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I HAD AN IDEA, I DIDN’T HAVE A LAPTOP

Restless millionaire Ladi Delano dropped out of college, worked in finance and made a fortune selling vodka to the Chinese. Now, this Yoruba-speaking entrepreneur is home in Nigeria planning his next 31 years.

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Ladi Delano always had his eye on the horizon. In his mid-teens, he asked for two years’ pocket money from his mother, to buy a few pairs of cheap designer boots to sell to his school mates. At 19, he sold services to universities. By 22, he had founded a top selling liquor company. Many dollars and a few hard lessons later, Delano couldn’t be more sure of himself. You may choose fancy words to describe his business acumen, but one will suffice; entrepreneurship. This is the story of a born businessman.

Delano was born-and-bred in England to parents he calls part of a generation of unsung heroes. He might easily pass for a full-blooded Brit, with an accent you could cut with a knife, but he is as much a Nigerian. As we sit at his homely residence in a leafy Lagos suburb, overlooking the gray ocean, Delano is as warm as his sofas; his memory, as fresh as a daisy.

“In my household, London started when you walked out the front door and Nigeria started once you walked back into the house. We had three square meals of Nigerian food everyday and spoke lots of Yoruba,” he says.

Delano’s grandfather, Isaac Oluwole Delano, is a Yoruba novelist who compiled a dictionary of his mother tongue. Despite growing up in London, rather than Lagos, Delano’s Yoruba is far from shabby.

“I was born to parents who essentially sacrificed everything in order for their children to have a better chance and start in life; because they gave up everything they knew in order for us to access better opportunities,” he says.

One opportunity was a head start in business. Delano’s father is a corporate executive and MBA lecturer.

“Growing up with my father was incredible because the time we spent together, were literally MBA classes. Most of our conversations were on dissecting businesses, understanding how they work and how different products come to market. We would have CNN on in the background and Business Today would come on. Our two biggest pastimes were Michael Jackson, we went to two concerts together, and business. As long as I can remember, that was our thing,” he says.

The path may have been well lit, but hardship lurked around the corner. In his student days, Delano found he suffered from mild dyslexia and deafness in one ear. Learning became more and more difficult and the idea of school waned. Despite this, with the help of extra lessons, Delano made it to a top university on a day he describes as glorious. The novelty soon wore off and academia became Delano’s nemesis. In his second year of a political science degree, he made up his mind.

“It became quite clear that I didn’t have a passion for my course. I think that lead to me being easily distracted and that, ultimately, culminated in me thinking that rather than flogging a dead horse, it would make more sense to do something I was more comfortable with. There are two types of education and each form of education is equally as valuable. The academic approach to education is vital, no business can operate and be successful without those who have spent the time to understand the academic side of anything. However, that approach to education is not necessarily for everybody. And in my case it wasn’t. So, I decided to withdraw from university,” he says.

Delano’s decision didn’t go down well at home, but there was no stopping him. At least university had planted the idea of becoming an entrepreneur.

“We wanted to look at things like career advice for students, get recruiters to advertize their industries to students and M-commerce retail structures where students could use their mobile phones to make purchases,” says Delano.

Think again. In six months, Delano had lost the thousands he had borrowed.

“I was 19, I was confused. I knew my degree wasn’t for me, I knew college wasn’t for me. I tried my hand at the only other thing I knew I could do, which was business, and this happened. I was extremely upset, disheartened and discouraged,” he says.

Delano had always had a fascination with Asia: his father’s family home had a Bruce Lee poster; one of the London homes the family lived in was in a predominantly Japanese area and he had used chop sticks at a very young age.

So, with a plane ticket, a clouded mind and very little money, Delano flew off to figure out life—in Asia.

“I moved around, worked in bars mainly to earn some cash and fund more travel. I was being exposed to a lot, meeting lots of new people and learning more.”

Delano traveled from Thailand to Malaysia and Hong Kong, for eight months, before joining his family in their new home in Chicago.

In the States, it was time to find a job. He called cinemas, record stores, and department stores. His parents encouraged him to go back to college.

