TechpreneurMag

How this ingenious entrepreneur is aiding financial inclusion in Africa would amaze you.

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Tell us about yourself and what you do:

I am a Ghanaian native, born and raised in Accra – I happen to be one who is very proud and unashamed of my roots. I consider myself to be part of the generation of young, agile and creative Africans who believe in social intervention or entrepreneurship as a way of reforming the continent and redefining the status quo. This is what George Ayittey, a Ghanaian economist describes as the ‘Cheetah Generation’

I have on various occasions, showcased my leadership skills via different platforms and programmes. Through this track record, I have been given the opportunity to demonstrate my entrepreneurial skills and I continue to seek avenues for self-development. By profession, I am a financial accountant – My interests lie in financial planning and analysis, strategy, business and management consulting, entrepreneurship for African development and many others.

 

What does your role at money Zebra entail and how has the journey been so far?

Well, I do a bit of everything from business development to all the ad hoc activities. I won’t make it sound as though it’s fancy all through. You know, with a startup like us, that’s often the case because the core team will be bootstrapping 70% – 100% of the time, therefore cannot afford to hire additional people with particular skill sets. We do all the odd stuff and take care of the nitty-gritty till things properly take flight.

Today, I could be pitching to a group of investors, the next day you’d find me trying to figure out how to translate our website from English to Mandarin and French (which is not fun), another day, I could be writing a piece about  “P2P lending via disruptive technology” for publication. In summary, I engage in everything that will steer us towards our short, mid, and long term goals.

Currently, Money Zebra is championing the financial inclusion campaign across Sub-Saharan Africa, and I’m glad to be leading this. I realized that a lot of people start a business because they heard it’s a lucrative avenue or there’s potential for upscaling. For me, it’s about the impact and positive transformation, so I suggested to the team that we should make financial inclusion a priority.

One of the reasons why I thought about improving the state of financial inclusion in Africa through our platform is because it serves as a great medium to educate the masses about basic financial literacy. The more traction we get, the more impact we can make.

With regard to the journey so far, it’s been nothing but interesting! Working with a bunch of tech-savvy guys, learning about blockchain technology, visiting new places and expanding my network by being part of the founding team of a fintech startup. I’m always learning something new, and it’s refreshing! I must admit it’s tough. It’s required me to be zealous, it’s made me challenge myself, it’s made me have doubts, but at the same time, our progress has made me reaffirm my belief.

 

Tell us about your team at Money Zebra?

If I should describe the team in one word, it will be “dedicated”. I think we are all on the same page in terms of our collective mission – we share a similar mantra – which is to get the job done! The whole team is not based in the UK, where MZ is registered, but we connect very well, thanks to technology. We brainstorm through idea-sharing. Even more desirable is the diversity of the team, with millennials forming more than two thirds.

In no particular order, we have five full-time software developers, one founder, two co-founders including myself, and two non-executive directors with decades of banking experience.

 

How did the idea for Money Zebra come about?

 

 

In the final semester of my postgraduate studies, I decided to conduct my research dissertation around fintech. Technology has changed the world immensely; it is disrupting almost every sector and industry-leading to the emergence of Govtech, Agritech, Regtech, etc. Having studied finance, I decided to look at how technology (fintech) is changing payment systems together with how financial transactions are executed in Africa. My findings (based on secondary data) revealed that Micro-lending is the least exploited area under financial inclusion, meaning there’s an opportunity in that area. Being entrepreneurial, that fraction of the results from my findings put me on a quest.

I remember vividly that I spoke with an aunt who lives in one of the suburban areas in Ghana. I was supposed to remit some money to her but she asked if it is possible across borders- clearly for someone like her, she falls in the underserved group. just around that time, a friend put me in touch with someone in the MZ team – they needed someone who has knowledge about the fintech ecosystem in Sub-Saharan Africa to help with market research, market fit, competitor analysis, and a general feasibility test in order to select one country where the pilot will be conducted. After a few conversations, I accepted to be part of the team and successfully carried out the task.

My analysis focused on three countries: Ghana, Nigeria, and Kenya. Nigeria came very close but the size of the population meant a lot more work especially if demand-side economics in the country is unfavorable for the pilot. Kenya, a country I personally love, proved very fierce in terms of competition – they have the biggest African market players in fintech. Ghana was pretty modest competition-wise. Again, Ghana’s macroeconomic indicators were relatively strong. I could argue to the team that Ghana’s GDP growth rate rose faster than most powerhouses (about 8.4% in 2017)

Everything happened quite coincidentally because just when I was doing my research for the completion of my studies, I was met with an opportunity. Seneca, the Roman philosopher said, “luck is where preparation meets opportunity.”

 

How beneficial is your platform to the average African trader or entrepreneur who is not financially savvy?

On the MZ auction platform, there is a range of lending, saving and investment opportunities available to individuals, SME’s and larger organizations. We have made everything rather simple and easy to navigate for those who are not financially savvy. Lending is done on a micro level to enable people with no credit history to start building one with us, eventually, such people will become more financially knowledgeable about why it is important to have a good credit history. We aim to do this through our registered partners.

Because our platform works like a heterogeneous market, both borrowers and lenders are ‘spoilt’ with a choice. More importantly, borrowers have the option of choosing from several debt/credit opportunities. Although the platform is accessible on portable devices, the UI/UX works perfectly for desktop viewing – one can easily sign up and create an account on the Money Zebra platform. It takes only a few minutes

What are you most passionate about in life?

