Financial inclusion is an imperative goal for Africa. We spoke to CEO and Founder of Fineazy, Monique Baars, whose approach to financial inclusion is slightly different to most. Rather than using technology to adapt product fit or improve accessibility, Monique is using education, artificial intelligence, and relatable, human stories to empower consumers. Monique’s big dream is to, “Change the world by unlocking financial freedom for all.”
Fineazy’s Approach – Enable Excellent Financial Decisions
Fineazy’s approach focuses on meeting consumers where they are and empowering them with the knowledge and agency to make “excellent financial decisions for their future.” Most consumers in Africa receive very little, meaningful financial education and are intimidated by traditional financial services. This lack of access and understanding impacts individuals and communities in many ways, lowering their resilience to change and increasing their likelihood of falling victim to unsafe or expensive financial alternatives (for example unsecured lending). Fineazy aims to bridge this gap by using technology to facilitate contextually appropriate education. Monique describes this as, “Bridging the gap, being the friendly interface to the big scary world of financial products.”
The other side of this equation is the value offered to financial service providers. Fineazy gives financial service providers a tool to unlock lifetime value from their customers, understand their customers better, and make it easier to acquire new customers. So there is a business case for Fineazy’s financial education. At the end of the day, better informed customers improve the whole ecosystem.
The Challenges – Product Fit and Education
So what are some of the challenges that stand in the way of reaching the unbanked population and advancing financial inclusion in Africa? Monique highlighted the following:
- Short-term sales mindsets: financial service providers tend to focus on customer acquisition at all costs instead of empowerment and sustainability
- Product fit: many products just don’t make sense in the African context. They’re expensive, require a smartphone and expensive data, ask for uncommon documentation, and speak a different language
- Education: until now, the ecosystem has lacked the tools to meaningfully educate consumers. Finance is hardly taught in schools, and the content available online or in books is complicated, filled with equations and terminology. The odd financial education workshop, billboard or radio jingle has come at a high cost, but has not been able to move the needle on true understanding of financial concepts at scale
Paving a New Way: The Principles at the Heart of Fineazy’s Work
- Accessibility: Monique’s teams weave together local, relevant, stories, in people’s home languages to make financial education as accessible as possible.
- Mutual value and fairness: The alignment of consumer and financial service provider incentives means that the ecosystem delivers mutual value.
- Quality, accuracy, excellence: These points speak for themselves, Monique fiercely defends the necessity for excellence delivering measurable, trusted education
The Unexpected – Smooth Hiring Driven by a Common Passion
When asked what one of the most unexpected things along this journey has been, Monique said that, “Hiring has been so organic, and much easier than expected, thanks to a common passion for social impact.”
Common Misunderstandings – Financial Inclusion is Just About Access
Monique shared some of the most common misunderstandings she comes across in how people think about financial inclusion:
“It’s a common misunderstanding that financial inclusion is all about access to financial products, and especially access to loans, and that’s where it stops. Although products are an important input, there is still a big gap between products and consumers in real-life. India is a great example: the government had done a lot of important infrastructural work with demonetization and giving everyone a digital ID (the starting point for fintech), and then they gave everyone a bank account. Which made the number of “banked” individuals skyrocket, and everyone in the financial inclusion community celebrated until the data showed that more than half of the accounts were inactive. Quite a powerful proof point for access to products not being enough. I believe real and sustainable financial inclusion is about an ecosystem of relevant products, capital and consumer-focused education.“
Measuring Success: Impact and Sustainability
Monique and her team measure Fineazy’s impact by considering the people impacted, the degree of real change in understanding and the subsequent impact on financial behaviours. She sees sustainability through two lenses:
- Commercial – Monique believes in “making the market” and ensuring that there is a business case behind the work she values so that financial literacy becomes a consistent part of the financial services ecosystem
- Technological – Fineazy leverages technology to not only ensure their education product is as effective as possible, but also to keep their team lean and operating costs low – reinforcing the business case behind their social mission
While more than half the African continent remains unbanked, the last few years have shown a significant improvement in financial inclusion in Africa. Monique’s mission to meaningfully improve financial literacy, agency and decision making, positions education as a crucial variable in changing the financial landscape of Africa for the better.
“Education is the most powerful weapon you can use to change the world.”