FintechOS raises $14M help banks launch products as fast as FinTech Startups

Over the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of FinTech startups like N26 and Monzo to challenge the incumbents with new products like challenger banks. But what if the big banks wanted to compete in that game themselves? This is the aim of FintechOS a Romanian startup that actually aims to help incumbents compete in this brave new, competitive, world.

FintechOS allows banks and insurance companies to act and react faster than the new upstarts on the scene with plug and play products. 

It’s announcing today that it has secured $14 million (£10.7 million) in a Series A investment led by the Digital East Fund of Earlybird Venture Capital and OTB Ventures, with participation from existing investors Gapminder Ventures and Launchub.

The additional capital will be used to continue the growth and expansion across Europe, and to expand into South East Asia and the US.

FintechOS’s technology platform lets traditional banks and insurance companies adapt to rapidly changing customer expectations, and match the speed and flexibility of Fintech startups with personalized products and services, in weeks rather than months or years.

The banks and insurance companies can then launch multi-cloud SaaS deployments, transitioning to the cloud and on-premises deployments, working alongside the existing technology infrastructure. It now has existing partnerships with Microsoft, EY, Deloitte, Publicis Sapient and CapGemini allow deployment in multiple markets.

Started in 2017 by serial entrepreneurs Teodor Blidarus and Sergiu Negut, the company now has customers in more than 20 countries across three continents.

Teo Blidarus, CEO and Co-Founder of FintechOS, commented: “Our disruptive approach is customer, not technology-driven. We created FintechOS to transform the financial industry, empowering banks and insurance companies to act and react faster than fintech startups,
to create a smarter, slicker customer experience.”

Dan Lupu, Partner at Earlybird, said: “FintechOS is a pioneer in a booming market, with a vision to transform the way financial institutions react to market and regulatory changes. We are proud to become part of a journey that will shape the future of financial services.”

FintechOS raises $14M help banks launch products as fast as FinTech Startups

Over the last few years, we’ve seen the rise of FinTech startups like N26 and Monzo to challenge the incumbents with new products like challenger banks. But what if the big banks wanted to compete in that game themselves? This is the aim of FintechOS a Romanian startup that actually aims to help incumbents compete in this brave new, competitive, world.

FintechOS allows banks and insurance companies to act and react faster than the new upstarts on the scene with plug and play products. 

It’s announcing today that it has secured $14 million (£10.7 million) in a Series A investment led by the Digital East Fund of Earlybird Venture Capital and OTB Ventures, with participation from existing investors Gapminder Ventures and Launchub.

The additional capital will be used to continue the growth and expansion across Europe, and to expand into South East Asia and the US.

FintechOS’s technology platform lets traditional banks and insurance companies adapt to rapidly changing customer expectations, and match the speed and flexibility of Fintech startups with personalized products and services, in weeks rather than months or years.

The banks and insurance companies can then launch multi-cloud SaaS deployments, transitioning to the cloud and on-premises deployments, working alongside the existing technology infrastructure. It now has existing partnerships with Microsoft, EY, Deloitte, Publicis Sapient and CapGemini allow deployment in multiple markets.

Started in 2017 by serial entrepreneurs Teodor Blidarus and Sergiu Negut, the company now has customers in more than 20 countries across three continents.

Teo Blidarus, CEO and Co-Founder of FintechOS, commented: “Our disruptive approach is customer, not technology-driven. We created FintechOS to transform the financial industry, empowering banks and insurance companies to act and react faster than fintech startups,
to create a smarter, slicker customer experience.”

Dan Lupu, Partner at Earlybird, said: “FintechOS is a pioneer in a booming market, with a vision to transform the way financial institutions react to market and regulatory changes. We are proud to become part of a journey that will shape the future of financial services.”

Jiji raises $21M for its Africa online classifieds business

Pan-African digital classifieds company Jiji has raised $21 million in Series C and C-1 financing from six investors, led by Knuru Capital.

The Nigeria based venture, co-founded by Ukrainian entrepreneur Vladimir Mnogoletniy, has an East to West presence that includes Ghana, Uganda, Tanzania, and Kenya.

Buyers and sellers in those markets use Jiji to transact purchases from real estate to car sales.

“We are the largest marketplace in Africa where people can sell pretty much anything…We are like a combination of eBay and Craigslist for Africa,” Mnogoletniy told TechCrunch on a call.

