Affinity Africa founder Tarek Mouganie is addressing the challenges of the unbanked in his country through digital finance.
“As a result of having been excluded from financial services, small business don’t get created.”
After dropping out of high school, Ibrahim Musa, a small business owner based in Ghana, has become somewhat of a serial entrepreneur. With stints in everything from cold stores, car sales and, most recently, selling electronic goods in Makola Market, the country’s busiest local market, his biggest challenge is actually in the digital sphere.
For years, Musa has faced a major snag when it comes to opening a bank account for his small business due to the many regulations involved.
“Every time I try and open a bank account, I am asked for so many documents that I simply do not have. After being rejected several times, I just decided to use mobile money for my banking needs but that is very limited because you cannot have access to the full range of services traditional banks offer and that is a real problem for entrepreneurs like me,” says Musa.
He is not wrong. The problem he speaks of affects over 500 million people across sub-Saharan Africa who do not have, amongst other things, proof of official identity documents. This is according to a 2017 article by the World Economic Forum. The knock-on effect of this problem is that it has led to over 350 million adults being financially excluded and expected to live on cash without the use of financial facilities, cited in a report by AfricaNenda.
For Ghanaian entrepreneur, Tarek Mouganie, the only way to tackle a problem like this is through the development of digital financial services. His solution, Affinity Africa, is a digital bank.
Mouganie holds an engineering degree from Imperial College London and PhD from the University of Cambridge. After working in the United Kingdom (UK) for a number of years, he decided to relocate back to Ghana to help solve the problems of the country’s unbanked and underbanked. It took Mouganie four and a half years to build the company and it finally launched in 2022.
“With no marketing spend, we have acquired 30,000 accounts just by word of mouth and, for 90% of our customers, we are their first-ever bank account. We have helped our customers save $23 million to date and have provided $13 million worth of loans as well. The average revenue of our borrowers has gone up by 500% and their employment base has gone by 3.5 times, so we are seeing growth,” says Mouganie.
The implementation of mobile money certainly is a silver lining for the future of the unbanked but according to Mouganie, it simply provides access. There is a deeper need to be addressed for small business holders.
“Our bank accounts are free, we don’t have any monthly charges and we provide interest across all accounts and that is a unique proposition. Our lending specifically focuses on small businesses which is what traditional banks don’t typically do,” says Mouganie.
He believes the problem is endemic to how African governments run their economies.
“If you look at OECD (Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development) countries, the tax to GDP ratio is 33%. If you look at Africa, it is 16%. So, we are the lowest tax-paying continent in the world and for this reason, governments typically don’t have money which causes a huge amount of issues. But what is even worse is that a majority of our taxation is indirect –VAT, E-levy and other solutions that are quite regressive.”
“The reason that exists is because we have a huge informal sector and as a result of having been excluded from financial services, small business don’t get created,” Mouganie adds.
According to Mouganie, the reason why small businesses are important is because in developed countries, they employ about 60% of the population and drive about 50% of government revenue.
“In our part of the world, that is just not the case. So, to create employment and build resilient economies, we need to support small businesses, nurture them and encourage those new businesses to be registered, so that we can drive employment and socio-economic development,” says Mouganie.
This is, perhaps, what makes Affinity’s growth noteworthy.
The journey has been far from easy. The stringent process of obtaining a banking license has proven to be a challenge for many fintech entrepreneurs in the past. But Mouganie was so confident in his vision that he sold his house in London to invest in Affinity and set out to conquer the hurdle of regulatory approvals.
“Regulators exist because they are there to protect the consumer and who is the consumer? In our case, it is our customer and the regulator in Ghana wanted to support economic growth and support small businesses. We came up with a proposition of increasing financial inclusion in the true term and not just giving accessibility, which is what mobile money and digital money has done, but very much focus on affordability as well,” says Mouganie.
He founded Affinity with the aim to solve the problem of financial inclusion through digital finance and based on the growth Mouganie has achieved so far, the digital bank is ready to transform Ghana’s unbanked sector, one customer at a time.