In the world of fintech, where finance, technology, and policy converge, one company stands out for its remarkable journey and commitment to simplifying payments. Flutterwave, with a current valuation of $3 billion, has emerged as Africa’s largest startup and a valuable player in the global fintech arena. In a recent episode of “Fintech Beat” hosted by Dr. Chris Brummer, Flutterwave’s CEO Olugbenga Agboola joined to demystify building digital infrastructure in Africa, its challenges, and the vision for the future of finance.
From Humble Beginnings to Global Dominance
Flutterwave’s rise to prominence has been nothing short of spectacular. The company’s growth has been driven by its ability to provide a robust payment infrastructure for global merchants and payment service providers. It’s also positioned itself as a critical player in enabling businesses to send and collect payments effortlessly. Whether it’s processing payments, issuing credit cards, or providing other financial tools, Flutterwave has become a go-to solution.
“I would say [Flutterwave is] similar to the likes of PayPal and Square, and our goal is to help payments become simpler in Africa,” Agboola explained on “Fintech Beat.”
“In fact, our mission is simplifying payment for endless possibilities. We make payments simple on the continent. We’ve been existing since 2016; we’re live in 30-plus countries all over Africa today. If you get into an Uber anywhere in Africa — Lagos, Nigeria, Johannesburg, South Africa, Cairo, Egypt — you must have used Flutterwave because Uber is one of our esteemed customers.”
Flutterwave understands the unique needs of the African diaspora community, whose members often need to send money back home. To address this, Flutterwave introduced Send, an app that allows users in the U.S. to send money to Africa simply and efficiently.
“As someone who is from the diaspora, sending money back home is not even a requirement. It’s part of what we have to do because a mutual support group of our day-to-day life is back home in Africa,” said Agboola. “So when it comes to being able to do that in the simplest manner, I think that’s where Flutterwave excels.”
Navigating Regulatory Challenges
Like any ambitious fintech company, Flutterwave has faced its fair share of regulatory challenges, and Chris Brummer is the perfect podcast host to dissect the situation. He currently serves as the Agnes Williams Sesquicentennial Professor of Financial Technology at Georgetown University Law Center, as well as the faculty director at the Institute for International Economic Law. In 2016, he was nominated by President Barack Obama to serve as a commissioner on the Commodity Futures Trading Commission. More recently, he served as a member of the Biden-Harris transition team, assisting in leading work streams relating to financial technology, racial equity, and systemic risk for the Treasury ART.
Additionally, he founded Fintech Week, an annual event covering the rapidly evolving financial landscape that will be held in Washington, D.C., this November.
“Flutterwave has set itself on a path to becoming a real global champion and has announced plans for an [initial public offering], but the company’s path to success hasn’t been perfect, and it’s had its fair share of regulatory challenges, just as it’s getting set to take a victory lap with investors,” Brummer said on the podcast. “So I wanted to learn more about the company, about where it’s been and where it’s going.”
Brummer wasn’t pulling any punches. In July 2022, Flutterwave was prohibited from doing business with banks in Kenya because it has “been engaging in money remittance and payments services without licensing and authorization,” according to the central bank.
However, according to CEO Agboola, building a company in Africa versus Europe or the U.S. comes with vastly different ground realities. “If I was working in Europe, I would have to apply for one license, one set of rules, one regulatory framework, and one compliance infrastructure. And here in Africa, I have to do 50 different licenses, 50 different regulatory requirements, and two different compliance infrastructures.
“And there’s no way, shape, or form that you will not stumble if you go through that process. It is hard not to do it, right?” Throughout its journey to build Africa’s largest payments company, Flutterwave discovered that sharing its story is essential not just in building trust, but also in helping others understand the challenges and successes of building a fintech company in Africa.
The African continent’s payment landscape is diverse and fragmented, with different countries having their own sets of rules and regulations. While Agboola acknowledges the complexities of regulatory compliance, he also emphasizes the company’s commitment to building a compliant infrastructure. One of Flutterwave’s primary goals for 2023 is building world-class risk infrastructure and investing heavily in compliance and risk. Its goal is not only to meet regulatory requirements, but to set industry standards for trust and security.
The Future of Payments: Simplicity and Ease
Brummer was also interested in the Flutterwave CEO’s views about the future of payments. Agboola’s vision is crystal clear. He explained how the reality of payments differs from the perspective of an individual residing in a poverty-stricken African country as opposed to someone living in the U.S. While some may be enthusiastic about cryptocurrencies and blockchain, many others simply seek a hassle-free payment experience. Flutterwave is determined to cater to all these needs.
To this end, Olugbenga Agboola believes that payments should be simple and seamless for both consumers and businesses. People don’t care about the intricacies of payment systems; they want their transactions to work effortlessly. Flutterwave’s goal is to eliminate the complexities associated with payments, making it a nonissue in daily life.
He told Brenner: “The future of payments for me will be when payments are no more in the conversation. It becomes so simple and so easy, it’s like walking into an Amazon Go store. You walk in, pick up a grocery, and walk out and you get it. That payment thing is not there.”
Agboola’s emphasis on simplicity highlights the core philosophy of Flutterwave. Payment solutions should be so intuitive and straightforward that they fade into the background of daily life. People use payments to achieve their goals, whether sending money to family, rewarding colleagues, or settling bills. Flutterwave’s mission is to ensure that these transactions happen seamlessly.
Market Penetration and Global Expansion
The company’s next steps involve going deeper into the market. Instead of merely expanding horizontally, it aims to deliver world-class customer experiences across different segments. This strategy aligns with its mission of enabling shared prosperity across Africa.
Flutterwave’s unique position as an African fintech company with global reach sets it up for potential international expansion and success. With a focus on customer-centric solutions and a commitment to simplifying payments, Flutterwave is poised to continue making waves in the fintech industry.
Flutterwave’s journey from a startup to a fintech powerhouse serves as an inspiration in the world of finance and technology. The company’s focus on simplicity, compliance, and exceptional customer experiences is setting a new standard for the future of payments — not only in Africa, but worldwide. As we witness the evolving fintech landscape, Flutterwave stands as a beacon of innovation and commitment to the financial well-being of individuals and businesses.
With its worldwide reach and dedication to meeting diverse needs, Flutterwave is poised to make a lasting impact on the world of fintech, ensuring that payments aren’t just efficient, but a catalyst for shared prosperity and financial inclusion across the globe.