It appears African operators no longer have the fintech market all to themselves. In fact NCBA Group, a Kenya-headquartered financial services conglomerate, recently announced that is planning to work with partners to bring its mobile phone banking service M-Shwari to Ghana, Ethiopia and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
This also seems to be part of a strategy for NCBA to grow as a regional bank. It already operates in Tanzania, Uganda, Cote d'Ivoire and Rwanda and is apparently in talks involving potential partnerships with banks and operators in those countries for mobile phone banking services.
NCBA did well in the mobile phone-based lending market in Kenya after partnering with Safaricom in 2012. It now wants to replicate this model outside East Africa.
Ethiopia and DRC seem to be particularly attractive as they have huge populations and a banking sector mainly focused on serving big companies, making them appealing to ambitious lenders in regional states targeting smaller businesses.
In addition the NCBA model is to work with local banking and mobile partners to deliver its products in new markets, and, while new regional partners have not yet been revealed, its Kenyan partner Safaricom has recently entered the Ethiopian market. However, local press reports point out that Ethiopia’s banking sector is still one of the most tightly state-controlled in Africa and is not open to foreign ownership.
NCBA has established partnerships elsewhere with a number of operators, including M-Pawa in Tanzania with Vodacom, Mokash in Uganda with MTN and Momokash in Cote d'Ivoire, also with MTN.
Local press reports suggest that NCBA plans spin out its fintech business, which includes M-Shwari, into a standalone company with the aim of creating more personalised and feature-rich digital banking services.