COVID-19 is not hindering startup-corporate collaboration

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The COVID-19 pandemic has caused a lot of damage, with the African tech startup ecosystem not spared, but collaborations between innovative startups and corporates remains unaffected.

That’s according to Djiba Diallo, senior fintech advisor at pan-African banking conglomerate Ecobank, who took part in a fireside chat at last month’s virtual Africa Tech Summit Connects event.

Ecobank is active within the startup space on the continent, running its Fintech Challenge each year and recently having launched its Banking Sandbox, which allows partners and fintechs to access Ecobank’s APIs for the development of innovative solutions for the 33 African countries where it operates.

Diallo said the company’s appetite and ability to partner with startups remains unaffected by COVID-19, and holding the Fintech Challenge – even virtually – this year was something it was determined to do to highlight this.

“The most important thing is that we have partnerships with these companies and we are going to help them become real success stories,” she said.

“COVID-19 has caused a lot of pain points, but there are still a lot of things that can be done through tech. I think fintechs in Africa are resilient enough to know that, yes, this is a crisis period, but it is also an opportunity for them to make sure that they provide solutions that their customers really need.”

Diallo said partnerships with startups is still a “must have” in the banking industry regardless of COVID-19.

“Banks are very well established, we have the relationships with the regulators, all the licenses, and our teams have worked years and years to ensure we have a solid platform. But we are conscious of the fact that when you want to innovate you need to go fast. And when you are a corporate you move like an elephant because of the internal processes. Of course everyone wants to move fast, and fintechs are definitely the right partners if you want to achieve that goal,” she said.

Though expressing concerns about the amount of investment going into African tech startups as a result of the crisis, Diallo said fintechs were able to adapt themselves and pivot their businesses to ensure they retain customers during this time.

“Real fintech is happening here. For banks it is an imperative that we find ways to partner with fintechs, because they are more agile, they go fast, and they find new ways to reach the customer,” she said.

Making partnerships work once they are in place, however, can be a challenge, especially from a regulatory perspective.

“Fortunately, during the COVID-19 period we saw many regulators being more flexible, because they had no choice. Hopefully it will be a good experience for them, to understand that it is the way forward, and it is going to drive more financial inclusion, and that is what we are looking for,” said Diallo.

The key KPIs Ecobank looks at when it comes to partnerships are how many fintechs it is integrating with its APIs, and the impact these have on its customers. Diallo said the bank has been putting increasing amounts of money into the startup space, though further increases may be limited by COVID-19. Putting in place impactful partnerships is key if Ecobank is to continue investing.

“The model that we want to highlight is the revenue-sharing one. It is a good way to ensure fintechs provide solutions that make sense for customers, because if we win, we win together,” she said.

“The more we make, the more we will invest in fintechs.”

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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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