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Chilufya Mutale: building a challenger bank for the MSMEs in Africa

Updated: Jul 13, 2022

"Around 57% of the population of Africa, around 95million people, do not have a bank account. This high number of unbanked people undoubtedly causes problems, as there are limited economic options to serve its citizens. Disadvantaged income groups are unable to access affordable credit for working capital to boost their businesses. Our business model uses advanced AI technology to offer customer centric product offerings to marginalised segments of previously disadvantaged income groups (underserved communities)."

Chilufya Mutale Founder and CEO at PremierCredit (Pty)Ltd

Q1:Tell us about your yourself:

Chilufya is an award-winning entrepreneur, recognized as one the 100 Women creating a better Africa through contributing to the achievement of one or more of the 17 UN SDGs (United Nations Sustainable Development Goals) by the WeForGood International, and recognized as one of the 50 people to connect with in Africa by the Tony Elumelu Foundation that highlights and projects entrepreneurs across the continent whose businesses are making a positive impact.

She is also recognized as one for the 5 women breaking barriers in Africa’s Fintech industry by Techbuild Africa. Backed by 12+ years extensive experience in financial services, Chilufya’s passion and selfless drive for inclusive financial services for all people drives her to innovate customer centric solutions that contribute to financial inclusion using AI technology. She helps clients to identify their highest-value opportunities, address their most critical challenges, and help transform their businesses.

Q2:What does your company do?:

PremierCredit is a financial technology company that operates an online micro-lending and investment platform in emerging markets in Southern Africa. Since 2019 PremierCredit has been offering micro loans in Zambia, supporting local entrepreneurs and small-scale traders, many of whom are women, increasing their access to capital and the ability to grow their businesses. With the support of its partner banks in Zimbabwe, PremierCredit provides affordable bicycles to the last mile, smart phones and Solar equipment on a Buy Now Pay Later (BNPL) model to underserved communities across Zimbabwe.

Q3: What inspired you to start your business?:

After working for 3 years as a CEO of the fastest growing consumer lending non-bank financial institutions in Southern Africa, I had an inner burning desire to be part of a meaningful and impactful cause that benefited our society and economy at large, and this passion and drive led to the birth of PremierCredit.

It’s all about what you are passionate about. In my case, my passion for supporting small scale traders, in particular women was inbuilt early on. I do believe in the saying that “To empower a woman is to empower her children, her family and her community. This is one of the smartest investments we can make. MSMEs form the backbone of our economy, so when we support them as PremierCredit, we contribute positively to our economy at large.

Q4: How do you define your business model; what differentiates your products or Services from others?:

Around 57% of the population of Africa, around 95million people, do not have a bank account. This high number of unbanked people undoubtedly causes problems, as there are limited economic options to serve its citizens. Disadvantaged income groups are unable to access affordable credit for working capital to boost their businesses. Our business model uses advanced AI technology to offer customer centric product offerings to marginalised segments of previously disadvantaged income groups (underserved communities).

Our biggest client acquisition channel is from client referrals. Our digital platforms are an enabler to lower cost of services and cost of acquisition. We are now able to offer all financial services to our customers and not just loans. What sets us apart from our contenders is our unique value proposition, we offer ease of convenience and our distribution network and USSD platform enables us to reach the last mile and serve all people.

Q5: Starting a business is not easy. What struggles did you experience in the infant years of your company and how did you overcome it?:

It was not easy for us when we started our business. We struggled early on with teams and finding ethical, trustworthy and reliable team players. I believe teams are an important factor in any business and how your teams perform can either guarantee its growth or seal its downfall. My partner and I had to wear multiple hats as we were limited on financial resources. We became strategic in our hiring by focusing on people that could work in a startup, manage multiple tasks and had an entrepreneurial mindset. We didn't focus on educational background as a deciding factor but commercial acumen was key for us.

We also struggled early on with managing funds for business and personal use, as we were not paid employees in our business early on. We had to develop financial discipline and generate other income for personal use. All our business revenue was reinvested back into the business and eventually we became full time paid employees of our startup.

