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MONIQUE BAARS, H’19

Reshaping the Financial Landscape in Africa
It was while evaluating fintech opportunities in Africa that London Business School graduate, Monique Baars H’19, realised that education was the greatest barrier to sustainability. After completing a Masters in Finance, she spent time working across Africa with a focus on mobile banking and financial inclusion projects. With a unique understanding of the financial literacy problem, she was inspired to innovate a relevant solution.

The narrative of economic development is no longer about aid, but about driving business to the huge untapped consumer base at the bottom of the pyramid through financial inclusion and entrepreneurship.

Building financial capability through local storytelling

THE CHALLENGE. Financial inclusion is failing in Africa. Africa has an average financial literacy of 31-40%, which is the lowest in the world. 72% of adults are still unbanked, while financial service providers are struggling with high churn, account dormancy, default and declining savings rates. A large gap exists between the ~$130 billion financial services opportunities in Africa, and the reality where 67% of adults are financially illiterate and making poor financial decisions. Finance is hardly taught in schools, the available information is overly complex and existing education tools are either manual, expensive, not measurable or have prohibitive user requirements. Baars saw the limits of institutions and infrastructure in her native South Africa, but in those limits, she saw the opportunity not only to develop an affordable and accessible product for a new market, but the chance to change lives in the process. “I want to leverage advances in technology, provide meaningful training and employment to local communities and ultimately influence the way the next generation of Africans perceive and engage with financial services, leading to their own financial independence,” says Baars.

THE PROCESS. After a stint with Boston Consulting Group, working in part on a mobile financial services project, she saw clearly what was needed to create that new market, including the role of telecoms, banks and retailers. After honing her skills, knowledge and ideas at the London Business School, she launched Fineazy, a mobile service designed to teach consumers about financial concepts, such as banking services, loans, insurance and investment.

A true understanding of these concepts was traditionally reserved for the highly educated “elite”.  According to Baars, two out of three people globally are considered financially illiterate. But at the same time, new types of loans, credit cards and other lasting financial obligations are increasingly being pushed to a group of consumers (“non-consumers”) who have little understanding of the long-term consequences of those products. “Providing access to financial services without educating and empowering people to make good financial decisions is actually exploitation,” says Baars. On the other hand, the right kinds of financial opportunities, with a proper understanding of the consequences, can also be life changing. So Baars set out to change things by finding ways to educate the public.

Baars knew that her solution had to be affordable and accessible – a key foundation of any market-creating innovation. So, she created a mobile service to teach financial concepts using “chatbot” technology, which is essentially a computer program that simulates human conversation or chat, through artificial intelligence. Using texting apps such as WhatsApp, Fineazy adopted the rich African tradition of learning through storytelling. She and her team created characters with rich and engaging lives, and stories of them going through life and having to make everyday financial decisions that users can follow along with interest. Fineazy is a simple yet powerful solution that is relevant and accessible to the African context and fits seamlessly into daily mobile communication services.

Their primary customers are Financial Service Providers who have a financial and regulatory incentive to educate their consumers. In the future, they will leverage their brand, data and relationships to become the go-to financial platform for emerging financial consumers. Fineazy builds financial capability and confidence in order for all Africans to be empowered to make excellent financial decisions. The company believes that financial capability is part of a person’s dignity, yet finance is seldom taught in a simple, engaging and accessible way.

Fineazy’s core business model is B2B. Financial institutions pay a fee per user for Fineazy to educate their existing and potential customers with a basic finance curriculum. There are two additional sources of revenue: a B2C option where users can purchase an in-game upgrade to learn about more complex concepts such as crypto currency and a B2B option where financial institutions can purchase an SME add-on for small business owners. Future plans include monetizing the behavioral, performance and engagement data collected for advertizing, credit scoring and customer understanding purposes.

Financial Institutions in Ghana face non-performing loans above 20%, pressure from regulators to educate customers and increased competition from mobile money providers, making it the perfect location for Fineazy’s pilot phase.

THE RESULT. Fineazy has raised £200k from angel investors in the UK, all of whom have a strong connection to Africa and deep experience across the value chain. Their solution is currently being piloted in Ghana and preparations for launch in South Africa in early 2020 with English, isiXhosa and isiZulu content are underway. Through their Ghana pilot, Fineazy has educated over 2 000 individuals over the last 6 months across a broad spectrum of students, young professionals, entrepreneurs and market women.

Fineazy is in the process of validating its business model with paying customers, ongoing POCs (proof of concepts) and a pipeline of corporate customers. The team is experiencing increasing engagement by the day and constantly adding additional value such as reminder Q&A functionality.

LEARN MORE ABOUT FINEAZY

Fineazy is building financial capability and trust using tailor-made content, local storytelling, personalized learning journeys and an AI-powered chatbot. A simple yet powerful solution that is relevant and accessible to the African context and fits seamlessly into daily communication on SMS, Messenger or WhatsApp

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Monique Baars, H’19 at The Tech in Ghana Conference 2019

Determined to make a difference

ABOUT MONIQUE BAARS

Solving financial inclusion’s nemesis in Africa

Baars hails from South Africa and has a Bachelor of Business Science: Finance and Accounting and a masters in Investment Management from the University of Cape Town. She spent two years as a Management Consultant with The Boston Consulting Group (BCG) working in South Africa, Botswana, France, Bahrain and Kuwait and as a Financial Inclusion Consultant with CARE working in Tanzania and Kenya. She is also a Director of ClickMaths, an organization founded on the belief that the best way to improve South Africa’s struggling education system is through the use of freely-available, open-source technology. They collaborate with like-minded organizations to make education accessible and more effective for all

Baars brings a deep and personal passion for the education problem in Africa, leadership that inspires action and unique experience and credibility across the value chain. She also brings the resilience and ingenuity to make it happen, and undeniable commitment, having resigned from BCG to pursue her start-up during and after her MBA.

Baars is a Fellow of the Allan Gray Orbis Foundation who invest in the education and development of individuals with entrepreneurial potential within Southern Africa. She was selected as a Harambean Oppenheimer Fellow in 2019, recognised as the best financial literacy solution by the WEF and was the winner of the DataHack4FI event in Ghana.

I AM A HARAMBEAN

Monique Baars views Harambe as a key partner on her journey to success.

“Being a Harambean both increases the chances of success and reduces the time required to scale. The opportunity for shared learning and development within a community of exceptional African leaders and entrepreneurs enables the collective impact to be exponential. I am determined to implement a sustainable, high-impact, business solution to a very significant social problem across Africa and the developing world.”