“It dawned on me while I searched, that I met this guy while I was in Hong Kong. He was a Goldman Sachs broker and we had struck up a casual conversation—he told me that when he came out of high school, he went into the city and knocked on every single door until he got an apprenticeship, from which, he worked his way up to being a stock broker and he’s been in banking for many years ever since. This made me think to myself, I don’t want to work in a department store. I thought I’d emulate what he did. So I started calling every single investment bank in downtown Chicago for weeks. After about three weeks, I got an interview for an internship with Merryl Lynch,” he says.

In Chicago, Delano felt at home.

“This was the most interaction I had ever had with any type of financial institutions in my life. I was consistently reading the Wall Street Journal all this time, to beef up my day-to-day business knowledge,” he says.

Soon he was cold calling investors to free lunches for wealth plan pitches—a task he found boring. After a couple of weeks, he decided to approach his bosses.

“I went home and polished up a presentation of a business I had been working on, called—the Minority private client initiative ( MPCI)—This was a strategy to target high net worth ethnic minorities and talk to them about moving aspects of their private wealth portfolios and businesses to our team. My bosses loved the idea and gave me an opportunity to do it. I traveled around the United States trying to make this materialize,” he says.

Delano returned to London, with a burning desire for a radical career change.

“I had an idea, I didn’t have a laptop and I had to spend a lot of time at the internet café not too far away, where I spent time writing my business plan. I just had to get it all out. Myself and two friends went to raise £216,892—we raised this money through a group of high net worth individuals I had been fortunate to know. After all my travels and time spent in bars, I had realized and identified the need for an independent alcohol brand; my mates saw this too,” says Delano.

Delano was 21. Out on the streets of London a vodka revolution was taking place; Delano and his mates wanted to supply the shots.

“So, that’s how we started our vodka brand—we had no idea what we were doing but we all shared the same vision. I was the commercial guy, my friends, the operations and creative guys, respectively. It took us six to seven months to put the product together and get our first consignment… It was to a certain extent, trial and error, but we were lucky enough to have more successes than errors at the beginning.”

By the eighth month, Solid XS vodka was ready. Delano hopped from bar to bar in London, for a year, selling the new drink from a bucket. The brand prospered, but the business proved bittersweet.

“We had managed to identify a niché and introduced the first Magnum Vodka in the world which subsequently opened a whole new area as we now started selling in Paris, St. Tropez to high end clientele and clubs. We now had a team of 16, but it was clear that our margins weren’t healthy as we were spending a lot of money on marketing. Our bottom line just wasn’t there. Although, we were alive, every month was difficult and every quarter even tighter.”

There was only one way out—duty free.

“I got on a plane and went to Orlando, Florida, for the biggest duty free trade show in the world, where I met the former country head for the largest wine company in China at the time. He told me about this fantastic place called China where volumes are high and costs are extremely low. He was starting a new distribution company and asked if I’d be interested in bringing our product on his portfolio. The next six months were spent on a Chinese strategy. It took almost a million pounds from investors and launched within a year.”

Delano took language lessons and traveled the country to sell. After six months, volumes were not rising but the marketing budget was dwindling. It wasn’t looking good.

“One of my team members in London and I, packed up our bags and moved to Hong Kong where we opened an office and started to figure it all out by ourselves,’’ he says.

In three years, they had six provincial offices around the country,  staff of 200, the vodka was sold in 33 cities, controlling up to 70% of the market in China.

Business boomed as China drank vodka like water. This was encouraging, but Delano had other interests and sold a chunk of his shares so he could invest. He opened a night club, a restaurant, and was opening a hotel in Shanghai. The vodka business was expanding, as the world economy contracted.

“I underestimated the impact of the global financial crisis and what that would have on all my businesses. On the real estate side, all the commitments for project finance became e-mails of no appetite, all the negotiations became unanswered e-mails and phone calls. The world just came to a stand-still and to top it off, there was a spike in oil prices and as we were importing our vodka and our glass bottles were hand blown in a different location so our costs just skyrocketed. There was a great amount of uncertainty and that translated to less disposable income which subsequently meant less people were going out and less vodka was being bought. Our volumes dropped, costs went up and by the time we realized what was going on, it was too late,” says Delano.

