Meeting the members : Sikasem Africa
“If you meet us in the elevator and we had to tell you in 5 seconds what we do, you’ll most likely hear us say we are creating an UBER for financial services in Ghana — wait, that’s 3 seconds”- Isaac Quainoo
Sikasem Africa is a Ghanaian-based social enterprise dedicated to facilitating a complete financial services value chain for micro-businesses. This value chain includes but is not limited to savings, credit, insurance and advisory.
The Sikasem Africa idea was conceived by two founders, Charles Mensah and Isaac Quainoo after witnessing the problem of financial illiteracy in Ghana’s informal sector from very different perspectives. Charles as a customer support intern in one of the banks noticed how most customers especially those in the informal sector struggled to understand basic finance. Isaac, also a retail banking professional, had a first-hand experience of how small business owners struggled to access credit facilities because of information asymmetry.
In our quest to contribute to creating a community of informal workers who make informed financial decisions, we realized a need for a more structured approach that moved away from one-off outreach programs to a fluid relationship with participants, hence the decision to employ mobile technology in dissipating relevant and tailored financial information. In addition, we set out to use alternative credit scoring to complement the traditional credit appraisal process and eventually help micro-businesses to secure affordable loans from financial institutions.
Sikasem Africa was funded initially with our personal savings until we got seed funding from the Tony Elumelu Entrepreneurship Foundation.
We’ve done admirably well for a 16-month old start-up. Sikasem Africa was selected as one of ten (10) startups out of over 3,500 applicants to participate in The Collective Global Accelerator Programme in August 2017. Almost right after that, our CEO was invited to chair a panel discussion at the Annual Green Finance Conference held in Accra.
On that panel were the CEO of Ecobank Ghana, the CEO of Ghana EXIM Bank, the Executive Director of Kenya Bankers Association and 3 other celebrated finance professionals. On the business side, we have partnered with National Board for Small Scale Industries (NBSSI) at local Business Advisory Committee (BAC) level to bring financial education to locally-organized workshops. We are currently working on a nationwide partnership. We have also engaged over 400 microbusiness owners, most of whom will soon be migrated to Credit Locus, our customer onboarding platform that brings borrowers closer to banks.
Also, working from a space like Workshed is encouraging us to build a solid foundation for Sikasem Africa. The facilities here are state-of-the-art and the environment very serene. We are therefore empowered daily to think and come out with innovative solutions for our customers. Oh, and the Wi-Fi is faster than a bullet train.
The experience has been strengthened by the people in the Workshed community. Andrew’s smile can light a dark room up; we learned a lot from Richard on ScaleIn90; Hayford has immense people skills; Yaw is super-talented and the Killmonger of multi-tasking; and Anthea’s amazing work ethic can only be described on a full page. The ecosystem which Workshed provides is carefully aimed at ensuring that we build the foundations that will make our business stand the test of time, and we are proud to be running our space from the Shed.
Notwithstanding, every business faces challenges and we are no exception. Top of every startup’s list in this regard is funding. Of course, we were relieved to have secured some funding, especially at a point when our burn rate was hitting the roof. Beyond funding, it took us a lot of ‘try and error’ to figure out the best model for engaging customers, but like Oscar Wilde says, progress is the realization of utopias. And so, we are enjoying the process of creating the best experience for our customers.
In all, Sikasem Africa is on a forward motion and the business is keenly looking at spreading the business model across the African continent.