The classifieds site has two million listings on its Africa platforms and hit eight million unique monthly users in 2018, per company stats.

Jiji sees an addressable market of 400 million people across its operating countries, according to Mnogoletniy. The venture bought up one of its competitors in April this year, when it acquired the assets of Naspers owned online marketplace OLX in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

Jiji’s top three categories for revenues and listings (in order) are vehicle sales, real estate, and electronics sales (namely mobile phones).

With the recent funding, the company’s total capital raised from 2014 to 2019 comes to $50 million. Knuru Capital CEO Alain Dib confirmed the Abu Dhabi based fund’s lead on Jiji’s most recent round.

Jiji plans to use the latest investment toward initiatives to increase the overall number of buyers, sellers and transactions on its site. The company will also upgrade the platform to create more listings and faster matching in the area of real-estate, according to Mnogoletniy.

For the moment, Jiji doesn’t have plans for country expansion or company purchases. “Maybe at some point we will consider more acquisitions, but for the time being we’d like to focus on those five markets,” Mnogoletniy said — referring to Jiji’s existing African country presence.

To ensure the quality of listings, particularly in real-estate, Jiji employs an automated and manual verification process. “We were able to eliminate a high-percentage of fraud listings and estimate fraud listings at less than 1%,” said Mnogoletniy.

He recognized the challenge of online scams originating in Nigeria. “We take data protection very seriously. We have a data-control officer just to do the data-protection verification.”

With the large consumer base and volume of transactional activity on its platform, Jiji could layer on services, such as finance and payments.

“We’ve had a lot of discussions about adding segments other than our main business. We decided that for the next three to five years, we should be laser focused on our core business — to be the largest marketplace in Africa for buying and selling to over 400 million people,” Mnogoletniy said.

The company faces an improving commercial environment for its goals, with Africa registering some of the fastest growth in the world for smartphone adoption and internet penetration.

Jiji also faces competitors in Africa’s growing online classifieds space.

Pan-African e-commerce company Jumia, which listed in April in an NYSE IPO, operates its Jumia Deals digtial marketplace site in multiple African countries.

Swiss owned Ringier Africa has classified services and business content sites in eight French and English speaking countries. On car sales, Nigerian startup Cars45 has created an online marketplace for pricing, rating, and selling used-autos. 

Adding to the trend of foreign backed ventures entering Africa’s internet business space, Chinese owned Opera launched an online buy/sell site, OList, last month connected its African payment app, OPay.

eBay operates a partnership with MallforAfrica for limited goods sales from Africa to the U.S., but hasn’t gone live yet on the continent.

On outpacing rival in its markets, Jiji’s co-founder Vladimir Mnogoletniy touts the company’s total focus on the classifieds business, market experience, and capital as advantages.

“We’ve spent five years and raised $50 million to build Jiji to where it is today. It would take $50 to $100 million for these others to have a chance at building a similar business,” he said.

RaySecur, a mailroom security startup, raises $3M in seed funding

Raysecur says at least ten times a day someone sends a suspicious package containing powder, liquid, or some other kind of hazard.

The Boston, Mass.-based startup says its desktop-sized 3D real-time scanning technology, dubbed MailSecur, can intercept and detect threats in the mailroom before they ever make it onto the office floor.

Mailroom security may not seem fancy or interesting, but they’re a common gateway into a corporate environment. They’re a huge attack vector for attackers — both physical and cyber. Earlier this year we wrote about warshipping, a “Trojan horse”-type attack that can be used as a way for hackers to ship hardware exploits into a business, break the Wi-Fi, and pivot onto the corporate network to steal data.

Now, the company has raised $3 million in seed-round funding led by One Way Ventures, with participation from Junson Capital, Launchpad Venture Group, and also Dreamit Ventures, a Philadelphia-based early stage investor and accelerator, which last year announced it would move into the early-stage security space.

Raysecur’s proprietary millimeter-wave scanner, MailSecur. (Image: supplied)

Raysecur uses millimeter-wave technology — similar to the scanners you find at airport security — to examine suspicious letters, flat envelopes, and small parcels. Its technology can detect powders as small as 2% of a teaspoon or a single drop of liquid, the company claims.

The startup said the funding will help expand its customer base. Although still in its infancy, the company has about ten Fortune 500 customers using its MailSecur scanner.

Since it was founded in 2018, the company has scanned more than 9.2 million packages.