This tends to be a difficult question for me because I have a long list of things I’m passionate about and I treat them all with high regard, so I wrap them all up to say that success is what I’m most passionate about. Though it may sound like a banal phrase, I feel it’s safe to say so because being the type who wears many hats, prior to embarking on any journey, I assess the end goal to know whether it is worth fighting for.

The typical questions I’d ask are how does it contribute to my personal development, how beneficial it is to people around me and how impactful to the world at large. That is true success, right? Being able to do things that will not only be beneficial to you but to others. Even if you failed, just the mere fact that someone somewhere is able to learn from your failure goes down as an impact. To some, this analogy of mine may sound cliché because to be successful at doing something, you need passion anyway.

 

What singular opportunity helped shape your career in the finance sector?

That must surely be when I had the opportunity to study for my first postgraduate degree in the UK. One of my lecturers who taught financial management would always entreat us to read the broadsheets. I can’t count the number of times he said that the best students are the ones who read additional materials outside of what is given them in class.

Before long, I developed a strong interest in financial analysis. I’d listen to the news on CNBC, watch Jim Cramer’s ‘Mad Money’, grab the free City AM newspaper on my way to class, monitor the top tickers on various stock exchanges and read general topics of interest. It’s one thing hearing and it’s another thing acting on what you hear. Therefore, I always look back and feel very grateful or the advice my lecturer gave, and I’m also proud of my younger self for heeding to those wisdom nuggets.

 

What do you do in your non-work time?

I spend time doing some planning.

I create content for my websites and attend social networking events – for instance, I’d visit an art gallery to boost my creativity and attend a workshop to enhance my communication skills. I work out in the gym – on average, about five hours a week.

I love traveling to new places – I’m able to reconnect with nature through this and was once featured on Travelnoire to share one of my travel experiences. During my teenage years, I used the good old Microsoft Encarta (on a CD-ROM) to learn about countries, cities, cartography, etc.

I spend time on the phone with my family especially my mum, sisters, nieces, and nephew.

Clean up, cook, do some house chores and the laundry. While at it, I listen to music or play a podcast. I mostly cook on Sundays – I find it therapeutic, healthy and economical

I learn a new skill or take a crash course online

I read books – I aim for one a month, I read the Bible more than any other book

I also make time to watch some Football, Netflix and play video games with friends

  

What were some of the biggest lessons that have impacted the way you think and work?

Ultimately, my choices have led to the lessons that have consequently become key determinants in the way I think and work. Most of the choices that I made in the past had to do with things within my control so I seldom played Russian roulette with them because I’d bear the consequence(s).

Nonetheless, there have been circumstances out of my control that has also impacted how I think and work. Salient amongst them was the loss of a loved one – it completely changed my perspective about life. I’ve learned to live for others rather than myself only. We get so engulfed in work and forget about the most important things like family. Being a Christian, I know that everything I can see and touch here on earth is temporary so I rather prioritize the only way to heaven, and that is Jesus Christ.

There have been times when I felt lost, but today, I can confidently say it’s good I felt that way because when you’re lost, you discover new places and reassess the route to your destination. It’s like being on an expedition. Once I remain positive, keep my focus and stay determined to arrive at my destination, things happen naturally. It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy.

 

What should we expect from Emmanuel Lamptey and Money Zebra in the next 3 years? 

In as much as I choose to be very hopeful about the future, I don’t have command over it. I’ll always keep giving my best shot and continue to pursue success in my chosen endeavor.

I dream of an Africa where everyone has fundamental access to financial services, I dream of an Africa where the gap between the banked and underbanked is bridged.

All of this will not happen overnight but we will work towards the goal, which is creating real-time connection between local borrowers and foreign lenders, plus improving the state of financial inclusion through sustainable collaborations.

 

Are you working on anything else at the moment? 

Yes, I am. I am building a fashion/lifestyle brand called ‘Indigenous House’ which is purely inspired by African culture and traditions.

 

How has the reception been so far? 

It’s been good so far, considering there’s been steady progress. In May 2019, I started working on the brand development after returning from a trip to Ghana and Nigeria – I gathered some ideas which gave me inspiration. By August 2019, the e-commerce website was launched and showcased the maiden collection under the fashion subcategory.  2020 proves to be a busy year for Indigenous House because we’ve just entered into a partnership with Churchill Gowns, to be supplying kente graduation stoles to interested students, groups, and societies, with some orders that have already been placed from USA and Australia.

When I first approached them with the kente graduation stoles, they bought into the idea of diversity and inclusion within Universities, especially here in the UK. Another reason they were keen to work with us is that the kente is handmade and sustainably produced. In addition, we support local artisans in Ghana with a portion of the sales proceeds, which makes Indigenous House a socially responsible company.

 

How preeminent will Indigenous House be in the next three years to the fashion space in Africa?

As House of Fashion has been launched, in three years, the aim is to launch the other subcategories, including House of Naturals, House of Art and House of Spices.

The competition in Africa is tough, but with hard work, consistency and the right approach, I believe Indigenous House can become a household brand. One other mission is to collaborate with other upcoming or established brands to promote African art and craft across the world.

There are only so many tomorrows but the journey still unfolds!

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