“Always prepare yourself for the storm.”

China may have ridden the storm, but the business didn’t. Troubled times saw Delano move to Indonesia; from here, he took trips to Nigeria, over two years, where he saw opportunities.

“It became very clear to me that Nigeria is not too far behind on the developmental curve. Natural resources, light and heavy manufacturing until you get to the point where you have a very diversified economy. I said to myself, it is time to go home—I was 29 and I just knew it. I was ready and willing to do it. I had also witnessed the impact the Indonesian diaspora had on its economy,” he says.

“I went back to Asia and pulled together a consortium of investors made up of high net worth families and some financial institutions in the private equity space. My pitch was: ‘Nigeria is the new Indonesia’.”

With a promising consortium of investors, Delano went into Nigeria. The skills shortage proved a new thorn in his tender side. Delano sought a partner to bridge the gap.

The Bakrie family and the Bakrie Group make up one of the largest conglomerates in Indonesia. Through a joint venture with Delano, the Bakrie Group will invest $1 billion, over five years in Nigerian mining, agriculture, oil and gas.

“Ladi has a charming, gently-spoken manner. However, this is underpinned by a strong work ethic and a careful and rigorous approach to understanding the issues that underlie commercial decisions,” says Richard G. Blunt, a partner at Baker McKenzie in London.

In April 2012, Delano moved back to Nigeria—a country with 60% of the population under the age of 35 and a youth unemployment rate sitting at 43%.

“I just love Nigeria… I want to provide jobs and help the youth develop themselves. It’s an honor to be able to contribute to the economy in this way,” he says.

The first contribution will be made through a mining asset acquired in May.

“We now have $100 million to spend on the asset in order to get it to production. We anticipate that the asset will be in production within the next year or so and we’re hoping that this will kickstart the mining revolution in Nigeria,” he says.

“We recently advised Ladi on completing his first mining deal where he energetically drove the process and discussions with multiple stakeholders through to a successful outcome. Ladi is already focused on several opportunities and we see him doing very exciting things going forward,” says Raj Khatri, head of metals and mining for Macquarie Capital, Europe.

From London, to Chicago, to China and West Africa; through vodka, mining and hotels; it has been a roller coaster ride for Ladi Delano in his first 31 years and you get the feeling he has only just got started.

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Having A Ball With Data

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Stephan Eyeson started a basketball business at the age of 19. That venture failed, so he tried the data business instead. He is working and playing hard.


First, the facts.

Africa has a data problem. For all the talk about data being the new oil, the continent comprises about 12.5% of the world’s population but only accounts for less than 1% of research output, according to global information and analytics firm, Elsevier.

And Survey 54, an AI mobile survey platform solving the problem of data collection on the continent, wants to offer a solution. Founded by Stephan Eyeson, Survey 54 focuses on providing good quality data essential for governments and private businesses to accurately plan, fund and evaluate their activities.

READ MORE | Owning The African Narrative

“Data in Africa is such a prevalent problem, in a sense of when you are going to start up a business, it is hard for you to get consumer data on say ‘how many people eat out in Lagos every day? what is the transactional value? what are the types of things that people eat? what do they want to eat etc?’ All these things are available in the West but for people who want to move into Africa for business, how do they get their data to make their decisions and how do we make it really easy for them and not just for a startup but for even governments and larger businesses,” says Eyeson.

Fresh out of a master’s program in innovation and management from Loughborough University in the United Kingdom (UK), Eyeson joined Survey Monkey, an online survey development cloud-based software as a service company, as part of the team responsible for building their enterprise function in London as well as looking after customers in the EMEA (Europe, Middle East and Africa). After learning the ropes, he decided to branch out to start his own company to offer a more robust and tailored solution for the African market.

“For people who want to move into Africa for business, how do they get their data to make their decisions and how do we make it really easy for them?”

“The problem around data in Africa and emerging markets is a massive one. So, for us, it’s about how do we become a data platform not just for a company but for governments to help them understand their people easier.”

