Connect with us

Latest News

Nigeria’s Cowrywise raises $3M pre-Series A to scale its wealth management platform

Published

on

Cowrywise, a Nigerian fintech startup that offers digital wealth management and financial planning solutions, has raised $3 million in pre-Series A funding. Quona Capital led the round as Tsadik Foundation, Gumroad CEO Sahil Lavingia, and a syndicate of Nigerian angel investors locally and in the diaspora participated. The company previously raised more than $500,000 through a combination of equity financing and grants.

The idea for Cowrywise came when CEO Razaq Ahmed was an investment analyst with Meristem covering equities and making recommendations to retail and wealth management clients. He noticed that existing investment management firms in the country focused on the top 1 percent. They couldn’t scale investment products to millions of Nigerians primarily due to their restricting size.

Banks, though, have been able to make progress on this front when compared to investment firms. They expanded heavily in the mid and late 2000s to accumulate the branch networks they have today where there are about 45 million unique accounts in Nigeria.

But over the years, the quality of bank services in terms of savings and investments has drastically reduced. With interest rates hovering around 3-5% per annum, what Nigerians are now familiar with is to send and receive money via their bank accounts, and use debit cards for withdrawals leaving the market still underserved when it comes to investment products.

For this reason, Ahmed, alongside Edward Popoola as CTO, founded Cowrywise in 2017 to solve this problem. With Cowrywise, they hoped to democratise access to savings and investment products to the growing demography of underserved Nigerian millennials and the middle class. 

“Wealth management had been strange to many Nigerians because the existing players were not built for the mass market. That has always been a problem we felt required a solution,” Ahmed told TechCrunch.

When they launched, the founders wanted to leverage the telecom industry’s reach to drive its investment products to millions of subscribers. But it didn’t turn out as planned, as the project became expensive to undertake and also, the telcos requested cutthroat prices and commissions. 

Cowrywise founders (Edward Popoola and Razaq Ahmed)

The company switched focus, deciding to build upon existing payment infrastructure companies like Flutterwave and Paystack. The first facet of products launched to the market were savings-related products backed by fixed income instruments like treasury bills. Ahmed claims that these products yield better interests at 10%-15%, more substantial than what banks offered.

Following that was the introduction of its mutual funds’ products. Currently, the company has 19 different mutual funds and at least 20% of the total mutual funds in the country are listed on its platform. Ahmed claims this is the largest portfolio of mutual funds a single entity has in the country.

These assets cut across five investment partners, and they allow users to save and invest with as little as ₦100 ($0.25). The partners include United Capital Asset Management, Meristem Wealth Management, Afrinvest Wealth Management, ARM Investment Managers and Lotus Capital. Cowrywise indirectly charges customers for this service and splits the fee with the mutual fund partners but the CEO doesn’t disclose how much. 

Also, the four-year-old company takes into account the needs of different demographics and religious background, which Ahmed asserts is as a result of an understanding with the mutual fund partners. 

“Our mutual fund partners clearly recognize the value of being part of an inclusive digital platform that allows retail investors to invest regardless of faith or financial status,” he said. 

The YC alum and Catalyst Fund company also offers advisory services and recommends different funds to customers based on their risk appetite and spending power.

Image Credits: Cowrywise

But building trust with users has not always been smooth for the company. It’s an issue Ahmed explains Cowrywise has had to deal with via transparency and outstanding service delivery.

For instance, one of Cowrywise’s darkest days came last September when a customer took to Twitter to complain about its lack of communication in reported stolen funds from her account. In response, Cowrywise apologised for the lapse in communication, acted on the request, and promised to do better.

“Service delivery has helped us bridge that trust gap to a huge extent, and I feel it’s reflected in the user growth and adoption we’ve experienced. Trust was a major issue we faced but right now, we’re crossing that bridge pretty well,” the CEO said.

About that, Cowrywise has more than 220,000 users. In its first year, it had just 2,000 users. Similarly, to highlight the journey ahead for the company, there are only half a million Nigerians actively investing in mutual funds. When compared to the total number of active bank accounts in the country of more than 40 million, it is obvious Cowrywise still has room to grow in the $3 billion market.

Cowrywise’s unique approach to wealth management is one reason why Quona Capital led the round according to partner Johan Bosini. The VC firm, known to back fintech and retail enablers like SA-based Lulalend and Yoco, and Kenya’s Sokowatch, is making its first foray into the Nigerian market with Cowrywise.

“Razaq, Edward, and the Cowrywise team are providing everyday Nigerians with easy access to powerful and flexible wealth-generating tools that have typically been reserved for people who are already wealthy,” said Bosini to TechCrunch. “In a market of 200 million people, we think this will be very impactful for individuals to have more control over their financial future.”