Semyon Dukach, managing partner at One Way Ventures, said the funding will help “bring this compelling technology to an even broader market.”

To measure sales efficiency, SaaS startups should use the 4×2

Once you’ve found product/market fit, scaling a SaaS business is all about honing go-to-market efficiency.

Many extremely helpful metrics and analytics have been developed to provide instrumentation for this journey: LTV (lifetime value of a customer), CAC (customer acquisition cost), Magic Number and SaaS Quick Ratio are all very valuable tools. But the challenge in using derived metrics such as these is that there are often many assumptions, simplifications and sampling choices that need to go into these calculations, thus leaving the door open to skewed results.

For example, when your company has only been selling for a year or two, it is extremely hard to know your true lifetime customer value. For starters, how do you know the right length of a “lifetime?”

Taking one divided by your annual dollar churn rate is quite imperfect, especially if all or most of your customers have not yet reached their first renewal decision. How much account expansion is reasonable to assume if you only have limited evidence?

LTV is most helpful if based on gross margin, not revenue, but gross margins are often skewed initially. When there are only a few customers to service, cost of goods sold (COGS) can appear artificially low because the true costs to serve have not yet been tracked as distinct cost centers as most of your team members wear multiple hats and pitch in ad hoc.

Likewise, metrics derived from sales and marketing costs, such as CAC and Magic Number, can also require many subjective assumptions. When it’s just founders selling, how much of their time and overhead do you put into sales costs? Did you include all sales-related travel, event marketing and PR costs? I can’t tell you the number of times entrepreneurs have touted having a near-zero CAC when they are just starting out and have only handfuls of customers — which were mostly sold by the founder or are “friendly” relationships.

Even if you think you have nearly zero CAC today, you should expect dramatically rising sales costs once professional sellers, marketers, managers, and programs are put in place as you scale.

One alternative to using derived metrics is to examine raw data, which is less prone to assumptions and subjectivity. The problem is how to do this efficiently and without losing the forest for the trees. The best tool I have encountered for measuring sales efficiency is called the 4×2 (that’s “four by two”) which I credit to Steve Walske, one of the master strategists of software sales, and the former CEO of PTC, a company renowned for its sales effectiveness and sales culture. [Here’s a podcast I did with Steve on How to Build a Sales Team.]

The 4×2 is a color-coded chart where each row is an individual seller on your team and the columns are their quarterly performance shown as dollars sold. [See a 4×2 chart example below].

Sales are usually measured as net new ARR, which includes new accounts and existing account expansions net of contraction, but you can also use new TCV (total contract value), depending on which number your team most focuses. In addition to sales dollars, the percentage of quarterly quota attainment is shown. The name 4×2 comes from the time frame shown: trailing four quarters, the current quarter, and the next quarter.

Color-coding the cells turns this tool from a dense table of numbers into a powerful data visualization. Thresholds for the heatmap can be determined according to your own needs and culture. For example, green can be 80% of quota attainment or above, yellow can be 60% to 79% of quota, and red can be anything below 60%.

Examining individual seller performance in every board meeting or deck is a terrific way to quickly answer many important questions, especially early on as you try to figure out your true position on the Sales Learning Curve. Publishing such leaderboards for your Board to see also tends to motivate your sales people, who are usually highly competitive and appreciate public recognition for a job well done, and likewise loathe to fall short of their targets in a public setting.

4x2 chart venrock saas

A sample 4×2 chart.

Some questions the 4×2 can answer:

Overall performance and quota targets

How are you doing against your sales plan? Lots of red is obviously bad, while lots of green is good. But all green may mean that quotas are being set too low. Raising quotas even by a small increment for each seller quickly compounds to yield big difference as you scale, so having evidence to help you adjust your targets can be powerful. A reasonable assumption would be annual quota for a given rep set at 4 to 5 times their on-target earnings potential.

No Libra style digital currencies without rules, say EU finance ministers

European Union finance ministers have agreed a defacto ban on the launch in the region of so-called global ‘stablecoins’ such as Facebook’s planned Libra digital currency until the bloc has a common approach to regulation that can mitigate the risks posed by the technology.

In a joint statement the European Council and Commission write that “no global ‘stablecoin’ arrangement should begin operation in the European Union until the legal, regulatory and oversight challenges and risks have been adequately identified and addressed”.

