Frictionless payments are essential for e-commerce platforms to reduce the barriers between online shopping and completed checkouts. Effective frictionless payments are essential for both large and growing businesses, especially in emerging economies like Africa. The buying process needs to be easier for both the customer and the seller, because an enjoyable user experience leads to higher conversion rates and fewer abandoned shopping carts.
Cellulant is a leading Pan African payments company that provides locally relevant and alternative payment methods for global, regional and local merchants.
Cellulant offers a unified, single-contract platform that enables businesses to collect payments online and offline while allowing anyone to pay from their mobile money, local and international cards or directly from their bank.
Today, Cellulant has an office presence in 18 African countries with a payments platform connecting thousands of businesses with 154 payment options across 35 countries. The platform powers payments for 220M consumers on a single inclusive network allowing for interoperability across Africa.
In this exclusive interview, the Group CEO OF “CELLULANT” AKSHAY GROVER shared insights on the impact of the digital transformation shifts across Africa, regulatory influence on digital growth, the recent partnership with Link Commerce and the future roadmap.
We would like to know a bit about your background, your current role and how Cellulant was conceived in Africa?
Akshay Grover is the Group CEO at Cellulant with the responsibility for driving the strategic direction and expansion of the business across Africa.
Akshay has more than 20 years of work experience in the Technology, Media and Communication Sector across emerging markets. During the early years of his career, he held positions of increasing responsibility in the financial advisory teams at KPMG and EY.
Prior to Cellulant, Akshay held multiple C-level positions at iSON, a diversified group with a presence in 30+ countries and 25000+ employees in the MEA and Asia Pacific region. During his stint at iSON, Akshay led the restructuring of its technology business, enabled multiple rounds of private equity capital raise for the BPO business and drove the expansion of the group into the ME, North and South Africa regions via multiple acquisitions. Akshay also played a vital role in evangelizing iSON tower – a newly created digital infrastructure platform in the south east Asia region. In his capacity as the Chief Investment Officer for iSON – Akshay co-led the creation, definition and execution of the investment strategy of ISONs technology investment arm – ‘i3’.
Prior to ISON, Akshay spent 10+ years in investment banking at Ernst & Young and leading investments at the USD4bn+ TMT investment arm of Dubai Holding. During this tenure, he has closed transactions in excess of USD 5bn.
A management graduate with specialization in Finance from one of India’s premier business schools, Akshay was selected by a leading credit rating agency as the ‘CRISIL Young Thought Leader’ and was identified amongst the top 15 ‘Leaders’ across the country by the Indian Institute of Management.
Cellulant has grown and has gained the confidence of its subscribers over the years, what do you think is responsible for this?
Cellulant is now primarily a B2B2C business where we serve the end consumers of our merchants. We do this by either collecting or making payments for them hence our subscribers are our merchants.
What drives customer delight for our customers is reducing the amount of friction around transactions.
By reducing the friction, we make the process smoother for them by making their customers pay with ease. These are the areas where we have spent time and effort over the last few years to make payments very easy across the continent.
What do you think is responsible for the recent increase in digital payments? And how far do you think digital payment has come in Africa?
Africa has been a front runner on digital payments. We had mobile money in the early 2000s when the rest of the world had not really gotten to it. Safaricom and MPesa as a service is a case study all over the world simply because they did something that was path-breaking at the time.
Today, mobile money payments are being accepted almost everywhere across the continent.
We however might not have been frontrunners on several modes of payments for example the use of credit and debit cards. The world is slowly moving from credit and debit card payments to APMs; Alternative Payments Methods. APMs allow you to pay from mobile money wallets, mobile applications, directly from your bank account, mobile money, USSD etc. I believe that this is the direction we are taking as a continent and that Africa, just like the mobile money wallet era, is going to be a frontrunner in the use of APMs.
A good example of a market where we can already see this is Nigeria where payments via automated bank transfers have increased rapidly.
With your recent partnership with Link Commerce aimed at breaking the barriers associated with digital payments, how far do you think this will push the drive for digital payment in Africa?
ECommerce is the future. The number of transactions happening online and in the digital space will continue to increase and are bound to get significant market share.
Today, across Africa, the online digital market share is estimated to be between 25-30 Billion Dollars and the number is growing rapidly. COVID and the happenings of the last 12-18 months have probably accelerated this. A lot of offline merchants have shifted to online platforms to make sure that their customers can purchase their products online. This trend will continue as we progress since more and more people are getting used to the convenience of shopping and transacting online. As the understanding of this convenience increases, digital transactions will increase.