The company hopes to increase its customer base, and the new infusion will be critical to that. According to the company, the investment will also expand Cowrywise’s product offerings, support more fund managers in Nigeria and build out its investment management infrastructure.

Cowrywise is one of the many wealth tech startups on the continent. There are startups with comparable business models like Nigeria’s Piggyvest and others are Robinhood-esque platforms like Egypt’s Thndr and Nigeria’s Bamboo, Trove, Risevest and Chaka. Cowrywise’s investment which is the largest publicized round at this stage brings in much-needed validation for this segment of fintech startups that are starting to take off.

In the same vein, despite a slow start to a year which has seen Africa’s agritech and cleantech sectors take the lion’s share of investments, we might see fintech startups picking up the kind of pace we’ve been accustomed to that has made them dominate VC funding for the past couple of years.

Latest News

Haitian Activist Brings Awareness To Spate Of Violence Rattling Country

Published

on

NPR’s Michel Martin speaks with Jimmy Jean-Louis, a Haitian activist and actor who has been calling attention to the recent surge of violence and kidnappings in his country.

Continue Reading

Latest News

Consumer agency warns against Peloton Tread+ use, as company pushes back

Published

on

Almost exactly a month ago, Peloton CEO John Foley wrote an open letter about the the company’s treadmill. “I’m reaching out to you today because I recently learned about a tragic accident involving a child and the Tread+, resulting in, unthinkably, a death,” it begins. “While we are aware of only a small handful of incidents involving the Tread+ where children have been hurt, each one is devastating to all of us at Peloton, and our hearts go out to the families involved.”

Today, the U.S. Consumer Product Safety Commission issued a warning, telling users to stop using the Tread+. Citing 39 incidents, included the aforementioned death, the CPSC writes, “The Commission has found that the public health and safety requires this notice to warn the public quickly of the hazard.”

Peloton followed up with its own strongly worded statement writing, “The company is troubled by the Consumer Product Safety Commission’s (CPSC) unilateral press release about the Peloton Tread+ because it is inaccurate and misleading. There is no reason to stop using the Tread+, as long as all warnings and safety instructions are followed.”

The commission’s warning includes multiple injuries involving small children and a pet. Specifically, the note calls for users with children at how to cease using the product, a more stern warning than the initial suggestions outlined by Foley back in in March, who at the time told users to keep children and pets away from the system and store the device out of reach after using. Peloton has since added that there have been 23 incidents involving children, 15 with objects and, as the CPSC noted, one with a pet. The company added that it had not revealed the specifics previously out of privacy concern.

“If consumers must continue to use the product, CPSC urges consumers to use the product only in a locked room, to prevent access to children and pets while the treadmill is in use,” the organization notes. “Keep all objects, including exercise balls and other equipment, away from the treadmill.”

For its part, the connected fitness maker adds,

Peloton invited CPSC to make a joint announcement about the danger of not following the warnings and safety instructions provided with the Tread+, and Foley asked to meet directly with CPSC. CPSC has unfairly characterized Peloton’s efforts to collaborate and to correct inaccuracies in CPSC’s press release as an attempt to delay. This could not be farther from the truth. The company already urged Members to follow all warnings and safety instructions. Peloton is disappointed that, despite its offers of collaboration, and despite the fact that the Tread+ complies with all applicable safety standards, CPSC was unwilling to engage in any meaningful discussions with Peloton before issuing its inaccurate and misleading press release.

Continue Reading

Latest News

Why it’s not surprising to see nine-figure AI rounds 

Published

on

Welcome back to The TechCrunch Exchange, a weekly startups-and-markets newsletter. It’s broadly based on the daily column that appears on Extra Crunch, but free, and made for your weekend reading. If you want it in your inbox every Saturday morning, sign up here

Ready? Let’s talk money, startups and spicy IPO rumors.

This week, Scale AI raised a $325 million Series E. The company, as TechCrunch has written, works in the data labeling space. And it has been on a fundraising tear over the last few years. In 2019 TechCrunch wrote about how the company’s then-22-year-old CEO had put together a $100 million round. Then in December of 2020, it raised $155 million at a roughly $3.5 billion valuation. Now it’s worth more than $7 billion.

Impressive, yeah? Well, as I learned earlier this week, AI startups in general are having one hell of a year. From the start of 2021 to April 12th, there were 442 AI-startup deals in the U.S. worth $11.65 billion, according to PitchBook data. And the recent Microsoft-Nuance AI deal may accelerate things even more.

Sapphire Ventures’ Jai Das weighed in on the AI venture market for The Exchange. He answered our question regarding how competitive the space was in the first quarter by saying that “investment activity in AI/ML startups has been absolutely insane” during the first quarter.

