Nigerian fintech startup OneFi acquires payment company Amplify

Lagos based online lending startup OneFi is buying Nigerian payment solutions company Amplify for an undisclosed amount.

OneFi will take over Amplify’s IP, team, and client network of over 1000 merchants to which Amplify provides payment processing services, OneFi CEO Chijioke Dozie told TechCrunch.

The move comes as fintech has become one of Africa’s most active investment sectors and startup acquisitions—which have been rare—are picking up across the continent.

The purchase of Amplify caps off a busy period for OneFi. Over the last seven months the Nigerian venture secured a $5 million lending facility from Lendable, announced a payment partnership with Visa, and became one of first (known) African startups to receive a global credit rating. OneFi is also dropping the name of its signature product, Paylater, and will simply go by OneFi (for now).

Collectively, these moves represent a pivot for OneFi away from operating primarily as a digital lender, toward becoming an online consumer finance platform.

“We’re not a bank but we’re offering more banking services…Customers are now coming to us not just for loans but for cheaper funds transfer, more convenient bill payment, and to know their credit scores,” said Dozie.

OneFi will add payment options for clients on social media apps including WhatsApp this quarter—something in which Amplify already holds a specialization and client base. Through its Visa partnership, OneFi will also offer clients virtual Visa wallets on mobile phones and start providing QR code payment options at supermarkets, on public transit, and across other POS points in Nigeria.

Founded in 2016 by Segun Adeyemi and Maxwell Obi, Amplify secured its first seed investment the same year from Pan-African incubator MEST Africa. The startup went on to scale as a payments gateway company for merchants and has partnered with banks, who offer its white label mTransfers social payment product.

Amplify has differentiated itself from Nigerian competitors Paystack and Flutterwave, by committing to payments on social media platforms, according to OneFi CEO Dozie. “We liked that and thought payments on social was something we wanted to offer to our customers,” he said.

With the acquisition, Amplify co-founder Maxwell Obi and the Amplify team will stay on under OneFi. Co-founder Segun Adeyemi won’t, however, and told TechCrunch he’s taking a break and will “likely start another company.”

OneFi’s purchase of Amplify adds to the tally of exits and acquisitions in African tech, which are less common than in other regional startup scenes. TechCrunch has covered several of recent, including Nigerian data-analytics company Terragon’s buy of Asian mobile ad firm Bizsense and Kenyan connectivity startup BRCK’s recent purchase of ISP Everylayer and its Nairobi subsidiary Surf.

These acquisition events, including OneFi’s purchase, bump up performance metrics around African tech startups. Though amounts aren’t undisclosed, the Amplify buy creates exits for MEST, Amplify’s founders, and its other investors. “I believe all the stakeholders, including MEST, are comfortable with the deal. Exits aren’t that commonplace in Africa, so this one feels like a standout moment for all involved,”

With the Amplify acquisition and pivot to broad-based online banking services in Nigeria, OneFi sets itself up to maneuver competitively across Africa’s massive fintech space—which has become infinitely more complex (and crowded) since the rise of Kenya’s M-Pesa mobile money product.

By a number of estimates, the continent’s 1.2 billion people include the largest share of the world’s unbanked and underbanked population. An improving smartphone and mobile-connectivity profile for Africa (see GSMA) turns that problem into an opportunity for mobile based financial solutions. Hundreds of startups are descending on this space, looking to offer scaleable solutions for the continent’s financial needs. By stats offered by Briter Bridges and a 2018 WeeTracker survey, fintech now receives the bulk of VC capital to African startups,

OneFi is looking to expand in Africa’s fintech markets and is considering Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, DRC, Ghana and Egypt and Europe for Diaspora markets, Dozie said.

The startup is currently fundraising and looks to close a round by the second half of 2019. OnfeFi’s transparency with performance and financials through its credit rating is supporting that, according to Dozie.

There’s been sparse official or audited financial information to review from African startups—with the exception of e-commerce unicorn Jumia, whose numbers were previewed when lead investor Rocket Internet went public and in Jumia’s recent S-1, IPO filing (covered here).

OneFi gained a BB Stable rating from Global Credit Rating Co. and showed positive operating income before taxes of $5.1 million in 2017, according to GCR’s report. Though the startup is still a private company, OneFi looks to issue a 2018 financial report in the second half of 2019, according to Dozie.

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Singapore fintech startup Instarem closes $41M Series C for global growth

Singapore’s Instarem, a fintech startup that helps banks and consumers send money overseas at lower cost, has closed a $41 million Series C financing round to go after global expansion opportunities.

