Kenya-based financial technology (FinTech) firm Pezesha triumphed over 11 other finalists to take home the top prize at the 2020 AFI Inclusive FinTech Showcase. Since launching in 2016, Pezesha’s innovative platform has helped match thousands of micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) in Africa with much-needed funding from investors including banks, microfinance institutions and other retail lenders.
Hilda Moraa, Pezesha’s founder and CEO, spoke to AFI about the win, upcoming FinTech trends and how she hopes to inspire other women entrepreneurs to compete in the next FinTech showcase.
AFI: Congratulations on winning the 2020 AFI Inclusive FinTech Showcase! How did you feel when you won and what does it mean to you and Pezesha?
Moraa: It was so inspiring and an absolute honor! This award acknowledges our hard work and affirms the long-term potential of our solution and strengthens its credibility with various stakeholders, including regulators, in joining us to drive meaningful financial inclusion on the ground.
AFI: Pezesha is a relatively young company that has already achieved so much – from being the first FinTech to successfully exit the CMA Regulatory Sandbox to partnering with household names like Google. How does winning the showcase compare and what do you hope to gain from this experience?
Moraa: My team and I are truly grateful to be working with local and global partners who continue to trust our operating model. We have a collaborative approach where banks, microfinance institutions, other financial institutions and networks can leverage our platform so that they can be matched with quality MSMEs using our proprietary credit scoring technology, Patascore.
Winning the 2020 AFI Inclusive FinTech Showcase lends credence to our enabler ecosystem and confidence with regional and global regulators. Ultimately, we want to tap into the AFI network with our lessons and experiences, as we aim to influence long-term policies and dialogues that deepen local capital markets.
AFI: Pezesha’s customer base is 80 percent youth and 60 percent women; two groups that are key to long-term sustainable financial inclusion. How will winning the showcase strengthen or expand opportunities to financially include these and other vulnerable groups?
Moraa: Through the AFI network, we can collaborate with global institutions to achieve our vision of tackling the USD328 billion financing gap for MSMEs in Africa, particularly as the majority are women and youth who have been excluded or underserved.
In addition to collaborating with global institutions, we believe that we are in a position to influence global FinTech policies and drive a vision that creates jobs, economic value and equal opportunities for the African ecosystem by ensuring productivity through access to affordable working capital.
AFI: This year’s FinTech showcase was held completely online due to COVID-19-related travel restrictions. How did this change your winning tactic?
Moraa: I would have loved to showcase in person and get physically network with regulators and other stakeholders, including the other participants who showcased their valuable solutions and discuss potential collaborations!
But having accepted that the virtual world is the new normal, my showcasing tactic was to use storytelling of our mission and bring chemistry in my voice as I pitched to recreate the feeling of physicality. I also ensured I was succinct and very clear in our mission and how it aligns with AFI’s themes. It was not always easy, as I also faced some technical glitches, but still maintained my confidence throughout the pitching process.
AFI: Among the prizes awarded to the top three finalists is a one-year membership to Luxembourg House of Financial Technology (LHoFT). As Pezesha was already a member of LHoFT, how has the membership helped grow and develop Pezesha’s operations, and what will it offer the second- and third-placed finalists?
Moraa: LHoFT has been more than a network for us at Pezesha, beyond strategic opportunities. They have catapulted our mission to attract global investors, resources, mentorship and linkages.
These same offerings I believe will be extended to also the second- and third-placed finalists, including being part of the LHoFT network, where they can seek connections with other diverse FinTechs to learn from them and collaborate to reach bigger heights and make an even greater impact.
AFI: Pezesha will also be invited to participate in an upcoming AFI Public-Private Dialogue platform. What messages, experiences or advice will you have for AFI’s global regulators and policymakers?
Moraa: We believe that sub-Saharan Africa is poised to move into the next stage of innovative microfinance-like growth, given the demographics of the continent, pressing challenges and opportunities they present.
We can provide valuable local market context and lessons to expand policymakers’ perspectives to ensure an inclusive and sustainable economic recovery in 2021 for sub-Saharan Africa. Additionally, we look forward to proposing practical innovations, such as open banking and SME exchange platforms, that we envision for our future.
As a result of the current pandemic, there is a need to accelerate such innovations as the future is now! But for such innovations to succeed, there is an urgent need for alignment between global regulatory partners, public and private stakeholders.
AFI: What’s next for Pezesha?
Moraa: Over the last three years, we focused on building strong trust financial infrastructure. Now we are achieving growth and scale to impact more underserved SMEs across sub-Saharan Africa.
We have identified massive working capital needs across different business verticals with retailers needing affordable credit to fund inventory from wholesalers and distributors around sub-Saharan Africa. We have also partnered with merchants and wholesalers to provide working capital into the supply chain ecosystem and believe this is a trend that will continue in the future.
AFI: What advice can you give other FinTech innovators who want to apply for the next FinTech showcase, particularly for women who look to you as a source of aspiration in a male-dominated industry?
Moraa: Cultivate confidence in your innovation. As a woman innovator, you can better mirror diverse customer bases that can accelerate financial inclusion to more women. Different perspectives, backgrounds and experiences can be key to your company’s success.
Take time to connect with other women who have walked that path. Seek their mentorship and leverage these learnings and networks. This also applies to me, and I pass on my knowledge and inspire more women to take part in FinTech opportunities. Because I did it, they can too.
I hope that my participation and winning will encourage more young women to participate in the next showcase and also to believe that it’s possible to pitch among many, many other solutions and still come out a winner. I’m really grateful for this particular opportunity, which I hope will drive a lot of inspiration among young people out there across Africa.
For more on Pezesha, please check out AFI’s digital channels and watch Hilda’s winning pitch! Click on the links to learn how second-place finalist, Idemia, uses digital identification to aid in the enrolment and disbursal of funds, and Arifu, which came in third, harnesses its smart personal learning assistant and content marketplace to provide advice and financial skills training to vulnerable groups through mobile phones.
AFI’s Inclusive FinTech Showcase was partially financed through AFI’s Multi-Donor Financial Inclusion Policy Implementation Facility (MD-PIF), with participation of French Development Agency (AFD), the German Federal Ministry of Economic Cooperation and Development (BMZ), and the Ministry of Finance of the Grand Duchy of Luxembourg.