The statement includes recognition of potential benefits of the crypto technology, such as cheaper and faster payments across borders, but says they pose “multifaceted challenges and risks related for example to consumer protection, privacy, taxation, cyber security and operational resilience, money laundering, terrorism financing, market integrity, governance and legal certainty”.

“When a ‘stablecoin’ initiative has the potential to reach a global scale, these concerns are likely to be amplified and new potential risks to monetary sovereignty, monetary policy, the safety and efficiency of payment systems, financial stability, and fair competition can arise,” they add.

All options are being left open to ensure effective regulation, per the statement, with ministers and commissioners stating this should include “any measures to prevent the creation of unmanageable risks by certain global “stablecoins”.”

The new European Commission is already working on a regulation for global stablecoins, per Reuters.

In a speech at a press conference, Commission VP Valdis Dombrovskis, said: “Today the Ecofin endorsed a joint statement with the Commission on stablecoins. These are part of a much broader universe of crypto assets. If we properly address the risks, innovation around crypto assets has the potential to play a positive role for investors, consumers and the efficiency of our financial system.

“A number of Member States like France, Germany or Malta introduced national crypto asset laws, but most people agree with the advice of the European Supervisory Authorities that these markets go beyond borders and so we need a common European framework.

“We will now move to implement this advice. We will launch a public consultation very shortly, before the end of the year.”

The joint statement also hits out at the lack of legal clarity around some major global projects in this area — which looks like a tacit reference to Facebook’s Libra project (though the text does not include any named entities).

“Some recent projects of global dimension have provided insufficient information on how precisely they intend to manage risks and operate their business. This lack of adequate information makes it very difficult to reach definitive conclusions on whether and how the existing EU regulatory framework applies. Entities that intend to issue ‘stablecoins’, or carry out other activities involving ‘stablecoins’ in the EU should provide full and adequate information urgently to allow for a proper assessment against the applicable existing rules,” they warn.

Facebook’s Libra project was only announced this summer — with a slated launch of the first half of 2020 — but was quickly dealt major blows by the speedy departure of key founder members from the vehicle set up to steer the initiative, as giants including Visa, Stripe and eBay apparently took fright at the regulatory backlash. Though you’d never know it from reading the Libra Association PR.

One perhaps unintended effective of Facebook’s grand design on disrupting global financial systems is to amp up pressure on traditional payment providers to innovate and improve their offerings for consumers.

EU ministers write that the emergence of stablecoin initiatives “highlight the importance of continuous improvements to payment arrangements in order to meet market and consumer expectations for convenient, fast, efficient and inexpensive payments – especially cross-border”.

“While European payment systems have already made significant progress, European payment actors, including payment services providers, also have a key role to play in this respect,” they continue. “We note that the ECB and other central banks and national competent authorities will explore further the ongoing digital transformation of the payment system and, in particular, the consequences of initiatives such as ‘stablecoins’. We welcome that central banks in cooperation with other relevant authorities continue to assess the costs and benefits of central bank digital currencies as well as engage with European payment actors regarding the role of the private sector in meeting expectations for efficient, fast and inexpensive cross-border payments.”

A look at Latin America’s emerging fintech trends

Although the 2008 global financial crisis sparked the fintech movement, in Latin America, the rise of ecommerce was responsible for the first wave of fintech startups.

Because digital payments were key to enabling the growth of ecommerce, investors funded companies like Braspag, PagSeguro, PayU, Mercado Pago and Moip in the early 2000s to take advantage of this opportunity.

Payment is still the most relevant segment, with successful cases like Stone and PagSeguro, but after the financial crisis, we started to see the rise of financial technology in lending and neobanking, generating impressive cases like Nubank, Neon, Creditas, Credijusto and Ualá.

As the ecosystem evolves and expands, let’s take a closer look at emerging trends in Latin America that might give us a hint about where to expect its next fintech unicorns.

Financial services for the gig economy

Latin America has seen explosive growth in ride-hailing and food delivery platforms such as Uber, Didi, Rappi and iFood, creating a totally new market opportunity — many gig economy workers can’t access basic financial services such as bank accounts, personal loans and insurance. Even those who have access often struggle with financial products that that don’t suit their needs because they were designed for full-time workers.

Spotting this opportunity, Uber Money launched at Money 2020, focusing on providing drivers with financial services. As 50% of the population in Latin America is unbanked where Uber has more than 1 million drivers, the region is definitely a ripe market. Cabify is going even farther by spinning off Lana, its company that provides financial services, so it can expand its market beyond Cabify drivers to include other gig economy professionals.

