By Nicole Martinez W’16
When you think of start-ups, you probably picture Silicon Valley, incubators in New York or maybe even the Wynwood District in Miami. Yet, here I am in Nairobi, Kenya, working for Musoni, a company born from a FinTech wave that is transforming the way people access formal financial services, particularly in developing economies.
The wave was sparked in 2007, when M-Pesa was launched as a mobile money wallet feature available to Safaricom users. Now, M-pesa has 18 million users. Moreover, it is twice as likely for a Kenyan to access formal financial services through a mobile money wallet as opposed to a bank.
Spurred on by the advent of M-Pesa, Musoni was founded in 2009 as the only microfinance institution to operate solely through mobile money transactions. Due to the exorbitant interest rates traditionally required to sustain the operational costs of micro-lending, microfinance service providers have long been criticized as the loan sharks to the poor; however, FinTech innovations have the potential to solve this problem.
As an intern for Musoni, my role has been primarily to follow developments in the FinTech sector. Whether it be payday lenders, payment service providers, mobile virtual network operators, or on-line peer-to-peer lenders, there are many emerging approaches to the market. Furthermore, I have been tasked with related projects aimed to increase operational efficiency, such as piloting automated underwriting at our largest branch and seeking partnerships with tech start-ups dedicated to bridging the gaps between traditionally unreached communities and financial institutions.
FinTech has tremendous power to provide financial tools that will enable individuals to better their livelihoods. Yet, it is also a sector that needs to be monitored in order to ensure quality savings and credit products. I have been so fortunate to work for a company in a dynamic industry that is also dedicated to improving lives through the extension of credit to entrepreneurs.
Moreover, it is not just the FinTech sector that shows impressive growth potential in Kenya. Throughout my time here, I have met entrepreneurs with projects ranging from a coding school in Kibera to runway shows committed to furthering the domestic fashion industry. Altogether, I hope more Wharton students will consider the possibility of applying their skills and experiences to projects like these, which allow for truly impactful work in developing economies.
Bio: Nicole is a rising senior in Wharton concentrating in Business Economics & Public Policy and Operations & Information Management. On campus she is involved with the International Affairs Association, Latino Coalition and Cipactli Senior Honors Society.