Technological advancements have impacted the global financial landscape, transforming how financial services are accessed and delivered.
In Ghana, a country with an expanding economy and a growing appetite for technological innovation, the fintech ecosystem has emerged as an avenue for fostering innovation, financial inclusion, and economic growth.
Particularly, Ghana’s fintech landscape has been characterized by both increased innovations and the navigation by fintech companies of the ever-evolving regulatory and compliance terrain. From mobile money platforms that enable seamless transactions to peer-to-peer lending platforms that connect borrowers with lenders and investors alike, the fintech ecosystem has demonstrated a great potency to drive change and innovation in the financial sector. Nonetheless, it has become important to delve into the nuanced aspects of this ecosystem, with a specific focus on the state of affairs of the operationalization and profitability of these businesses, despite their initial promise to drive innovation in the financial sector. Therefore, the aim of this article is to assess the state of affairs of licensed fintech companies and recommend options for driving performance and profitability which will promote a thriving fintech ecosystem in Ghana.
The state of FinTech companies
Fintech companies are at the forefront of driving innovation in the country’s financial sector through leveraging advanced technological tools and capitalizing on the proliferation of internet connectivity and mobile device adoption. Importantly, innovators are paving the way for financial inclusivity by providing payment solutions democratizing the availability of varied financial products and services to financial consumers. This is driven by promoting savings and simplifying the complex transaction processes associated with traditional banking with their innovative solutions.
Data from the Bank of Ghana shows that there are approximately 47 fintech companies officially approved to operate within the country. However, most of these entities have not actively promoted their licensed products or services and are not commonly known. Others, although operational, are struggling and not reporting profits yet.
On the contrary, Zeepay, a cross-border payment platform, experienced significant financial growth in the past year according to its reported financial position. In particular, the company’s post-tax profit surged to GHC32.8 million, marking a remarkable 274.5% increase from the previous year’s GHC8.76 million. Additionally, the company’s total assets witnessed substantial growth, rising from GHC143.8 million in 2021 to GHC406.8 million in 2022, highlighting the enduring strength and resilience that Zeepay has demonstrated since its inception. Furthermore, Zeepay has successfully expanded its business operations into countries such as Zambia and Barbados as part of its journey toward sustained profitability.
Also, MTN Mobile Money Limited reported a significant revenue of GHC1.9 billion at the end of 2022, despite the imposition of e-levy charges on all payment services amid other fiscal policies taken by the government.
While these two companies have shown resilience in driving and expanding their market reach, the same cannot be said for other licensed fintech companies.
Ordinarily, fintech companies are expected to meet regulatory compliance demands, have adequate liquidity, implement robust security measures for their operations, and deploy consumer-centric innovative solutions. These measures, although come at a high cost to the fintech companies, investors usually expect a quick turnaround in profitability and operational guarantees for their investments. Nonetheless, many of the licensed fintech companies have not demonstrated the ability to meet these investor expectations because of their current state of operations.
With a highly competitive financial market, many of these companies are struggling to establish a strong market foothold, build operational competencies, and achieve profitability. Additionally, the ability to raise additional funding for their operations in the current economic downturn is limiting their capacity to scale up their service and product offerings through aggressive marketing and promotional activities.
The fintech landscape in Ghana is predominantly focused on payment solutions, with the majority of innovations being heavily centered around this solution. This lack of diversity results in intense market competition as these companies cater to the needs of the same group of financial consumers. Consequently, the potential profitability of these businesses is limited as they compete for the same segment of the market.
Hence, although McKinsey & Company had forecasted in its 2022 fintech report on Africa, Fintech in Africa: The End of the Beginning, that the fintech ecosystem in Ghana could generate about $18.6bn by 2025, such prospects are currently under threat due to the operational challenges faced by many of these licensed fintech companies.
Option for driving performance and profitability going forward
Discussed below are some recommendations on considerations to be made by fintech companies in driving their market performance and profitability.
- Driving new innovations: fintech companies operate in a dynamic and competitive market, where customer expectations and regulatory requirements are constantly evolving. To survive and thrive in this environment, innovators need to be innovative, launch new products or services that offer competitive advantage, and promote sustained operations. Innovation is the key to creating value for customers and differentiating from competitors. Fintech companies should therefore leverage emerging technologies, such as artificial intelligence, blockchain, cloud computing, and biometrics, to enhance their offerings and improve their efficiency. Similarly, it is crucial for innovators to identify the gaps and opportunities in the market, and design solutions that meet the specific needs and preferences of their target segments. It is also incumbent on innovators to ensure that their products or services are secure, reliable, compliant, scalable, and have adequate resources and capabilities to support their growth and development.
- Funding diversification and operational competence: there is a need for fintech companies to proactively seek to diversify their sources of funding. This diversification entails forming strategic partnerships with venture capital firms, and private equity investors, and exploring possibilities in debt financing. Such collaborations can inject the needed capital required to propel their growth and broader market presence. Additionally, engaging with both local and international investors not only ensures financial stability but also establishes a more extensive support network, offering access to invaluable expertise and market insights.
Simultaneously, investments in compliance and security measures are essential to ensure ongoing adherence to regulatory changes while safeguarding customer data. Collaborative efforts and partnerships, both within the fintech ecosystem and with traditional financial institutions, play a pivotal role in promoting innovation through the sharing of knowledge and cooperative development, enhancing the ecosystem’s resilience.
Also, building and augmenting internal capacities stand as critical priorities for fintech companies in Ghana, enabling them to navigate the financial landscape effectively. This encompasses the acquisition and nurturing of top-tier talent across technology, finance, and compliance domains. Establishing robust training and upskilling programs ensures that employees are well-prepared to address evolving challenges and drive ongoing innovation.
