and Pride Capital, a reputable early-stage investment fund which acts as a catalyst for building the local tech ecosystem in Egypt.
A group of amazing partners supports the program including Pharos Holding, GIZ and Bank of Alexandria. These key industry players provide expertise, exposure channels, APIs and unparalleled access to their deep Fintech network of industry professionals from around the world.
“GIZ has a huge financial inclusion agenda in the MENA region and they work closely with Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) and the Alliance for Financial Inclusion (AFI). Pharos is a local investment bank eager to start this digital revolution and to find new solutions for better retail reach,” describes Rami.
There’s still a long way to go to achieve universal financial access. Nevertheless, with new initiatives such as FinTech Cairo, with the support of established policymakers such as the World Bank and IFC and with more attention from the media, there is extensive potential to move the needle.
We have seen that banks have to address many different issues for their citizens and their customers. Would Financial Inclusion become the core of banking and the finance industry? We believe that it could be a key revenue stream for banks if done correctly and if we find the right entrepreneurs to help solve the puzzle.