We talked to Bernie Akporiaye of MaTontine, a FinTech facilitating women empowerment by financial inclusion and here is what he said about it.
First of all, how are you and your family doing in these COVID-19 times?
Bernie Akporiaye: Very well, thanks! I recently recovered from a serious case of Covid, but I’m fully recovered now.
Tell us about you, your career, how you founded MaTontine.
Bernie Akporiaye: I am the co-founder and CEO of MaTontine, an award-winning Digital Financial Services platform that digitizes traditional savings circles – called Tontines in French in order to provide access to small loans and a range of financial services to the financially excluded in Francophone Africa.
MaTontine is a partner-centric platform that works with a diverse range of partners (banks, insurers, digital money providers, NGOs etc.) in order to take the underserved through a journey to financial inclusion by providing them access to the right set of financial and non-financial services (savings, insurance, loans, financial education etc.) at each stage of their voyage.
We have developed the concept of Financial Inclusion as a Service (FIaaS); a complete digital financial services platform (with tools like tools like digital payments, credit scoring, financial services, digital identities etc.) for stakeholders within the financial inclusion industry like Banks, MFIs, NGOs etc. who want to provide services to the financially excluded but don’t have either the know-how or the full technology tool stack to accomplish that.
I have a personal mission of helping reduce poverty in Africa through entrepreneurship and technology and have over 20 years of experience working internationally and in Africa. I am a qualified accountant and financial software expert on his 4th startup, and I have significant experience building high-performing teams in different countries.
My co-founders, Tosan Oruwariye and I are Africans who schooled and lived abroad and decided to come back to Africa to make a difference. We knew that people in Africa did amazing things with minimal resources and wanted to be part of the solution going forward. We came up with the idea of MaTontine after we discovered that even though women (300M in Africa) demonstrated outstanding financial behavior by saving $3Bn annually in saving groups, they still did not get access to basic financial services like loans.
How does MaTontine innovate?
Bernie Akporiaye: At the root of our innovation is “Design Thinking”. We create all of our solutions and interfaces with our customers. We set up what we call an innovation lab with 3 savings groups and 30 members with whom we co-create and test all products and services before we roll them out.
How does the coronavirus pandemic affect your business finances?
Bernie Akporiaye: The pandemic was a disaster for our business. Our initial business model was B2C. With the stringent policies put in place by the government in Senegal (our operational country), our customers were not able to work, save or easily repay their loans. This forced us to move to a B2B2C model, which has proved to be quite successful.
Did you have to make difficult choices regarding human resources, and what are the lessons learned?
Bernie Akporiaye: The crisis forced us to make some very difficult choices. We had to let go of some non-essential staff, which was very difficult because we pride ourselves on having a familial culture. The key lesson learned, though, is constant communication. We involved the entire team in the decision-making process, and we all took decisions as a team.
How did your customer relationship management evolve? Do you use any specific tools to be efficient?
Bernie Akporiaye: We are typically a high-touch company. Our customers expect us to be seen within the community. We have had to really rely on our call centre and the community of customers that we created called Les Tontinaires to maintain our relationship with our customers.
Did you benefit from any government grants, and did that help keep your business afloat?
Bernie Akporiaye: No.
Your final thoughts?
Bernie Akporiaye: What COVID demonstrated is that our end customer, women living under $5/day, are extremely vulnerable to these types of crises. This made us deeply reflect on how we build resiliency into the overall offering. We know work with partners to build into the solution a bundle of services that include, where possible: financial education, savings, insurance and not just loans. This way, they would be better prepared to survive an inevitable future crisis.
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