Although established players in this sector have a clear advantage, they aren’t the only ones looking to explore this opportunity; Brazilian YC alumni Zippi is offering personal loans to ride-hailing drivers based on their driving earnings. As the gig economy tends to keep growing in the region, I believe we will start to see more solutions for those professionals.

Rethinking insurance

As the banking world has been shaken by fintechs, insurance companies are growing aware that high regulatory barriers won’t protect their industry from disruption.

Insurance penetration in Latin America has been historically low compared to developed markets — 3.1%, compared to 8% — but the insurance market is growing well and tends to close this gap. Adding this to bad services and complex products that insurances provide, insurtech has an immense opportunity to grow.

Because purchasing insurance is historically a complicated and painful experience, the first insurtechs in the region focused on providing a better experience by digitizing the process and using online channels to acquire customers. Those insurtechs worked together with the insurance companies and operating as online broker, but now, we’re starting to see startups providing new insurance products, as well as traditional insurances in different models.

Some are partnering with insurance companies while others are competing directly with them; Think Seg and Miituo partnered with larger players to provide a pay-as-you-go model for car insurance, while Mango Life and Kakau are offering a better purchasing experience. On the other end, Crabi and Pier are rethinking the insurance model from the ground up.

As insurtechs emerge as a potential threat, incumbents are more willing to work with startups that can improve their services to enable them to compete on better grounds, which is exactly what companies such as Bdeo, Lisa, and HelloZum are doing.

Although penetrating the insurance industry is more complicated than other financial services due to high regulatory demands and steep initial operating costs, insurtechs fueled by VC investment will without any doubt try to do it. And, if we’ve learned anything from other fintech segments, it’s that entrepreneurs will find ways to overcome initial challenges.

Credit startup Migo expands to Brazil on $20M raise and Africa growth

After growing its lending business in West Africa, emerging markets credit startup Migo is expanding to Brazil on a $20 million Series B funding round led by Valor Group Capital.

The San Mateo based company — previously branded Mines.io — provides AI driven products to large firms so those companies can extend credit to underbanked consumers in viable ways.

That generally means making lending services to low-income populations in emerging markets profitable for big corporates, where they previously were not.

Founded in 2013, Migo launched in Nigeria, where the startup now counts fintech unicorn Interswitch and Africa’s largest telecom, MTN, among its clients.

Offering its branded products through partner channels, Migo has originated over 3 million loans to over 1 million customers in Nigeria since 2017, according to company stats.

“The global social inequality challenge is driven by a lack of access to credit. If you look at the middle class in developed countries, it is largely built on access to credit,” Migo founder and CEO Ekechi Nwokah told TechCrunch.

“What we are trying to do is to make prosperity available to all by reinventing the way people access and use credit,” he explained.

Migo does this through its cloud-based, data-driven platform to help banks, companies, and telcos make credit decisions around populations they previously may have bypassed.

These entities integrate Migo’s API into their apps to offer these overlooked market segments digital accounts and lines of credit, Nwokah explained.

“Many people are trying to do this with small micro-loans. That’s the first place you understand risk, but we’re developing into point of sale solutions,” he said.

Migo’s client consumers can access their credit-lines and make payments by entering a merchant phone number on their phone (via USSD) and then clicking on “Pay with Migo”. Migo can also be set up for use with QR codes, according to Nwokah.

He believes structural factors in frontier and emerging markets make it difficult for large institutions to serve people without traditional credit profiles.

“What makes it hard for the banks is its just too expensive,” he said of establishing the infrastructure, technology, and staff to serve these market segments.

Nwokah sees similarities in unbanked and underbanked populations across the world, including Brazil and African countries such as Nigeria.

“Statistically, the number of people without credit in Nigeria is about 90 million people and its about 100 million adults that don’t have access to credit in Brazil. The countries are roughly the same size and the problem is roughly the same,” he said.

On clients in Brazil, Migo has a number of deals in the pipeline — according to Nwokah — and has signed a deal with a big-name partner in the South American country of 290 million, but could not yet disclose which one.

Migo generates revenue through interest and fees on its products. With lead investor Valor Group Capital, new investors Africinvest and Cathay Innovation joined existing backers Velocity Capital and The Rise Fund on the startup’s $20 million Series B.

