5 banks backing tech startups in Africa

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African banks are running scared, with the continent’s banking industry ripe for disruption. Be it in mobile payments, blockchain, or credit scores, African startups are tearing up the status quo.

Sensibly, most banks have taken a “if you can’t beat them, join them” mentality, partnering with African entrepreneurs and supporting their innovations. Together, both banks and startups are stronger. But which banks are going the furthest in backing African innovation.

Barclays

Barclays has launched accelerator programmes for fintech startups as part of its Rise open innovation platform in London, New York and Manchester, and brought the concept to Africa for the first time at the end of last year with a launch in Cape Town.

The bank has taken the process of investing with startups seriously, partnering with almost 30 ventures after accelerator programmes in Europe and the United States, and signing proof of concept partnerships with three African startups after the Cape Town programme.

Derek White, chief design and digital officer at Barclays, previously told Disrupt Africa that startups were playing a vital role in the way the financial services industry is changing, with there being a need for banks to become a part of this process for their own survival.

However, it is not clear yet as to how long this support will remain in place, as Barclays this week announced it was to pull out of Africa over the next three years. Watch this space.

Citi

Citi launched a Mobile Challenge in East Africa last year, inviting developers to build innovative solutions based on Citi’s digital platform. Simultaneous demo days also took place in Jerusalem, London and Warsaw.

Kenyan startups Umati Capital and Kyatabu were eventually named among the winners of the Citi Mobile Challenge, walking away with US$25,000 each. Umati Capital was chosen for its “Umati Supply Chain Finance Solution”, and Kytabu for its app.

Joyce-Ann Wainaina, chief executive officer (CEO) of Citibank East Africa, told Disrupt Africa that new entrants in the financial services space are too often viewed as competitors rather than potential partners.

Citi, she said, was looking to collaborate with small businesses and entrepreneurs to identify innovative solutions and develop a global fintech ecosystem.

Standard Bank

Very busy indeed in South Africa over the last couple of years, launching business incubators in Johannesburg, partnering Microsoft Bizspark and Sw7 to launch an accelerator, and the rolling out the PlayRoom, a dedicated innovation aimed at unearthing disruptive ideas from staff, customers and startups.

In November, Standard Bank announced it was offering fintech entrepreneurs the chance to win ZAR500,000 (US$34,747) in prizes and business support at its Pathfinders Challenge finals.

Disrupt Africa reported earlier this year Ethel Nyembe, head of small enterprise at Standard Bank, said entrepreneurs should start the new year by examining their past year’s business basics, in order to position their company for strong growth across the coming year, according to.

According to Nyembe, entrepreneurs should begin the year by “getting back to basics”, reviewing their business plan, and taking measure of how far their business has come over the last 12 months.

Bank of Industry

Nigeria’s oldest financial institution the Bank of Industry has been slowly but surely scaling up its activities with African startups. Last January it announced a partnership with 10 other banks to fund the establishment of small and medium enterprises (SMEs) in the West African country. As part of the partnership, the eleven banks with collaborate on providing long-term loans to qualifying SMEs.

In September, the bank announced a US$6 million investment commitment towards Nigerian SMEs, to be handled through the Venture Capital Fund being raised by Grow Africa Equity Partners Limited.

Then, in December, the Bank of Industry joined forces with Nigerian incubator Co-Creation Hub (CcHub), and VC firms Venture Garden Group and Omidyar Network to launch the NGN1 billion (US$5 million) Social Innovation Fund. The fund – which the partners say is the first of its kind in Nigeria – will back young entrepreneurs with solutions to local problems, with a particular focus on “next generation infrastructure”.

Chase Bank

Another Kenyan bank getting active with local fintech startups, Chase Bank’s sponsorship of the PIVOT East event was a sign of its increasing interest. But it has scaled up its activities with startups even further since then.

In June last year, the bank Chase Bank launched SME Biz Hubs in Nairobi and Mombasa, providing a physical setting for entrepreneurs to meet and obtain access to advisory services. It followed that up by partnering Kenyan incubator iHub to offer startups the opportunity to receive financial and advisory support in order to scale up their products.

Eddie Ndichu of Chase Bank told PIVOT East last year that the financial services sector in East Africa is one of the most susceptible to innovation, and as such financial services providers must focus on engaging with and supporting entrepreneurs.

He said it was no coincidence that the bank chose to involve itself with an event supporting entrepreneurship in East Africa, as the financial services sectors in East Africa is a key space in which innovators are having an impact.

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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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