Our partnership with Link Commerce is a reflection of the direction that ECommerce is taking. The partnership aims to break barriers between local and international commerce by addressing payment needs by eCommerce businesses. African consumers will be able to shop directly from favored stores while global retailers will be able to adapt consumer-friendly payment methods familiar to the populace using local currency.
In Africa, cash still remains the dominant preference for payment; do you think this will change anytime soon?
Cash is an important part of payments but it is not necessarily dominant in every country in Africa.
Africa accounts for 64% of all mobile money transactions globally.
A very good example is Kenya; its GDP is 100 Billion Dollars. In 2020, as per their annual report, Safaricom through Mpesa processed 65 Billion Dollars, this means that 65% of the GDP was raised digitally. This is however not the same for every other country in Africa. Today, cash still has a very significant role in payments.
With the growth of technology and a population that is able to easily adapt to digital platforms, growing a cashless economy can have a major impact on the continent’s growth. If service providers such as payment companies, banks and fintech make it possible for individuals to pay for services such as using cashless transactions, more individuals would be willing to do away with cash.
As a business, Cellulant is aggressively moving into the offline space by digitizing these cash transactions into payments via our Tingg platform.
We have launched the solution in Nigeria, Ghana, Tanzania, Uganda and Zambia and our merchants and end consumers are very happy to find easy solutions to pay digitally and move away from cash since it’s far more convenient and easy.
This is something that over the next 4-5 years will change materially across the continent.
How has government regulations impacted the growth of digital payment technology in Africa? Do you think the government has done enough in terms of its policies?
Regulators across Africa have been very cooperative and understanding of the developing financial technology landscape. They have been adapting to the changes that businesses like Cellulant have tried to bring in the marketplace. Overall, there has been a trend across markets to improve regulation.
Countries around the globe have seen a significant increase in electronic payments in the last year and Africa is no exception.
A good example is Ghana’s Interbank Payment and Settlements System (GhIPSS) that saw a 51% increase in transactions through the first half of 2020 compared to the same period in 2019, as citizens migrated away from cash.
African governments are designing and implementing policies and frameworks to fully capture the benefits of digitalisation. More can definitely be done but the onus of this lies on all the participants in the ecosystem. We need to recognise and understand our respective roles and that if we partner we can create a lot of value together.
There is a move across the continent towards this.
There are several digital payment platforms in Africa, what has Cellulant done differently?
There are a lot of Financial Technology companies in Africa today. Depending on the services they offer, they can be categorized in two buckets; Organizations who are a store of value and organizations sitting between the store of value players and the merchants.
Cellulant is in the second category; we sit between the store of value players like MPesa and the merchants. Very often we aggregate these players who are the store of value so when you use Tingg you can make payments through different wallets to the merchants.
Cellulant is probably among the top 3 or 4 players in our category.
We have the largest reach; we have offices and people on the ground in 18 markets and have a presence in 35 countries which is the widest footprint in the continent. This capability across the continent is something that most players do not have. The transactions we process are probably the largest in the continent.
To what extent has poor internet or no internet connectivity and high illiteracy rate impacted on the drive for digital payment technology in Africa
Internet and mobile connectivity have rapidly changed over the last 3-5 years.
Today, there are very few places where you will go and lack mobile connectivity. Internet connectivity might be an issue and this is a challenge because the rollout of 4G and 5G and some of the newer technologies has not reached every part of the continent.
The good thing is that a lot of the solutions that Cellulant offers are driven with USSD as technology and mobile application. Mobile applications usually need at least a smartphone and a good internet connection but USSD does not, it should work seamlessly as long as there is mobile connectivity.
The drive for digital payments in Africa will definitely improve with better internet connectivity but it is not a big deterrent since USSD fills the gap that poor internet connectivity creates. Today, USSD codes can be in local languages where there are literacy issues. Digital payments are such a convenient solution and they do not require a complicated process, just a three-step process. People hence manage to learn how to go about USSDs easily from either their family or the community around them..
What does the future hold for Cellulant? Anything else you would like to share with us?
As a business, we want to be all-pervasive and to be in all the large countries in the continent.
We want to serve our merchants and all the end consumers of the merchants in the continent with cutting edge technology to improve the customer experience for any kind of payment-related transactions.
What you can expect is a wide slew of new products and solutions that will make the customer experience stronger, reduce payment friction and enable customers to move towards digital transactions more rapidly in the coming months.
We have simplified our product, unifying our offering into Tingg -a digital payments platform enabling business across Africa.
This innovation is built on a new technology platform leveraging cloud computing and data science to offer greater capacity and quality service to our customers.