Interview with Otto Isong, Co-Founder - Pursar, Cameroon
MMA: Your assessment of the Cameroon eCommerce landscape and the Central Africa as a whole.
Cameroon and Central Africa, like most of sub Saharan African, has a very low internet penetration rate. However, given the increasing adoption of mobile phones and upgrading of mobile networks to support more data flows is making internet accessible to many more people. With this increasing internet adoption, it is most likely that ecommerce, given its advantages of cost savings and convenience, is going to be one of the main applications to be accessed by the users. However, this progress may be hindered as a result of the lack of a suitable digital payment system and home/office delivery system.
MMA:What are current challenges and barriers to adoption of ecommerce in the region.
From our research, we realized that the main barriers to the adoption of ecommerce include lack of complementary infrastructures (digital payment system and home/office delivery system), low penetration rate of internet and lack of trust in online transactions fuelled by the prevalence in dubious online businesspeople.
MMA:Start up challenges in Cameroon
From our experience and our observation, the main challenges facing startups in Cameroon include:
· Lack of distribution channels, digital and physical.
· Shortage of talented workforce ready to sacrifice at the beginning of the startup.
· Lack of a support system of mentors and connectors who can open doors for business development.
· Acute shortage of capital needed to cover the experimentation and scaling phase of start-ups.
MMA:The state of financial inclusion in Cameroon and how Pursar will help improve penetration.
It was reported by the Financial Inclusion Alliance that Cameroon is one of the nine countries with citizens having more mobile money accounts than bank accounts. Though that may seem to be a good news, it could be better than that.
At Pursar, our mission is to make financial services available and affordable to everyone, everywhere. In order to achieve that mission, we have to use tried-and-true methods as well as radical methods. This is the main reason why we are offering money transfers for free on our platform. A basic digital account and money transfers are the most basics need for anyone, anywhere to start benefiting from financial services. This basic access is going to be gateway into much more services as their need arises.
In addition, our model of working with all banks and micro finance institutions partnership gives us the advantage of reaching to the furthest corners of the market.
MMA:How stakeholders can grow the ecommerce and technology space in the region.
We believe the best way to grow any industry requires ingenuity and drive from the major players in the industry. In the case of ecommerce, this will include: regulators, merchants, consumers, payment system providers, delivery services and the media. Stakeholders interested in growing this space should provide ample support to the innovators building ecommerce and technology businesses. The support could be in the form of ease of market access, financial capital or introduction to productive networks.
MMA:What should Africans expect from Pursar in years to come?
Our goal is to use digital and mobile technology to drive financial inclusion for everyone, everywhere. As such, we are making some radical changes in the way financial services get delivered. We are starting with free money transfers for both the banked and unbanked within CEMAC - Economic and Monetary Union of Central African States. In 5 to 10 years time, we look forward to serving the greater part of Sub Saharan Africa and other Emerging Economies. 5 to 10 years from now, Pursar should be the de facto digital banking and digital payment system for banks, merchants and consumers in Sub Saharan Africa and other Emerging Economies.
MMA:What is your vision for pursar in the payment space in Cameroon and Central Africa.
We envision a world in which most of the transactions in Sub Saharan Africa and other Emerging Economies pass through financial institutions that use Pursar technologies to power their internet and mobile banking systems.
By the end of the fifth year of operation, we expect to have made more than 30 million people in Sub Saharan Africa to be included in the formal financial system of banks and micro finance institutions. By the 10th year, we expect to see a world, initiated by Pursar, where everyone that wants to be included in the formal financial system can do so without fear of cost or availability. We want to see and drive a world that everyone everywhere has access to and can afford basic financial services.
Otto Isong will present at the MobileMoneyExpo-Central Africa that will hold on September 25 - 26 at Le Meridien Hotel, Douala - Cameroon. Follow updates at www.mobilemoneyexpo.com.