Increasingly, Africa — with its large share of the world’s unbanked — and Nigeria — home to the continent’s largest economy and population — have become proving grounds for startups looking to create scalable emerging market finance solutions.

Migo could become a pioneer of sorts by shaping a fintech credit product in Africa with application in frontier, emerging, and developed markets.

“We could actually take this to the U.S. We’ve had discussions with several partners about bringing the the technology to the U.S. and Europe,” said founder Ekechi Nwokah. In the near-term, though, Migo is more likely to expand to Asia, he said.

 

Africa Roundup: Nigerian fintech gets $360M, mints unicorn, draws Chinese VC

November 2019 could mark when Nigeria (arguably) became Africa’s unofficial capital for fintech investment and digital finance startups.

The month saw $360 million invested in Nigerian focused payment ventures. That is equivalent to roughly one-third of all the startup VC raised for the entire continent in 2018, according to Partech stats.

A notable trend-within-the-trend is that more than half — or $170 million — of the funding to Nigerian fintech ventures in November came from Chinese investors. This marks a pivot in China’s engagement with Africa to tech. We’ll get to that.

Before the big Chinese backed rounds, one of Nigeria’s earliest fintech companies, Interswitch, confirmed its $1 billion valuation after Visa took a minority stake in the company. Interswitch would not disclose the amount to TechCrunch, but Sky News reporting pegged it at $200 million for 20%.

Founded in 2002 by Mitchell Elegbe, Interswitch pioneered the infrastructure to digitize Nigeria’s then predominantly paper-ledger and cash-based economy.

The company now provides much of the tech-wiring for Nigeria’s online banking system that serves Africa’s largest economy and population. Interswitch offers a number of personal and business finance products, including its Verve payment cards and Quickteller payment app.

The financial services firm has expanded its physical presence to Uganda, Gambia and Kenya . The Nigerian company also sells its products in 23 African countries and launched a partnership in August for Verve cardholders to make payments on Discover’s global network.

Visa and Interswitch touted the equity investment as a strategic collaboration between the two companies, without a lot of detail on what that will mean.

One point TechCrunch did lock down is Interswitch’s (long-awaited) and imminent IPO. A source close to the matter said the company will list on a major exchange by mid-2020.

For the near to medium-term, Interswitch could stand as Africa’s sole tech-unicorn, as e-commerce venture Jumia’s volatile share-price and declining market-cap — since an April IPO — have dropped the company’s valuation below $1 billion.

Circling back to China, November was the month that signaled Chinese actors are all in on African tech.

In two separate rounds, Chinese investors put $220 million into OPay and PalmPay — two fledgling startups with plans to scale in Nigeria and the broader continent.

PalmPay, a consumer oriented payments product, went live last month with a $40 million seed-round (one of the largest in Africa in 2019) led by Africa’s biggest mobile-phone seller — China’s Transsion.

The startup was upfront about its ambitions, stating its goals to become “Africa’s largest financial services platform,” in a company release.

To that end, PalmPay conveniently entered a strategic partnership with its lead investor. The startup’s payment app will come pre-installed on Transsion’s mobile device brands, such as Tecno, in Africa — for an estimated reach of 20 million phones.

PalmPay also launched in Ghana in November and its UK and Africa based CEO, Greg Reeve, confirmed plans to expand to additional African countries in 2020.

OPay’s $120 million Series B was announced several days after the PalmPay news and came only months after the mobile-based fintech venture raised $50 million.

Founded by Chinese owned consumer internet company Opera — and backed by 9 Chinese investors — OPay is the payment utility for a suite of Opera developed internet based commercial products in Nigeria. These include ride-hail apps ORide and OCar and food delivery service OFood.

With its latest Series A, OPay announced it would expand in Kenya, South Africa, and Ghana.

Though it wasn’t fintech, Chinese investors also backed a (reported) $30 million Series B for East African trucking logistics company Lori Systems in November.

With OPay, PalmPay, and Lori Systems, startups in Africa have raised a combined $240 million from 15 Chinese investors in a span of months.

There are a number of things to note and watch out for here, as TechCrunch reporting has illuminated (and will continue to do in follow-on coverage).

These moves mark a next chapter in China’s engagement in Africa and could raise some new issues. Hereto, the country’s interaction with Africa’s tech ecosystem has been relatively light compared to China’s deal-making on infrastructure and commodities.