Data is the first step. Then you need intelligence around that data to enable you to make objective analysis that will shape your decision-making process, as well as provide the foundation for policy-making and budgeting.

“Instead of hiring an agency to go to Ghana and do a face-to-face interview, for example, we look at how governments can get mobile data faster and then how they are able to manipulate that data to get the results they need,” says Eyeson.

READ MORE | The $100 Trillion Opportunity: The Race To Provide Banking To The World’s Poor

Due to the dearth of knowledge, Eyeson’s unique understanding for the data space is relied on by many startups and larger businesses who depend on his expertise to drive results in Africa.

“Stephan has great expertise in strategy and high-level corporate business development. Survey 54 has and will be instrumental for companies to make decisions within Africa and emerging markets, making it easier to use and understand consumer data. A platform like Survey 54 is essential for companies operating on the continent,” says Nana Adomako, head of UK & Ghana growth at Taptap Send.

Born to Ghanaian parents in London, Eyeson’s first stint at entrepreneurship began in his early years at university, when his dream to become a professional basketball player was shattered.

“I had a scholarship into America for basketball and that scholarship was taken away due to some technicality with my results so I couldn’t go and so I started a basketball business instead when I was 19. It helped Americans play in Europe and Europeans play in America. I made the system easier. So, players paid a monthly fee to get seen and coaches paid to get access to talent.”

But unfortunately, the business failed to take off because the market was not big enough for Eyeson to remain profitable.

The data business, on the other hand, is huge: worldwide revenues for data and business analytics are forecast to reach $189 billion this year and $274.3 billion by 2022, according to technology market research firm IDC. Even though Survey 54 is in its first full year of business, the company has already secured contracts with multinationals like Colgate, amongst many others.

READ MORE | A Germ Of An Idea

“I was one of Survey 54’s first clients and it has been a pleasure watching Stephan grow the company into what it is today, working with some of the world’s largest brands.

“There is a significant lack of data in the region so the need for a sophisticated data insight product is essential and I believe Stephan’s mission-driven leadership style will enable the company to become one of the largest software businesses driving investments to the content,” says Yvonne Bajela, Principal and Founding Member at Impact X Capital.

The company has recently secured a spot on the coveted Startupbootcamp platform in Cape Town. While Survey 54 is trying to secure a first-mover lead in data on the continent, challenges remain. As the company scales, they will need to overcome the language barrier across the African continent and learn to interpret data by bringing the cultural context into the surveys organizations are seeking.

Eyeson has his eyes set on moving into the US markets as a long-term plan, but for now, the goal is transferring the abundant and ubiquitous asset of data in Africa into millions for his startup.

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The $100 Trillion Opportunity: The Race To Provide Banking To The World’s Poor

Companies like Tala are at the forefront of the race to deliver rudimentary financial services to the 1.7 billion people on the planet who lack even a bank account.

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Two years ago, Amylene Dingle lived with her husband and 7-year-old daughter in Payatas, an impoverished Manila neighborhood with the largest open dump site in the Philippines. Her husband worked on the security staff in a government building, earning 4,000 pesos a week, the equivalent of $80. She had always wanted to start a business, but she was unemployed, had no money saved, no credit history and couldn’t get a credit card or a bank loan.

Dingle’s fortunes took a dramatic turn after she responded to a Facebook ad for Tala, a Santa Monica-based startup that makes small loans through a smartphone app. After granting Tala access to her phone, through which the app cleverly parses mobile data to assess a borrower’s risk, she got a 30-day, $20 loan. She paid 15% interest and used the money to buy cold cuts, hamburgers and hot dogs. She marked them up 40% and sold them door-to-door, earning $4 in profit after paying back the interest and a small processing fee.

Loan Ranger: Tala founder Shivani Siroya at her startup’s Santa Monica headquarters. She uses cellphone data to establish creditworthiness for people rejected by banks in the developing world. ROBERT GALLAGHER FOR FORBES

Today Tala lends Dingle, 42, $250 a month for her now thriving food business. Her $70 in weekly profits have nearly doubled her family’s income and funded their move to a two-bedroom home in the quiet, clean Batasan Hills district. Tala is thriving, too. Founded in 2011 by Shivani Siroya, a 37-year-old former Wall Street analyst who had worked at the United Nations, it has raised more than $200 million from top U.S. investors, including billionaire Steve Case’s Revolution Growth fund. With estimated 2019 revenue of more than $100 million, Tala is valued at close to $800 million.