- Mergers: Mergers can play a pivotal role in harnessing the complementary strengths of companies, revitalizing their operations, and achieving critical objectives like scalability, profitability, and market expansion. Specifically, merging underperforming fintech firms with other licensed entities presents a unique opportunity to leverage their respective strengths. Often, struggling fintech companies possess innovative technologies or specialized expertise that, when combined with the resources and market presence of a more established partner, can create a collaborative balance. For instance, a fintech company specializing in digital lending may merge with a traditional bank aiming to enhance its digital capabilities. This consolidation could result in a comprehensive suite of financial services, bridging the gap between digital innovation and traditional banking. Furthermore, such mergers can facilitate the exchange of best practices, regulatory insights, and customer bases, enhancing the overall value proposition.
One of the primary advantages of mergers is the potential to expand market reach. An underperforming fintech company may have been constrained in its ability to reach a broad consumer base due to liquidity or resource constraints. Merging with a well-established entity provides access to a larger and more diverse consumer pool. This extended market reach not only enhances revenue potential but also positions the merged entity as a more formidable player in the fintech ecosystem, capable of driving innovation and competing effectively with other established ecosystem players.
Successful mergers depend on having well-defined objectives. Non-performing fintech companies should enter merger discussions with a clear objective of what they intend to achieve. This could involve restoring their liquidity status, expanding their product offerings, or entering new markets. For instance, a struggling fintech startup with consumer acquisition challenges can seek a merger partner with a substantial existing customer base. Establishing shared goals ensures that all parties involved are on the same page and motivated to drive the merger’s success.
In this fast-paced ecosystem, timing is critical. Underperforming fintech companies must act swiftly to secure a merger partner, as delays can increase their liquidity challenges. Additionally, merging entities should have the capability to operate smoothly after the merger. This entails integrating technology systems, aligning teams, and ensuring compliance with regulations. Engaging experienced advisors and legal experts can facilitate a smoother transition. Speed, combined with operational readiness, ensures that the merged entity can promptly adapt to market dynamics and seize new opportunities.
- Acquisitions: Acquiring struggling fintech companies that are not generating profits or performing well presents a unique opportunity for established players in the ecosystem. These struggling firms often possess valuable assets such as advanced technology systems, consumer databases, or regulatory licenses that can be repurposed and revitalized under new ownership. By injecting fresh capital and bringing in experienced management, acquiring companies can reposition these assets and transform them into successful businesses. This approach offers several advantages, including rapid market entry and scalability, as well as fostering a culture of innovation by introducing new ideas and strategies to the acquired entity.
It is essential to prioritize regulatory compliance when acquiring struggling entities to ensure that the new ownership structure aligns with standards for liquidity, capacity, and innovation. The acquisition should strengthen the financial disposition of the acquired entity, ensuring that it meets liquidity requirements set by regulators. Adequate capital infusion should be an integral part of the acquisition strategy to enable the new entity to navigate unforeseen financial challenges. The acquiring company should also assess and enhance the operational capacity of the acquired firm, addressing any deficiencies in technology infrastructure, risk management, and human resources. This is crucial not only to meet regulatory expectations but also to deliver secure and efficient financial services.
Fostering innovation is a key driver of growth in the fintech sector. The acquisition should prioritize the integration of innovative solutions, processes, and talent from both entities, creating synergies that promote technological advancements and give the new entity a competitive edge.
Maintaining transparent ownership and governance structures is vital for regulatory compliance and building market credibility. Ownership should be clearly defined and disclosed to regulators, ensuring that individuals or entities with questionable financial backgrounds are not involved. Establishing a robust corporate governance framework, including boards of directors and compliance officers, is crucial to oversee operations and ensure adherence to regulatory standards.
- Exit: Innovation and adaptability are key driving forces in thriving in the growing fintech landscape. When all avenues and alternatives of surviving or sustaining business operations have been exhausted, there remains the option for these innovators to gracefully exit or wind down their operations in accordance with laid down procedures. The decision to exit the market, although not a pleasant one for any business owner, comes with some advantages. First, it enables the efficient allocation of resources and capital. Non-profitable ventures can become a sinkhole for financial and human resources, and exiting allows valuable assets to be redirected towards more promising endeavors, fostering innovation and growth across the fintech ecosystem.
Secondly, exit decisions mitigate risks and protect the reputation of the company and its stakeholders. Prolonged financial struggles can subject fintech companies to a variety of risks, such as legal and regulatory issues and data security breaches, which can in turn undermine consumer trust and confidence. By choosing to exit, these companies can mitigate these risks, avoid potential legal complications, and maintain their reputation.
Further, exiting provides the opportunity for innovators to reinvent their solutions, drawing upon the lessons learned. This opportunity for reinvention, coupled with the efficiency gains in the broader fintech ecosystem, makes exit a strategic move that not only safeguards the interests of the business but also contributes to the long-term viability of the fintech ecosystem, ensuring that innovation continues to drive the financial ecosystem forward.
As the country strives to expand its fintech ecosystem in the face of unprofitable and underperforming ventures, it becomes imperative for fintech companies to seize the opportunities presented in the recommendations for reshaping the ecosystem and the financial sector. This will ensure the sector’s resilience and ultimately enhance its contribution to the overall economic growth of Ghana.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
CECILIA ANTWI KYEM is an Associate at SUSTINERI ATTORNEYS PRUC. Cecilia specializes in Technology and Emerging Innovations, Corporate and Commercial Transactions, Intellectual Property, as well as Dispute Resolution. She welcomes views on this article via firstname.lastname@example.org