BitPesa plotting continued African expansion

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Kenya-based payments startup BitPesa is planning further expansion across Africa after making Ghana its latest market, but is focused on strategic partnerships rather than further funding at this point.

Disrupt Africa reported last week BitPesa, a digital foreign exchange and payments platform that leverages blockchain settlement to lower the cost and increase the speed of business payments to and from frontier markets, had launched a suite of services in Ghana.

Launched in Nairobi in 2013, the startup already has African offices in Lagos and Dakar, as well as European bases in London, Luxembourg and Madrid, with chief executive officer (CEO) Elizabeth Rossiello telling Disrupt Africa the company had plans to be very pan-African.

“There are certainly network effects that can be utilised the more markets are we are in, so we will continue to expand across Africa,” she said.

These network effects were partly behind the choice of Ghana as BitPesa’s next destination, with nearby Nigeria already an important market for the startup.

Earlier this year, the company acquired TransferZero, a digital payments company based in Madrid. Rossiello said this did not mean BitPesa was now focusing more on Europe, with the acquisition expanding BitPesa’s footprint across Latin America, the Caribbean, and other frontier markets.

“The TransferZero acquisition means deeper roots and infrastructure to serve our current customer base that operates between Europe and Africa directly. Our main focus remains frontier markets,” she said.

In Ghana, BitPesa is offering new currency pairs, allowing Ghanaians to make GHS payments that settle in more than ten currencies, including NGN, UGX, and ZAR. The startup says it can significantly lower the cost of payments from Ghana to other important trading partners, such as Nigeria. More functionalities can be expected in the near future.

“We will be launching a number of upgrades on our current FX platform, as well as some new products in Q2 of this year,” said Rossiello.

In Ghana, BitPesa has partnered with two mobile operators, with Rossiello saying such arrangements were key to growth.

“Since mobile money is so popular, it’s very important to work with MNOs as payout partners.  This increases the ease and speed of our services,” she said.

Further strategic partnerships are likely, more so than additional funding rounds. Last year, BitPesa secured two rounds of investment to take total funding to US$10 million, but Rossiello said securing additional investment was not a sole focus.

“At this point, we’re really looking at strategic partnerships rather than just funding,” she said.

For all its expansion, BitPesa is still currently prevented from operating in its home market of Kenya due to government regulations. Rossiello is hopeful this will change in the near future.

“Since ICT Minister Joe Mucheru recently set up a taskforce on blockchain, we are hoping that this means a more lenient government stance on these kinds of technologies,” she said.

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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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