Per Das: “AI/ML startups are routinely getting 5-6 term sheets from top-tier VC firms and they are able to raise their financings at 150-250X of current ARR.”

Chew on that for a moment. We’ve seen public software multiples reach new heights in the last year, but even for aggressive startup rounds, those are some bonkers numbers. Imagine an AI-focused startup with $1 million in recurring revenue being valued at a quarter of a billion dollars. Damn.

But what about pace among AI investing? We’ve heard that the time from a round opening to its closing among many startups has been compressed and compressed again. Das helped explain the situation, saying in an email that “most firms are completing their due diligence way before the financing actually happens,” which means that there is “no need to do any due diligence during the financing.”

That actually makes some sense? If rounds are largely preemptive — something that Das underscored later on in his comments — you have to do pre-diligence. Otherwise you’ll always be investing blind or missing out on deals due to other firms moving more quickly.

This week The Exchange also dug into the broader domestic venture capital market, with a special focus on seed deals, and the super late-stage investments that dominate headlines. A comment on the earlier-stages of venture investing that just missed our piece on the matter came from Jeff Grabow, EY’s U.S. Venture Capital lead.

In his comments on pre-seed, seed and post-seed deals, something stood out to us — a prediction of sorts. Here’s Grabow:

[Q1 2021] was a strong quarter for pre-seed funding when you compare it to prior years, and we expect the overall environment to remain strong given the abundance of capital available and plethora of investable themes that tap into new markets via technological solutions. It paints a rosy picture for the post-COVID environment.

That tracks with our internal estimates. Q1 2021 was so hot for at least American venture capital activity (expect more international coverage soon) that it seems likely that the year itself will be a record in many respects. Provided that things don’t slow too much, records will be broken. And here Grabow flat-out anticipates a pretty attractive climate for venture after COVID-19 is behind us.

So, records will be broken. The question is by how much.

More notes on Coinbase’s direct listing

Not to whomp the equestrian deceased too much, but I have a few more notes for you on the Coinbase direct listing.

Public.com, the Robinhood consumer trading rival, helped The Exchange better understand just how much retail interest there was in the stock. Per its ever-present spokesperson Mo, on April 14th, Coinbase “was the most popular stock on public,” measured by number of transactions. And perhaps more notably, on the same day “social activity (measured by the number of posts) increased by 70% compared to the day prior.”

I do not know how long the consumer trading boom can last, but that’s a pretty impressive set of metrics.

Similarweb also had a few data points to share, including that visits to coinbase.com reached 86.4 million in January. Hot damn. And during that month new visitors bested returning visitors. That data helps explain how Coinbase wound up with the epic first quarter that it did. Now the question is if it can keep up its bull run or, frankly, if consumer interest in trading in crypto specifically will outlast the equities trading boom or not.

Coinbase Series D lead investor Tom Loverro, who we’ve mentioned a few times this week, including on the podcast, said that we’re still merely in the second inning of crypto. So expect these topics to keep coming up again and again. And again.

Various and sundry

Trying to actually stick to our word count target for once, here are some final notes on the IPO market from the week.

First, the AppLovin IPO did not go according to plan. After modestly pricing at $80 per share, the middle of its range, the mobile-app focused tech company saw its value fall during its first two days’ trading. It’s now worth $61 per share as of the end of Friday.

The Exchange spoke with AppLovin CFO Herald Chen on its IPO day. Chatting with the finance executive, our read from the conversation is that the company could accelerate its acquisition game more now that it is public. Having a liquid stock means that it can be even more acquisitive than before. And AppLovin claims that it can buy companies, run them through its business process, and juice their revenues per its S-1 filing.

If that bears out, the public markets may be giving the company a bit too hard of a time. It was a bit odd to see a software company struggle post-IPO in today’s climate.

Chen also told The Exchange that his firm didn’t see any pushback regarding its multi-class share structure during its roadshow. The multi-class share miasm is something I’ve written about with our own Ron Miller. The CFO did note that no single person has complete control of the company, even with several different classes of equity with disparate voting rights. That matters, frankly.

We’ll keep tabs on AppLovin as it trades. (Our earlier coverage of its numbers is here.)

Finally, autonomous trucking company TuSimple went public this week, and Similarweb filed to go public. We’re also watching the broader IPO market as UiPath either raises its price range or note. We have a guess on that score.

And just as the week was closing, Squarespace dropped its S-1. Notes here with more to come.

Good vibes and nothing other than the best from here,

Alex

Continue Reading

Trending

Copyright © 2020 Latin America Business News

en_USEnglish