Companies like Tala are at the forefront of the race to deliver rudimentary financial services to the 1.7 billion people on the planet who lack even a bank account. Providing them with the basics of credit, savings and insurance is one of the great challenges and opportunities of the century. With access to the financial system, people can buy a car or a home. They don’t have to resort to loan sharks if they face a medical emergency. They are happier. They live longer. They are more productive, and their increased productivity will help lift their nations out of poverty. Serving the unbanked will generate some of tomorrow’s largest fortunes. It is both capitalism’s moral imperative and the route to one of the most significant untapped markets.

While the unbanked pay for everything in cash, an even larger swath of people, the more than 4 billion “underbanked,” may have accounts but struggle to make ends meet, racking up steep fees when checks bounce and resorting to high-interest alternatives like payday loans. Traditional banks alone could boost annual revenue by at least $380 billion if they turned all the unbanked into customers, according to a 2015 Accenture report.

The multiplier effects are staggering. The GDP of emerging-market countries would surge $3.7 trillion by 2025, or 6%, if they adopted a single innovation—switching from cash to digital money stored on cellphones, McKinsey estimated in 2016. Diego Zuluaga, an analyst at the Cato Institute’s Center for Monetary & Financial Alternatives, has studied the likely effects of full financial inclusion: “If we were to give the unbanked and underbanked in the developing world the same kind of access to credit and investments that we have in rich countries, you could easily create an additional $100 trillion in financial assets over the next 50 years.”

 
Tala founder Siroya was raised by her Indian immigrant parents, both professionals, in Brooklyn’s gentrified Park Slope neighborhood and attended the United Nations International School in Manhattan. She earned degrees from Wesleyan and Columbia and worked as an investment banking analyst at Credit Suisse and UBS. Starting in 2006, her job was to assess the impact of microcredit in sub-Saharan and West Africa for the UN. She trailed women as they applied for bank loans of a few hundred dollars and was struck by how many were rejected. “The bankers would actually tell me things like, ‘We’ll never serve this segment,’ ” she says. 

Where banks saw risk, she saw opportunity. For the UN, she interviewed 3,500 people about how they earned, spent, borrowed and saved. Those insights led her to launch Tala: A loan applicant can prove her creditworthiness through the daily and weekly routines logged on her phone. An applicant is deemed more reliable if she does things like regularly phone her mother and pay her utility bills on time. “We use her digital trail,” says Siroya.

Tala is scaling up quickly. It already has 4 million customers in five countries who have borrowed more than $1 billion. The company is profitable in Kenya and the Philippines and growing fast in Tanzania, Mexico and India.

Rafael Villalobos Jr.’s parents live in a simple home with a metal roof in the city of Tepalcatepec in southwestern Mexico, where half the population subsists below the poverty line. His father, 71, works as a farm laborer, and his mother is retired. They have no credit or insurance. The $500 their son sends them each month, saved from his salary as a community-college administrator in Moses Lake, Washington, “literally puts food in their mouths,” he says. 

To transfer money to Mexico, he used to wait in line at a MoneyGram kiosk inside a convenience store and pay a $10 fee plus an exchange-rate markup. In 2015, he discovered Remitly, a Seattle startup that allows him to make low-cost transfers on his phone in -seconds. 

Immigrants from the developing world send a total of $530 billion in remittances back home each year. Those funds make up a significant share of the economy in places like Haiti, where remittances account for more than a quarter of the GDP. If all the people who send remittances through traditional carriers, which charge an average 7% per transaction, were to switch to Remitly with its average charge of 1.3%, they would collectively save $30 billion a year. And that doesn’t account for the driving and waiting time saved. 

