Press release: BFA’S Catalyst Fund Initiative that Accelerates the Future of Fintech in Emerging Markets Reaches 20 “Inclusive Fintech” Companies

Thursday, August 2, 2018

Catalyst Fund has added another 5 “inclusive fintech” companies to its early-stage accelerator, now totaling 20 companies that leverage innovative technologies, in order to deploy financial service solutions in emerging markets where there is enormous pent-up demand. Mobile technology, machine learning, AI, and blockchain are making it possible and profitable to build the full range of financial services for previously underserved populations in places like Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. Catalyst Fund’s highly successful model de-risks companies and gets them investment ready — the 11 companies that sought follow-on funding after completing the program secured an average of $1.3 million each.

“Bank accounts and payment transfers are receiving a lot of attention and are growing in the number of subscribers, but they aren’t being used with the frequency that you’d expect,” said David del Ser, a Director at BFA. “We’re accelerating inclusive fintech companies whose solutions will achieve greater usage and help address the complete financial lives of these populations — there is great need and demand for these kinds of products and services in emerging markets.”

Inclusive Fintech refers to a wider range of modern financial services, beyond bank accounts and digital transfers, that are tailored to the unmet needs of emerging market customers to ensure adoption and to enable users to move up the financial ladder.

Catalyst Fund, a partnership between BFA, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, JPMorgan Chase & Co., and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors, encompasses both B2B and B2C companies that either directly provide inclusive fintech solutions and services, or build the rails for needed technological and financial infrastructure. The five latest portfolio additions are:

●      Hover’s proprietary and patent-pending technology enables mobile developers to turn an existing communications protocol, USSD, into an invisible transport layer, allowing the facilitation of in-app mobile payments so that users who can’t access or afford data plans can still connect to transact.
Innovation: In-App Mobile Payments                                 Classification: Rails/Infrastructure

●      PayAgri is an agri-fintech startup that brings together key players in the Indian agriculture value chain to facilitate trade and funding flows to low-income farmers who struggle to access funding and establish credit history.
Innovation: Digitizing agricultural ecosystem                      Classification: Rails/Infrastructure

●      Banco Mare is a digital bank, serving consumers in one of Rio de Janeiro’s largest favelas, who are excluded from the formal financial system. The mobile app allows users to pay their bills, make peer-to-peer transfers and pay at local merchants, using their own blockchain-based digital currency “Palafita.”
Innovation: Blockchain                                                    Classification: Product/Service 

●      Leaf was founded with the mission of helping refugees transfer their assets across borders safely using blockchain technology.
Innovation: Blockchain                                                     Classification: Product/Service

●      Sokowatch is an e-commerce platform for African informal retailers that offers on-demand and free delivery of store products and credit lines to address common stockouts, lack of access to working capital and business management tools.
Innovation: Digitizing the informal retailer               Classification: Product/Service

“Consider that just a few years ago there were 2.5 billion unbanked globally and even today, 3.8 billion people still do not have access to insurance — we haven’t begun to scratch the surface of the need for financial services among this demographic,” said Maelis Carraro, Catalyst Fund Program Manager and Senior Associate, BFA. “But pre-seed capital is a challenge here just as anywhere else, that’s why our model is set up in a way that de-risks the investment so that we can get these companies to market where they can have the greatest impact.”

The accounts of one-fifth of banked individuals worldwide are inactive. In India 80 percent of the population has a bank account but 48 percent of those accounts haven’t had a transaction in the past year. Another 190 million Indians remain unbanked.

“We are proud to invest in solutions that have the potential to transform the financial lives of people across the world and in technology that is reinventing the global financial services landscape,” said Janis Bowdler, President, JPMorgan Chase Foundation. “We look forward to seeing the impact that the 20 Catalyst Fund companies will make on consumers’ lives.”

Participating Catalyst Fund cohort companies must first be nominated by a sponsoring investor in order to be considered, and a pre-selected group of investors can make follow-on investments once the companies have been de-risked by completing the program. The program draws on BFA’s business intel from 12 years of using finance to create solutions for low-income people in emerging markets. Companies receive flexible grant capital, tailored technical assistance, mentoring by potential investors and access to networks of follow-on investors. A fifth cohort is planned for later in 2018.

Photo courtesy of pixelfusion3d.

Source: Press release (link opens in a new window)

blockchain, digital payments, financial inclusion, fintech, mobile finance