The African continent plays host to a potential fintech, wider tech and digital powerhouse – Kenya. But what is its current ecosystem like?
Located in East Africa, the country of over 56 million people has become not only a regional powerhouse in East Africa but for the wider African continent and Middle East and Africa (MEA) region as a whole.
In particular, its capital and largest city, Nairobi, is even dubbed “Silicon Savannah” due to its strong tech ecosystem, acting as a regional hub. Both multinational companies (MNCs), and those specifically in the tech and fintech sphere, have made strong investments in the country, boosting foreign direct investment (FDI) in it too.
For example, recent ones include Microsoft and Visa, who this year made commitments to the country, with the former announcing a new office for its African Development Centre (ADC). Nairobi will also be hosting a first for Africa – the Microsoft Africa Research Institute (MARI). Visa also launched its first innovation hub in Africa – the Visa Innovation Studio. It joins the ranks of the other global Visa innovation centres, located in Dubai, London, Miami, San Francisco and Singapore.
Alongside other fintech hubs in the region, namely Egypt, South Africa and Nigeria; Kenya now joins the circle of being one of the major “four fintech hubs” in Africa. With regards to VC funding just this year alone, Kenya attracted more venture funding in the first three months of this year at $482million than it did in all of last year at $412million. And just recently Nairobi launched its new Nairobi International Financial Centre (NIFC), which will offer investors across the financial services sector support and offers – like tax and immigration incentives, as well as office space in the new building.
In terms of its fintech subsector, according to Tellimer, the lending subsector commands the most at 30 per cent, followed by payments at 27 per cent in second place, and in third place, blockchain at 15 per cent. Investec sits in fourth place with seven per cent, financial management in fifth place at six per cent and insurtech in sixth at six per cent as well. Other fintech subsectors comprise the remaining nine per cent of Kenya’s fintech ecosystem.
Remittance inflows to Kenya have increased tenfold in recent years, with total remittances in 2021 reaching a record $3.718billion. This surpassed the previous record of $3.094billion set in 2020; according to the Diaspora Remittances Survey published by the Central Bank of Kenya(CBK). As many Kenyans live abroad and many non-Kenyans also reside in Kenya, Kenya plays a strong role in the wider global remittances industry.
NEAR Foundation this year announced the launch of Kenya Regional Hub in partnership with Sankore, a Kenya-based NEAR Guild. According to them, the Kenya Regional Hub will accelerate blockchain innovation, education, and talent development across the African continent.
The CBK has outlined a new path for the country’s payment capabilities with the launch of its National Payments Strategy 2022 – 2025. ‘The Strategy’ is aiming to realise the vision of a secure, fast, efficient and collaborative payments system that supports financial inclusion and innovations that benefit Kenyans. The initiative is to be anchored on five core principles, namely trust, security, usefulness, choice and innovation, and builds upon an existing foundation to deliver key initiatives, including full-scale interoperability, fostering customer-centric innovation and supporting the emergence of an around-the-clock economy.
From the top, the country has its own economic development strategy called ‘Kenya Vision 2030’. It aims to transform Kenya into an industrialising, middle-income country providing a high quality of life to all its citizens. This will help to further prioritise the likes of innovative sectors like the fintech one, in addition to wider digital transformation.
We would be doing Kenya an injustice if we failed to highlight why it has been globally recognised as a country help to spearhead and popularise mobile money. This started mainly with the launch of M-Pesa in 2007 by Safaricom and Vodafone (which the latter being a minor shareholder of the former). The popularisation of M-Pesa and mobile money helped bring financial inclusion to the masses in Kenya, East Africa and beyond, whereby most with just a basic phone could use USSD technology to use mobile money.
On a side note, the telecom Safaricom is now estimated to contribute to five per cent of Kenya’s gross domestic product (GDP) according to Harvard Business Review.
During the first 11 months of last year, Kenyans made 1.9 trillion mobile money transactions worth more than $55billion, while transactions in the first 11 months of 2021 were up 20 per cent on the whole of 2020. Kenyans made over 37.6 million transactions every day at 176 billion Kenyan Schillings KES ($1.49billion USD).
Praises of Kenya’s success is known worldwide in mobile money. For instance, a report from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) called FinTech in Sub-Saharan African Countries highlights that Sub-Saharan Africa has become the global leader in mobile money transfer services, which has brought widespread access to financial services. It says, “East Africa is leading in mobile money adoption and usage. Built on an appropriate pricing strategy to attract customers, suitable regulation, and a reliable and trustful network, Kenya represents today one of the most successful cases regarding the use of mobile money.”
While financial inclusion in Kenya was at just 26 per cent in 2006, in 2022, at least 83 per cent of the population has access to at least basic financial services.
Kenya presents a unique opportunity to not only to continue to be a regional hub but also, such as with mobile money, to export its know-how to the world.