The four-year-old company announced a first close of $20 million last November, and it has now doubled that tally (and a little extra) thanks to an additional capital injection led by Vertex Ventures’ global growth fund and South Korea’ Atinum Investment. Crypto company Ripple, which has partnered with Instarem for its xRapid product, also took part in the round, Instarem CEO Prajit Nanu confirmed to TechCrunch, although he declined to reveal the precise amount invested. More broadly, the round means that Instarem has now raised $59.5 million from investors to date.

The company specializes in moving money between countries in Asia in a similar way to TransferWise although, unlike TransferWise, its focus is on banks as customers rather than purely consumers. Today, it covers 50 countries and it has offices in Singapore, Mumbai, Lithuania, London and Seattle.

Instarem said it plans to spend the money on expansion into Latin America, where it will open a regional office, and double down on Asia by going after money licenses in countries like Japan and Indonesia. The company is also on the cusp of adding prepaid debit card capabilities, which will allow it to issue cards to consumers in 25 countries and more widely offer the option to its banking customers. That’s thanks to a deal with Visa .

Further down the line, the company continues to focus on an exit via IPO in 2021. That’s been a consistent talking point for Nanu, who has been fairly outspoken on his desire to take the company public. That’s included shunning acquisition offers. As TechCrunch revealed last year, Instarem declined a buyout offer from one of Southeast Asia’s tech unicorns. Commenting on the offer, Nanu said it simply “wasn’t the right timing for us.”

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Changes at YC, $1.5B more for ride hailing, and Airbnb buys HotelTonight

Hello and welcome back to Equity, TechCrunch’s venture capital-focused podcast, where we unpack the numbers behind the headlines.

We’re back to basics this week with Kate Clark at the helm, Alex Wilhelm in the sidecar, and a stack of venture capital news and happenings to get through. And to make everyone feel included, we kicked off the episode with a roll-call of new VC funds.

Then, of course, we dug into the recent news out of Y Combinator . The famed accelerator is shopping around for a San Francisco HQ, signaling the end of an era where Silicon Valley ruled the world as home to YC and other the top-tier venture funds that have since moved South to The City by the Bay.

Next up was the new Grab round, a fresh $1.46 billion from the Vision Fund into what TechCrunch noted is now a $4.5 billion Series H. Amazingly, we’ve typed that out correctly. Grab, now topped up with about $8.8 billion in capital raised is not the ride-hailing shop that has raised the most capital, though it does round out the top three.

Next, Alex wanted to talk about Chime. Kate isn’t too big on fintech, but the $200 million round into the neo-bank brought its total capital raised to $300 million. That’s a lot of coin for the company which grew its accounts from one million last year, to three million. (Don’t forget that Acorns raised $105 million earlier this year.)

Changing gears, the Latin American scene, already hotting up, is going to get even warmer with the arrival of a new $2 billion fund from SoftBank . Called the SoftBank Innovation Fund, the Japanese telecom giant wants to raise a total of $5 billion to invest in emerging markets across South America. I know what you’re thinking: damn, that’s a lot of cash. Yes, yes it is.

Finally this week, hours before we hit record, Airbnb agreed to acquire the popular hotel booking app HotelTonight for what’s reported to be about a flat price to its last valuation (~$465 million). The deal made us wonder if the Airbnb IPO could be delayed due to the roughly half-billion deal (provided that reports bear out). We haven’t confirmed the transaction price, so more from us when we have it. Also, this is hardly Airbnb’s first buy.

That and we had fun. See you all in seven days!

Equity drops every Friday at 6:00 am PT, so subscribe to us on Apple PodcastsOvercast, Pocket Casts, Downcast and all the casts.

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Revolut CFO resigns following money laundering controversy

This hasn’t been a good week for challenger bank Revolut . The company, which offers digital banking services and is valued at $1.7 billion, confirmed today that embattled CFO Peter O’Higgins has resigned and left the business.

The startup and O’Higgins have been under pressure after a Daily Telegraph report that revealed that Revolt switched off an anti-money laundering system that flags suspect transactions because it was prone to throwing out false positives.

According to the Telegraph, the system was inactive between July-September 2018, which potentially allowed illegal transactions to pass across the banking platform. Revolut did not contact the Financial Conduct Authority to inform the regulator of the lapse, Telegraph reporter James Cook said.

O’Higgins, who joined the company from JP Morgan three years ago, made no mention of the saga in his resignation statement:

Having been at Revolut for almost three years, I am immensely proud to have taken the company from £1m revenue to £50m revenue during this time. However, as Revolut begins to scale globally and applies to become a bank in multiple jurisdictions, the time has come to pass the reigns over to someone who has global retail banking experience at this level. My time at Revolut has been invaluable and I’m so proud of what myself and the team have achieved. There is no doubt in my mind that Revolut will go on to build one of the largest and most trusted financial institutions in the world.