Remitly cofounder and CEO Matt Oppenheimer, 37, was inspired to start his remittance service while working for Barclays Bank of Kenya, where he ran mobile and internet banking for a year starting in 2010. Originally from Boise, Idaho, he earned a psychology degree from Dartmouth and a Harvard M.B.A. before joining Barclays in London. When he was transferred to Kenya, he observed firsthand how remittances could make the difference between a home with indoor plumbing and one without. “I saw that $200, $250, $300 in Kenya goes a really, really long way,” he says.

Oppenheimer quit Barclays in 2011 and together with cofounder Shivaas Gulati, 31, an Indian immigrant with a master’s in IT from Carnegie Mellon, pitched his idea to the Techstars incubator program in Seattle, where they met Josh Hug, 41, their third cofounder. Hug had sold his first startup to Amazon, and his connections led them to Bezos Expeditions, which manages Jeff Bezos’ personal assets. The fund became one of Remitly’s earliest backers. To date, Remitly has raised $312 million and is valued at close to $1 billion.

Oppenheimer and his team can keep fees low in part because they use machine learning and other technology to bar terrorists, fraudsters and money launderers from transferring funds. The algorithms pose fewer questions to customers who send small sums than they do to those who send large amounts.

Remitly transfers $6 billion a year, serving senders in 16 countries, including the U.S., Australia and the U.K., and recipients in 45 nations. In the first half of 2019 it added 15 receiving countries, including Rwanda and Indonesia. The company is not yet profitable, but last year estimated revenue came to $80 million. Oppenheimer sees a huge growth opportunity. Fewer than 1% of the world’s 250 million immigrants are Remitly customers. 

In 2012, Dorcas Murunga lived in Gachie, a crime-ridden neighborhood on the outskirts of Nairobi. She earned $80 a month babysitting and cleaning houses, and her husband made $120 installing elevators. He covered most of their expenses while she struggled to save money. Whenever she had cash, she says, she spent impulsively on clothes, junk food and alcohol. She managed to put aside the $5 minimum balance required to open a savings account at Equity Bank of Kenya, but she had a hard time coming up with the $3 monthly fee. To make a deposit, she took a bus an hour each way and waited in line for an hour at the bank. She closed the account after just one year. 

Like most Kenyans, Murunga was already using M-Pesa, a service created by Safaricom to send money via text message. In 2012, Safaricom, a subsidiary of British telecom giant Vodafone, introduced M-Shwari, a savings account and loan service it integrated into M-Pesa. Two years later, it started offering an account that locked up a customer’s funds for a fixed period at a fixed interest rate.

Determined to improve her finances, Murunga committed to saving $1 a day through her locked account. When she got the urge to buy vodka or a pair of shoes, she says, she’d make deposits through her phone instead. She cut her spending by two thirds, to $10 a week. By 2016, she was saving $300 a year. She had started a business making handbags, and the savings helped pay for design courses. She has invested in real estate with her husband and says she spends more than $200 a year helping friends and family. 

The spark for M-Pesa (pesa means money in Swahili), the first mobile money provider in Africa, came in 2003 from Nick Hughes, a Vodafone executive who managed a five-person team tasked with creating wireless products with a social impact. Hughes’ idea: set up a digital money-transfer system that would operate through personal cellphones.

Since M-Pesa launched in 2007, it has exploded in size and popularity. Kenyan taxi drivers complain when riders try to pay in cash. Ninety-six percent of Kenyan households now transact through M-Pesa. Before M-Pesa, only 27% of Kenya’s then 38 million people had bank accounts. Kenya’s population has since risen to 51 million, and 83% have checking or savings accounts. The service has spread to eight countries, including Egypt and India. Sending less than 50 cents is free. M-Pesa charges 1% to 2% for larger amounts. Through its various subsidiaries, M-Pesa generates some $840 million in annual fees for Vodafone.

The adoption of M-Pesa has had a tremendous impact on Nairobi’s startup scene. Durable-goods providers have introduced pay-as-you-go plans that bring in millions of new customers. For example, three-year-old Deevabits, based in Nairobi, sells $80 home solar systems in remote villages with no access to electricity. All its customers use M-Pesa to make an initial deposit. They pay the remainder through M-Pesa in 50-cent daily increments over eight months. “The presence of M-Pesa has transformed how business is done in Kenya,” says Deevabits founder and CEO David Wanjau, 32. “We couldn’t operate without M-Pesa.”

