The adage ‘jack of all trades, master of none’ is apt for enterprises considering expansion into new African markets. Anthony Karingi, Vice President of Business Development – East Africa at leading fintech enablement partner Ukheshe, says the company is taking a collaborative approach to its regional expansion strategy – and is already reaping the benefits. “As Ukheshe expanded into five core East African markets – Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Rwanda, and DRC, together with other countries like Zambia and Zimbabwe – we made sure to establish partnerships and leverage local knowledge. We recognised that we cannot be all things to all people and that it would make more business sense to focus on our strengths while working closely with our partners to leverage theirs.”
Karingi joined Ukheshe in 2022 and is based in Kenya in order to improve the company’s market-specific intelligence and local knowledge. He says East Africa is set to boom, and soon. “One reason Ukheshe has chosen to focus its expansion efforts on East Africa is that the market is very developed when it comes to cashless systems and digital payments. Mobile money, for example, is available across all our core East African markets and is ahead of the curve in many – even in comparison to South Africa.”
Sub-Saharan Africa as a whole accounts for nearly 70% of the total amount of global mobile money transactions recorded during the past year, totalling USD 1 trillion. With this rapid growth comes increased regulatory scrutiny, with a magnifying glass on fintechs. “This makes having local partners and feet on the ground in these new markets even more important, as regulators are still trying to find that fine line between protecting consumers and not stifling innovation. That balance is a challenge, and new operators must stay on top of changing local regulations and compliance requirements. Regulators will also need to ensure that no one enjoys an unfair advantage, which is unfortunately still the case in some markets,” says Karingi.
In each East African market Ukheshe enters, it collaborates with established partners that are looking to digitise their offering and contribute towards the digital economy as part of financial inclusion. Ukheshe acts as the enablement partner that assists fintechs, financial institutions and MNOs in driving their vision and goals and enhances their proposition using their own licences, customers, and local knowledge. “This is quite a novel approach in the industry and is different to what many of our competitors have been trying to do. Our partners have an established footprint, whether regionally or across most of Africa. This allowed us to address some of the challenges new market entrants face in foreign territories, such as regulatory compliance and infrastructure. It would be extremely onerous for us to comply with all the various local regulations in all the markets we want to operate in, and this approach allows us to deploy our solutions and to scale much more quickly,” explains Karingi. Of course, any partnership goes both ways. Besides enriching their partners’ offerings through their innovative products, Ukheshe also invests in its local partners, he adds. “We invest in infrastructure, capacity building, and resources. This not only builds our collaborative local footprint but strengthens the partnership and both our offerings to our customers.”
In the next five years, he believes mobile money operators and telcos will lose their first mover advantage to more agile fintechs that can deploy their technology faster and more cost-effectively. Interoperability will become a key selling differentiator. “If organisations only deploy solutions in a closed loop, it has limited scalability. The market is growing quickly, with technology levelling the playing field, and it’s important to be aware of such dynamics to stay ahead of the competition. Everybody wants a piece of the action and even giants like Apple and Samsung are now involved in mobile payments. The best and most exciting part is that there is no script. We’re all building the plane as we fly, venturing into uncharted territory.”