There continues to be plenty of debate (and critique) of China’s role in Africa. This new digital-phase will certainly add a fresh component to all that. One thing to track will be data-privacy and national-security concerns that may emerge around Chinese actors investing heavily in African mobile consumer platforms.

We’ve seen lines (allegedly) blur on these matters between Chinese state and private-sector actors with companies such as Huawei.

As OPera and PalmPay expand, they may need to do some reassuring of African regulators as countries (such as Kenya) establish more formal consumer protection protocols for digital platforms.

One more thing to follow on OPay’s funding and planned expansion is the extent to which it puts Opera (and its entire suite of consumer internet products) in competition with multiple actors in Africa’s startup ecosystem. Opera’s Africa ventures could go head to head with Uber, Jumia, and M-Pesa — the mobile money-product that put Kenya out front on digital finance in Africa before Nigeria.

Shifting back to American engagement in African tech, Twitter and Square CEO Jack Dorsey was on the continent in November. No sooner than he’d finished his first trip, Dorsey announced plans to move to Africa in 2020, for 3 to 6 months, saying on Twitter “Africa will define the future (especially the bitcoin one!).”

We still don’t know much about what this last trip — or his future foray — mean in terms of concrete partnerships, investment, or market moves in Africa from Dorsey and his companies.

He visited Nigeria, Ghana, South Africa and Ethiopia and met with leaders at Nigeria’s CcHub (Bosun Tijani), Ethiopia’s Ice Addis (Markos Lemming), and did some meetings with fintech founders in Lagos (Paga’s Tayo Oviosu).

I know most of the organizations and people Dorsey talked to pretty well and nothing has shaken out yet in terms of partnership or investment news from his recent trip.

On what could come out of Dorsey’s 2020 move to Africa, per his tweet and news highlighted in this roundup, a good bet would be it will have something to with fintech and Square.

More Africa-related stories @TechCrunch

African tech around the ‘net

SoFi founder Mike Cagney’s already well-funded new startup is raising another $100 million

Figure Technologies, a nearly two-year-old, San Francisco-based fintech cofounded by Mike Cagney, the founder of the more established fintech company SoFi, is raising a whole lot of money — again.

By February of this year, Figure had already raised $120 million in equity funding from a gaggle of investors, including RPM Ventures, partners at DST Global, Ribbit Capital, DCM, DCG, Nimble Ventures, and Morgan Creek. In May, it announced that it had closed an up to $1 billion uncommitted asset-based financing facility on its own custom blockchain from Jefferies and WSFS Institutional Services.

Now, according to paperwork filed with the SEC earlier this month, it appears that Figure has closed or is about to close on $103 million in Series C funding.

Presumably, investors are interested partly in the company’s growing spate of products. While Figure started out providing home loans to older customers who aren’t earning income and have much of their wealth tied up in their homes — a fast-growing demographic — it has more recently begun to chase after a demographic that Cagney knows well through SoFi, which is younger people looking to refinance their student loans.

Figure talked recently with American Banker about the company’s interest in competing more directly with SoFi, citing the $1.4 trillion in outstanding loan debt as the primary reason it’s swooping into the space, and with the “same mousetrap” that Figure has developed to quickly process home loans, which it then securitizes and sells.

Specifically, all of Figure’s financial services business is executed entirely on its blockchain, Provenance, which further has a native token, Hash, that’s used to both access the blockchain and to memorialize off-chain exchange of fiat currency.

Cagney co-founded Figure with his wife, June Ou, who is the company’s chief operating officer. She was previously chief technology officer at SoFi, where Cagney lost his job in 2017 as CEO after a board investigation into sexual misconduct at the company.

Others of Figure’s cofounders include Alana Ackerson and Cynthia Chen. Ackerson was previously the CEO of the Thiel Foundation. Chen was most recently a venture partner with DHVC (Danhua Capital), a venture capital firm based in Palo Alto, Ca.

According to Figure’s website, it plans to introduce a money market product “soon.” Figure has also talked in the past of expanding into other lines of business, including wealth management, unsecured consumer loans, and checking accounts, all offered through partner banks.

In the meantime, SoFi has similarly been expanding beyond student loan refinancing under the leadership of current CEO Anthony Noto. Earlier this year, for example, SoFi made fractional share buying and exchange-traded funds available to its users. It also launched a mobile-first cash management account.