Millions remain excluded from mainstream formal financial markets in emerging and developing markets, but the rapid rise in internet and smartphone adoption in the last decade has led to a boom in mobile money service, accelerating progress toward universal financial access and helping to increase the number of banked populations in these developing regions.
However, despite the considerable progress made, Antti Arponen, founder and CEO of United Arab Emirate-based digital payments and financial services provider Pyypl, said there is still a need that mobile money providers or banks have not been able to meet for consumers in these developing regions.
With mobile money, for example, consumers cannot pay for a subscription or activate a credit card — while on the other hand, it is not necessarily easy dealing with expensive and inconvenient bank accounts for those same purposes, either.
“So, there’s this massive gap of about 800 million smartphone users who just need to do these daily, business-as-usual payments like [subscribing to] Netflix, [and that’s a gap that] financial providers like us, can help fill,” Arponen told PYMNTS in a recent interview.
Through Pyypl is a blockchain on-demand liquidity solution, Arponen said the FinTech startup provides digital payments and financial services for smartphone users, enabling them to make online cross-border transfers without the need for a bank account or credit card using blockchain technology.
Founded in 2017 in the UAE, the financial services technology provider recently raised $11 million in a Series A funding round which has been earmarked for its expansion within the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) area and across Africa, starting in Kenya and Mozambique.
To boost its services, the UAE-based company teamed up with San Francisco-based enterprise blockchain company Ripple last October to launch RippleNet’s first-ever On-Demand Liquidity (ODL) deployment in the Middle East, giving Pyypl technical connectivity to hundreds of financial institutions worldwide.
The deal also ensures that all their cross-border transactions use blockchain technology, Arponen noted, eliminating counterparty risk and making it “impossible” for consumers to lose any funds transferred to them.
Unlike in traditional financial infrastructure where a lot of money is kept locked in various parts of the value delivery chain, Pyypl’s blockchain service further enables real-time liquidity allocation at an affordable cost using Ripple’s XRP cryptocurrency.
“When you combine the two [counterparty and liquidity risks], the real advantage for the market is that we can price [our service] in a customer-friendly way — and because we don’t have risks, we don’t need to factor [it] in our cost and our money is not stuck in infrastructure,” he explained. “It’s quite revolutionary in that sense.”
Emerging Markets Opportunity
While the infrastructure in emerging markets is not fully developed, mobile money services have connected millions of unbanked and underbanked populations in the region to digital financial services.
In Kenya, where Pyypl has launched operations, the M-Pesa mobile money service created by leading digital payments innovator Safaricom dominates the remittance market, revolutionizing cross-border transactions in the East African region for close to two decades now.
Arponen acknowledged the success of the telco-run service, which he said is complementary to the service Pyypl provides. Kenyans can move money from their M-Pesa wallets to their Pyypl account and vice versa, using Pyypl functionalities that link to globally accepted cards like Mastercard for payments.
With growing smartphone penetration and a young, tech-savvy population across the region, Arponen said the opportunities for a firm like Pyypl are endless. The challenge they are facing, however, is one he said they’ve never had to deal with before.
“We’re growing so fast right now that some days we need to throttle our product a few times a day, because there’s just so much demand,” he said.
That will likely continue as the firm pursues its expansion to emerging markets where there is a significant need for improved financial services, where disposable income levels are reasonable and where a regulatory solution is either in place or soon-to-be-launched.
Their goal now, he added, is to launch in eight new countries next year to accelerate their plans of reaching 20-plus markets by 2025.
“It sounds really ambitious, but we started so many years ago and we have a handful of licenses [in the UAE, Kenya, Mozambique and Bahrain] and are at very advanced stages, so we will very likely get there,” Arponen said.
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