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Pyypl plots African fintech growth

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Blockchain financial services and remittances company Pyypl is rapidly growing its operations across the Middle East and Africa (MEA) with ambitions to triple its monthly users by 2025.

"Our aim is to be fully operational in over 20 countries in the medium term, enabling Pyypl to provide essential financial services to all the underserved users across MEA," Antti Arponen, co-founder and CEO of Pyypl, told Connecting Africa in an interview.

Pyypl (pronounced "people") was founded in 2020 and already has African offices in Kenya, Mozambique, Sierra Leone and Uganda, with further expansion ongoing.

The company has grown from a simple digital wallet into a comprehensive payment ecosystem with over 1 million users worldwide.

During 2023, its prepaid card also transacted at 130,000+ merchants across 160+ countries and 130+ currencies.

"There is a vast market opportunity for Pyypl across the African continent with the need and demand to increase financial inclusion amongst a digitalized, tech-savvy population," Arponen said.

The expansion plan includes growing its presence in its current markets, adding a range of new products and features, and continuing to add regional strategic partnerships.

"Our goal is to more than triple our monthly active user base by the end of 2025," he said.

In November 2023, Pyypl partnered with Onafriq (formerly MFS Africa) to open up more remittance corridors from the rest of world to Africa. With the integration, Pyypl is adding 34 African corridors, 17 of which are new.

Origin story

Arponen's journey in digital payments began when he was working at Virgin Mobile, alongside future Pyypl co-founder Phil Reynolds.

"We noticed a significant challenge in our efforts to expand into African markets – the lack of accessible payment tools for consumers. This obstacle was quite surprising for us considering the increasing reliance on digital services globally," he explained.

"We believed that creating a unique payments ecosystem could bridge this gap and provide a trustworthy and reliable platform for 800 million underserved users in Africa and Middle East. Thus, the idea of Pyypl was born," he added.

The company started off with one product – a prepaid card in a digital app – to give everyone access to payments through a smartphone. Since then, it has evolved into providing a comprehensive payments ecosystem including a globally accepted virtual and physical Visa Card without the need for a bank account, near-instant international money transfers as well as user-to-user payments and instant transfers to financial wallets.

The power of blockchain

Arponen believes that the company's use of blockchain technology "revolutionizes how users exchange money."

"With our decentralized payment system, you can send and receive funds directly, bypassing the need for middlemen to keep the network secure and running smoothly. This means faster and more reliable transactions for users. Moreover, blockchain cuts down on costs, ensuring your money gets to its destination quickly and affordably," he explained.

In 2021, the company launched the first-ever "on-demand liquidity" service in the Middle East, in partnership with Ripple. Using crypto and blockchain, financial institutions and small and midsized enterprises (SMEs) can leverage previously trapped, pre-funded capital to grow and scale their business.

In 2024, Pyypl now enables money transfers to 75 country destinations all over the blockchain.

Pyypl's services include virtual and physical Visa Cards without the need for a bank account; international money transfers; and user-to-user transfers to financial wallets.   (Source: Image by freepik)
Pyypl's services include virtual and physical Visa Cards without the need for a bank account; international money transfers; and user-to-user transfers to financial wallets.
(Source: Image by freepik)

Arponen describes Pyypl as a "deep fintech" company, which is different to other fintechs which may rely on third-party providers.

"We've dedicated years to building our own technology from scratch to operate based on a comprehensive financial services backend platform. This means we have the flexibility to adjust product pricing and margins swiftly, and we can roll out new features within a matter of weeks. Our growth isn't hindered by licensing costs or the necessity for prolonged negotiations with SaaS [software-as-a-service] providers," he explained.

He believes that fintechs which merely offer a single service won't find success in the near future.

"Instead, becoming an ecosystem with diverse load and payout channels, along with extensive partnership networks addressing various customer needs, is imperative," he said.

"Our combination of cash, fiat, mobile money and access to the network of financial wallets makes us unique in Africa and Middle East," he added.

Growing financial inclusion

Arponen sees financial inclusion is a compound problem, with a key being the affordability and convenience of accessing financial services.

"In Africa and the Middle East, smartphones have rapidly emerged as pivotal instruments facilitating broader access to essential financial services. They serve as the connecting point between fintech companies and end-users, effectively bridging the gap and bringing financial solutions directly to individuals' fingertips," he said.

He also believes that over the past five years, there has been a significant transition from cash-based to cashless societies in emerging markets, primarily driven by fintech mobile money initiatives.

"Smartphones have leveled an equitable playing field for income generating opportunities. Even in countries with high unemployment rates, individuals can access remote work opportunities across various fields such as marketing, IT, and more. We've observed a significant portion of our users leveraging the Pyypl card for professional needs, such as funding advertisements and purchasing remote software tools," he said.

"While smartphones offer broad access to digital finance, blockchain technology facilitates transactions that are both inexpensive for end users and swift," he added.

The company is focused on what Arponen calls the "digital natives" segment of the market and only offers services to users with smartphones, with no options for feature phone users.

However, the company is aware of the importance of making its platform interoperable with mobile money providers in Africa and has forged partnerships with multiple mobile money services, including M-Pesa.

This allows users to load and send money between the Pyypl app and various African mobile money platforms.

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Looking to the future, Arponen only sees growth for the remittance industry and believes digital technologies will continue to transform the landscape through mobile apps and fintech innovations offering users faster, more convenient, and cost-effective options.

"Over the next three to five years, we anticipate the frustration of long queues, high commissions, and week-long waiting times will be replaced by services like Pyypl that provide instant and cost-effective remittance via blockchain technology. We believe such services will emerge as the primary and sole channels for remittance," he concluded.

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*Top image is of Antti Arponen, co-founder and CEO of Pyypl (Source: Pyypl).

— Paula Gilbert, Editor, Connecting Africa

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