Dixie Moore used to strain to make paychecks last to the end of the month. A 25-year-old single mother with two small children, she earns $12.25 an hour as an assistant manager at a Bojangles’ fast-food restaurant in Canton, Georgia. In 2011, she was paying $30 a month for a Wells Fargo checking account, but when a bounced check and multiple overdraft fees left her with a $1,200 negative balance, she lost the account. She regularly paid up to $6 to get her paychecks cashed. “I was stuck between a rock and a hard place,” she says. Then a friend told her about MoneyCard, a Walmart-branded product offered by Pasadena, California–based Green Dot, the largest provider of prepaid debit cards in the U.S. Now her employer deposits her paychecks directly onto the card, and she uses it to pay for everything from groceries to dentist appointments. “It has really been a blessing,” she says. 

Green Dot offers a financial lifeline to people like Moore. Until she started using the card two years ago, hers was among the 7% of American households—representing some 14 million adults—that get by entirely on cash. Founded in 1999 by a former DJ named Steve Streit, the company initially focused on teenagers who wanted to shop online. But seeing a larger opportunity, in 2001 Green Dot shifted its focus to adults who were using the card because they had bad credit or couldn’t afford commercial bank fees.

One advantage of cash cards: When users spend all the money on their card, it’s like running out of paper cash. They avoid overdraft fees that can run as high as $35 for a single infraction. The cards also make it possible for users to buy online.

Streit, 57, says that nearly 40% of Green Dot’s 5 million customers were previously unbanked.

In 2007, he struck a deal with Walmart that was a boon for the chain’s then 130 million customers: a cash card with a monthly fee of just $3 (today it’s $5). That’s down from the nearly $8 monthly fee paid by users who bought their cards at stores like CVS. The surge in Walmart card sales helped make up for the shortfall from the lower monthly charge.

In 2010, Streit took the company public. Though Green Dot generated revenue of $1 billion last year, its stock slid 40% this past August as it lowered its revenue expectations, citing the increase in well-funded competitors entering the market. But bad news for Green Dot is good news for America’s unbanked. Smartphone-based cash offerings from venture-backed startups like Chime, a six-year-old digital bank based in San Francisco, and digital-payment company Square’s Cash App are signing on millions of customers.

Harvard Business School professor Michael Chu, a former partner at KKR who cofounded Mexico City-based Compartamos, Latin America’s largest microfinance lender, says the opportunity to serve the underbanked in the U.S. is “huge.” But paradoxically, the richest nation on earth poses some of the greatest barriers to financial-inclusion innovators. A patchwork of state laws intended to protect borrowers from predatory lenders and federal laws that guard against money laundering requires startups to navigate through a maze of red tape.

Another problem: The technology that transfers funds between U.S. financial institutions is old, slow and expensive. While M-Pesa zips mobile money across Kenya in seconds at virtually no charge, an electronic fund transfer from Miami to New York can take two days and cost as much as $40. 

But in the grand scheme these are minor obstacles. The Fed has promised to build a new and improved U.S. transfer system by 2024. Entrepreneurs will lobby—or innovate—their way around the bureaucratic barriers. After all, there are billions of dollars to be made—and countless lives to improve.

By Jeff Kauflin, Fintech, Forbes Staff and Susan Adams, Education, Forbes Staff.

Additional reporting by Anna Corradi.

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Owning The African Narrative

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South African filmmaker and producer, Kutlwano Ditsele, takes pride in re-telling the African narrative in a way that empowers and represents the continent as progressive. There’s also always a twist in the plot.


“A Japanese man on holiday with his wife in South Africa falls in love with a…”

An incomplete idea is stored and filed away in the digital pages of a smart phone.

The author is not only a creative director but also the co-founder of South African production company, Seriti Films.

By merging his passion for celebrating African stories through film and television with entrepreneurship, Kutlwano Ditsele’s story is on its way to a happy ending.

