Interview with Wendy Nanfo: Country Manager at Yabx

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27th April, 2024 No Comments

Wendy previously worked with Jumo, Kuda and is now with Yabx – a digital lending platform using AI & ML based analytics on alternate data to offer financial products in emerging markets. She has been recognized by Hipopo and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as one of the top 100 women in Fintech in Africa and more recently was awarded the Top 40 Under 40 by the same group. 

We spoke to her to hear her career story so far…

Can you introduce yourself – tell us a bit about you and your career journey, and what you do at Yabx?

I began my career in Fintech almost 10 years ago with Jumo World, and began at a very entry level stage. I didn’t know much about fintech, other than it was new and a bit vague and difficult to get my mind around. 

That’s what intrigued me to learn more and work harder as someone ‘on the front lines’, so to speak.  I quickly found myself in operational and then leadership roles, which I thrived in. 

By the end of my 5 years tenure at Jumo, I was country lead. This role propelled me into a leadership role with Kuda Bank, where I oversaw operations. 

At my current role with Yabx, I lead all operations in Uganda, this includes the strategic direction, performance, and growth of all Uganda’s portfolios. Yabx is a digital lending platform using AI & ML based analytics on alternate data to offer financial products in emerging markets. Our current product suite includes Quick Loan (in partnership with Airtel and Housing Finance Bank) which is a leading micro-lending overdraft solution, and we are building new innovative products with our partners. 

The African fintech market is projected to reach $65b by 2030 – what are the major changes in the market you’re expecting to see?

This is one of the reason’s I love working in fintech.  If you look at the current market in Africa for fintech, payments make up well over 65% in value of all funding, while there are actually many other opportunities in the market outside of payments which can generate value for investors.  For instance, in Africa, micro-lending, insurance, and education are all areas where there is market demand.  Focusing on the ‘un-banked’ and ‘under-banked’ actually has a market play, with only less than 30% of the population banked.  

With insurance, only 1% of the population is covered in Uganda, in particular, we have huge untapped potential to bring on board solutions if we can set up with the right partners.  With the government’s focus on innovation and technology in the region, allocations for budget are being considered as we speak for new ways to address financial literacy. 

I also believe that the Fintechs will be more heavily regulated in the near future, which means gaining a ‘seat at the table’ will be what sets players apart.  The strange juxtaposition on this issue is that innovation assumes some form of freedom to explore new solutions; however, innovation can also take place within the rules, something we’ve seen in more developed markets.  

Another spin-off effect of this, and on the contrary to innovation, is over-dominance by incumbents.  So we might see less expansion by fintechs to new markets, but more growth in their existing markets.  The other issue with more regulation will be that Sandboxes, as much as they are nascent today, may in fact be the only option for new entrants to the market.  Finally, with increased scrutiny on KYC and AML rules, this may challenge capitalization of fintechs as they enter new markets – meaning, more funds are needed just to enter, whereas historically, this has not been the case. 

Clearly there is a role for cross-border in the sense of acquisition and integration; but also in the context of doing business.  So with greater regulation, we may likely see, as is the case today, greater integration among regional bodies, such as EAC, COMESA, and ECOWAS.  A more lucent example is PAPPS, which uses the newly signed CAFTA (Continental African Free Trade Agreement) as a platform for expanding across Africa, and not just a few countries. 

What do you believe sets successful fintech leaders apart, and how do you embody those qualities?

On top of what’s expected of leaders in other industries, in fintech, there is a requirement for another set of skills which are more difficult to put a finger on. I would refer to these as the intangibles. 

Intangibles include areas such as relationship management, hands-on work (or human inputs) which goes in direct contradiction from what most people imagine when they think about financial technology, working with a diverse set of skill sets, and to be able to see the bigger picture to pull together disparate parts which may (or may not) have an impact on the operation. 

I’m lucky to be a people person and I enjoy relationships and working with partners. 

Can you share a particularly memorable or rewarding experience from your career in fintech?

I was honoured to be recognized by Hipopo and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation as one of the top 100 women in Fintech in Africa and more recently I was awarded the Top 40 Under 40 by the same group.  These distinctions are quite rewarding and provide moral support to strive and learn more about myself, the industry, and how to make a greater impact to those we serve. 

I also recall one of my longer term product development successes, which took over five years to come to fruition.  Seeing this work pay-off after multiple changes in country management was something I felt proud of.  In the end, we launched a micro-lending product with MTN Uganda. 

What do you feel are the biggest challenges in the industry?  What would you like to see done to tackle them? 

I believe one of the biggest challenges in the industry revolves around targeting the right customer base.  Fintech’s today offer great products and solutions, using financial inclusion as the catch phrase but are all targeting the same customer (e.g. a city based smartphone holder who can afford internet), thereby excluding the underserved that actually require these very products and solutions. 

At Yabx, we believe that financial inclusion should also be focused on people at the ‘bottom of the pyramid’, who are typically unbanked or under-banked.  We use data to create a digital financial footprint for previously excluded customers, giving an opportunity for larger financial institutions to lend to these segments. 

Another challenge I see in the fintech industry is that regulators are playing catchup, hindering the growth of fintech firms but also shifting the underlying business models and operations of new innovations in fintech causing these very solutions to pivot towards standard banking models.  Clearly, more flexibility is needed on up and coming solutions in the industry; maybe not a sandbox approach, but a timing window for these firms and solutions to be tested on the market which could include a stronger customer protection policy by the regulator.  This could offset the early regulation requirement by regulators. 

Lastly, we at The Heard focus a lot on the role of public speaking and opportunities.  Do you have any advice for women in fintech who want to do more of this?


Say yes, before you think about it.

Often I find myself overthinking opportunities which prevent me from taking on the opportunity, public speaking is one of them.  I remember my first public speaking engagement.  I was at the 40-Days and 40-Fintechs conference in Uganda as a panellist where we discussed financial inclusion.  Although I was questioning myself at the beginning, once I answered the first question, I felt comfortable and excited to be representing my views on the subject. 

After this panel, I was asked to do a second panel, which I learned even more from.  But this would not have been possible if I declined my first panel opportunity.  

So don’t stick with your gut, but go with what’s uncomfortable to expand yourself and try new things.  By jumping into this space, you create a direct path for looking into the industry and possibly even generating an experience for you to propel you forward in the industry.

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