From job creation to economic growth, small businesses in Africa do as much for the continent. But, they don’t get as much financial support as they should. Femi Iromini and his business partner, Dapo Sobayo saw through this to create a solution they call Moni Africa.
A November 2020 meeting with a group of mobile money agents in Shapati, a suburb on Lagos Island, exposed the duo to the financing problem.
”The agents mentioned working capital as their biggest challenge. I saw one of them lose a huge transaction, about 500,000 naira because he couldn’t raise the amount. Banks and fintechs didn’t understand their businesses, so it was difficult to get loans from them”, Iromini who serves as Moni Africa CEO told Technext in an exclusive interview.
After that conversation, Iromini and Sobayo got to work. The duo first helped to create the Shapati Fund Support Group, before providing the funds to mobile money agents in the group.
”We got trust from them (the mobile agents). We provided loans (funding) to them at a critical time, December, with all the money needs around it. The group paid back on time. That was the turning point for us.
Creating Moni wasn’t really like an opportunity we saw. It was an opportunity we stumbled on and we tried our best to make something out of it.Femi Iromini
From experimenting with a small group, Iromini and Sobayo combined their experiences to lay the foundations for Moni. Iromini had helped establish a few startups in Nigeria and worked as a World Bank consultant. Sobayo had gathered experience from working with Zedvance and SEL Capital.
By August 2021, Moni Africa launched as a float-as-a-service startup to offer low-interest loans to communities of mobile money agents through a referral and trust vetting system.
Building a community-based business
The traditional African society thrives on the community philosophy. The sense of community promotes co-operation, responsibility and the need to protect reputation.
In Nigeria, Ajo, Esusu and Adashe traditional saving schemes utilised community to help people united by a common identity meet financial goals. Moni is built on the same philosophy.
”Growing up, there was always one co-operative group or association that encourage people to save. And, there is that sense that people don’t mess with their community and identity. It’s got to do with keeping their reputation in good light. Thinking about community, we discovered that if we are going to do this at all, it has to be community-based. There’s that social intelligence around it”, Iromini said.
Community as collateral
Before launching Moni, the startup’s team conceived five hypotheses to drive its operations. The hypotheses include community, accountability and reward.
With a sense of community, Moni says it has provided 10,000 units of loans valued at $5 million to mobile money agents in Nigeria and Benin Republic. Recently, the business made YCombinator’s Winter 2022 batch.
The YC validation serves as some sort of boost for a business harnessing community and trust to provide loans to mobile money agents across Africa.
Iromini says the community model has made it easy for the business to scale on the continent.
The community serves as collateral for Moni loans. Using this model has actually made it easy for us to scale because existing users are the ones bringing people in. We have disbursed over $5 million worth of loans; that’s like 11,000 units of loans. And we have achieved 99% repayment. The testament to that 99% payment is because of that community effect.Femi Iromini
According to Iromini, Moni has disbursed 70 per cent of the loans to women.
Moni started out last August in Nigeria, Now, it has expanded to the country’s next-door neighbour Benin Republic and Guinea. In these markets, the startup provides loans to agents and small businesses.
At its inception, the startup built solutions for mobile money agents. But, the interest has since expanded.
”Now, we are catering for small and medium enterprises (SMEs) but prioritising mobile money agents. This is driven by our Community Finance (Co-Fi) model. The model has been effective in reaching these crucial groups.”
Mobile money adoption in Africa
Per the GSMA, Africa still dominates mobile money transactions with around 621 million of those accounts, and with customer growth of 17% in the region from the previous year.
Iromini believes mobile money adoption is on course.
”I think the adoption is there already. A lot of regulators are in support of going cashless. Mobile money adoption is on a speed run already; just a few countries are not moving fast as they should.
The market is catching on, but governments need to provide an enabling environment for mobile money operations and business generally. Access to power, capital and the internet is still very important. Being able to register your business is a major problem.Femi Iromini
Supporting more African businesses
Over the next few months, Moni wants to provide financial support to more African businesses. The startup is also keen on filling credit gaps and popularising community finance.
”We are expanding to support more agents and SMEs across Africa. Also, we want to fill credit gaps for small businesses. Our goal is to make community finance a thing in Africa”, Iromini told Technext.
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