READ MORE | The Maverick In Tech

He debuted his career as a filmmaker with a music video for South African mega-star AKA in 2010, shot in the heart of Johannesburg’s Central Business District.

The initial production cost was a humble R20,000 ($1,360). 

A serendipitous bicycle race on a Sunday afternoon saved them from paying heavily to close off certain main roads and public areas downtown, during the filming of the music video.

Ditsele recalls the silence and how the emptiness edified the aesthetics of AKA’s song, Victory Lap.

An artist owning the streets of the country’s economic and financial hub for a day, even if it is by chance, opened a world of opportunities for Ditsele, who was propeled into the limelight after the video.

Today, ideas constantly fall on his lap, even when he is on the move.

As he scrolls through his phone, he stumbles upon a never-ending list of ideas he forgot existed (such as the one at the beginning of this story). With surprise, he recites various plot lines.

“Crime family show, three sisters and a kid brother with a grandmother… Whenever I am on a train, plane, car or even a jog, a small idea will come into my head,” he says. 

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Kutlwano’s relationship with film goes back to when he was eight years old; setting up a make-shift cinema for his cousins at their family home in the mountainous parts of Rustenburg, in the North West province.

Despite limited resources (television and electricity), what little exposure they had to the enchanting effect of those screens would inspire the young Ditsele and his cousins to re-enact those scenes, with him assuming the role of the director.

“Your responsibility is for that single mother who wakes up at 4 o’clock in the morning, who has to get water outside, boil that water, get the kids’ food ready, get on a train for an hour or two to be the first to get into the office and having to leave at three or four o’clock, to sit in front of the television at eight in the evening, to forget about her problems for the hour,” he says.

Intellectual property is a commodity in the local film industry that leaves filmmakers like Ditsele working twice as hard to build a name and fix the misrepresentations that were previously normalized before African filmmakers had the means of production. Globally, the industry has created more opportunities for black filmmakers.

In 2005, Ditsele was awarded the opportunity to study at the New York Film Academy.

The cultural exchanges he shared with students from Singapore, Indonesia, China and Brazil taught him that filmmaking is not only about learning in class but exploring one’s environment.

Learning in Hollywood placed him in a privileged position when he returned to South Africa in 2008.

“Your responsibility is for that single mother who wakes up at 4 o’clock…to forget about her problems for the hour.”

He took it upon himself to re-tell the African narrative by documenting positive representations of the continent. However, this becomes a tightrope walk for local film producers who need to ensure their work has commercial appeal.

A contemporary challenge is that story-tellers, like Ditsele, have to compete for a seat in the mainstream industry.

“It is more about the African narrative other than just the South African narrative. I think that it is hard for us to ignore that the biggest propaganda machine, America, is in the films. How we view America is from everything they have done.

“Aliens are coming, and America will save them (humans). They have told this incredible narrative about themselves and it has gone out into the world. The narrative around Africa has been quite the opposite. A narrative of poverty, jungle, primitive and they keep telling that narrative and they shy away from progressive stories,” he says.

The filmmaker highlights that although the local industry developed over the last 25 years, the number of those waiting in line remains high, and those who fortuitously manage to float to the top and become brands are few and far between. 

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Despite being behind the camera, Distele says there are industry inhibitors that prevent creatives from owning their intellectual property.

In a bitter twist of irony, many local stars who are celebrated far and wide will die without a cent to their name to the extent that their families are forced to crowdfund for burial costs.

“What you create is owned by someone else and they can make as much money as they want. I think it is wrong because Picasso should decide how much his painting is worth, not somebody else,” he says.

A simple idea, like the 2018 South African Film and Television Awards (SAFTA)-nominated production, The Herd, achieved immense commercial success as the story lines are often merged with the topical issues of the day. 

For Distele, South African productions about love, power and wealth are an example of how the production company keeps the African narrative relatable to all viewers. For instance, the plot twist of a young girl thrust into power in a modern world; cultural ceremonies are portrayed in a way that the millennial audience can immerse themselves in.

The proliferation of social media and digitalization has given the audience agency to comment in real time and engage and be critical of the content given to them and directors like Ditsele are paying close attention.

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