In a separate statement received by TechCrunch, Revolut CEO Nik Storonsky said that O’Higgins had been “absolutely pivotal to our success.”

Update: Storonsky also responded to the Telegraph story with a blog post that denies any wrongdoing. He claimed Revolut suspended the use of “a more advanced sanctions screening system” and instead reverted to a previous one.

Here’s an excerpt:

At no point during this time did we fail to meet our legal or regulatory requirements. We conducted a thorough review of all transactions that were processed during this time, which confirmed that there were no breaches. Unfortunately, this fact was not included in the original news story. This roll-out did not result in a breach of any sanctions or money laundering laws and requirements – so we did not send a formal notification to the regulator.

The original version of this post continues below…


The resignation caps a terrible few days for Revolut, which was the subject of a report from Wired earlier this week that delved into allegations around its challenging workplace culture and high employee churn rate.

“Former Revolut employees say this high-speed growth has come at a high human cost – with unpaid work, unachievable targets, and high-staff turnover,” wrote guest reporter Emiliano Mellino, citing the experiences of numerous former employees.

Those incidents included prospective staff being told to canvass for new customers as part of the interview process. The candidates were not compensated for their efforts, according to Wired. Revolut later removed the demands from its hiring processes.

Revolut is headquartered in the UK, where it launched its service in the summer of 2015. Today, it claims over four million registered users across Europe — it is available in EEA countries — although it plans to extend its presence to other parts of the world are taking longer than expected.

The company said last year it aims to launch in Singapore and Japan in Q1 of this year — so far neither has happened — while it also harbors North American market plans. Entries to the U.S. and Canada were supposed to happen by the end of 2018, according to an interview with Storonsky at TechCrunch Disrupt in September, but they also appear to have been delayed.

Revolut is generally considered to be the largest challenger bank in Europe, in terms of valuation and registered users, but other rivals include N26, Monzo and Starling. Even Transferwise, the global remittance service, now includes border-less banking features and an accompanying debit card.

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China wants its rural villages to go cashless by 2020

Residents of even the tiniest far-flung villages in China may soon be able to pay on their phones to run daily errands as Beijing announced this month that it aims to make mobile payments ubiquitous in rural areas by the end of 2020.

The plan arrived in a set of guidelines (document link in Chinese) jointly published by five of China’s top regulating bodies, including the central bank, the Banking and Insurance Regulatory Commission, the Securities Regulatory Commission, the Ministry of Finance and the Ministry of Agriculture and Rural Affairs, in a move to make online financial services more accessible to rural residents.

The hope is that by digitizing the lives of the farming communities, from getting loans to buy fertilizers to leasing lands to city developers, China could bolster the economy in smaller cities and countryside hamlets. Hundreds of millions of rural Chinese have migrated to large urban centers pursuing dreams and higher-paying jobs, but 42 percent of the national population remained rural as of 2017. While scan-to-pay is already a norm in bigger cities, digital payments still have considerable room to grow in rural towns. All told, 76.9 percent of China’s adults used digital payments in 2017. That ratio was 66.5 percent in rural parts, according to a report released by the central bank.

Following the digital payments pledge was the release of the annual Number One Document (in Chinese) that outlines China’s national priorities for the year. Over the past 16 years, China has devoted the paper to its rural economy and this year, digital integration continues to be one of the key goals. More precisely, Beijing wants rural officials to ramp up internet penetration, the digitization of public services, sales of rural produce to city consumers, and more.

Those directives usher in huge opportunities for companies in the private sector. Tech heavyweights such as Alibaba and JD.com were already looking outside megacities a few years ago. Both have set up online channels enabling farmers to sell and buy as well as working with local governments to build up logistics networks.

Alibaba notably invested in Huitongda, a company that provides merchandising, marketing and supply chain tools to rural retail outlets. Despite posting the slowest revenue growth in three years, Alibaba saw exceptional user growth in rural regions. Similarly, JD’s daily orders from smaller Tier 3 and 4 cities were growing 20 percent faster than those in Tier 1 and 2 cities like Beijing and Hangzhou, the company said in 2017.

Other players went with a rural and small-town play early on. Pinduoduo, an emerging ecommerce startup that’s close on the heels of Alibaba and JD, gained a first-mover advantage in these less developed regions by touting cheap goods. Kuaishou, a Tencent-backed video app that rivals TikTok’s Chinese version Douyin, has proven popular in the hinterlands as farmers embrace the app to showcase the country life and sell produce through live streaming.

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