Q6: What do you know today that you wish you would have known when you first got started?:

I wish I had joined accelerator hubs and startup schools prior to our launch. The vast knowledge, access to a large pool/network of experts, mentors, coaches, business support systems and free resources an entrepreneur can gain are priceless and so key when starting a business. I would like to encourage anyone with a business idea to find a hub near them or online school and learn as much as you can.

Q7: Businesses come with stress; what gives you the joy to keep you going?:

I have a mindset of never giving up no matter the situation. Don’t quit. I learn from every situation that makes me better and stronger. Favourite quote: “Success is not final; failure is not fatal: It is the courage to continue that counts.” – Winston S. Churchill

What gives me joy to keep going is the impact we see in the lives of people we provide our services to. The smile of a satisfied customer, feedback of how their businesses have transformed keeps me going because what we do matters. I love to solve problems and create new and better ways to make our customers businesses and lives better and easier.

Q8: Why do you think businesses fail in your industry?:

There are many reasons for this, but just to mention a few, I think some businesses fail to thrive because they most probably didn't find a good product market fit. Others may have a good product market fit, but have challenges in building great reliable teams and lack financial discipline.

Funding may affect how a business can scale, but proper and efficient management of available resources will help you stay afloat. Three things matter in a business: People, Cash and Strategy.

Q9: What are your 3 priorities right now:

As we raise our Series A Funding this year, our key 3 priorities are ;

  1. We are focused on building and improving the existing technological innovations we have, using more robust systems for scalability.

  2. We are focused on building a great team regionally.

  3. We are focused on executing the strategies we set to achieve our ambitious plans.

Q10: What are your future plans and aspirations for your company?:

We are building a challenger bank for the MSMEs in Africa, a "Neo+ Traditional" hybrid. We aspire to provide inclusive, simple, affordable financial solutions in the most convenient, customer centric ways to underserved communities and the unbanked population in emerging markets in Sub Saharan Africa using technological innovation and partnerships that will enable MSMEs have access to working capital to grow their businesses, grow their future and improve their standard of living.

Q11: Advice to other entrepreneurs or to your younger self?:

If you are passionate about what you want to build, the change you want to see; ideas, resilience, commitment, motivation and self-drive will come naturally. Don’t be afraid to fail, overcome the fear of failure be a risk taker

Never give Up!, keep trying and testing, always always always understand your target market and your customer persona, then build solutions that solve your customers pain points. These will become products/services that are customer-centric, and you will always find people that are willing to pay for it.

PremierCredit was born out of Chilufya Mutale's burning desire to be an impactful change-maker in the lives of the majority of Africa's people, who are not only underserved but unbanked, thus locked out of standard financial services and crippled in their economic growth. What sets this entrepreneurial financial service apart is that while having successfully developed an online micro-lending and investment platform helping all individuals, Chilufya and her partner have their eyes set on a more powerful vision.

PremierCredit is currently developing a Challenger Bank for the MSMEs in Africa, which will have embedded finance that will introduce disadvantaged income groups into formal financial services and capacity building through financial literacy. Imagine what this vision will do for Africa. Generational. Legacy. Building.

Having studied unicorn companies for some time, patterns begin to emerge as to what makes companies to become incredible, and gear towards becoming potential unicorns:

First things first: the size of the market that a potential unicorn is serving, secondly the stickability of their products or services (market demand), repurchases and client retention. The most dominant factor however, for a potential unicorn is the team dynamic, those are the leaders at the helm of these emerging unicorns, let’s call them emerging unicorn Headers. The people behind future unicorns: are by far the most fascinating. Their vision, they are sold to their why and are out to create lasting impact.

PremierCredit ticks all the boxes above. On the demand side: over 57% Africans not owning a bank account and the majority of small traders not being financially included despite employing over 82% of working Africans. These unbanked entities, both formal and informal, carry African economies on their backs. To think just how hard it is for these hard working souls to access financial products: is a testament to how broken the financial services industry remains, across Africa. The reforms being rolled out by PremierCredit are long overdue. One can only imagine what a difference we would be seeing should they have arrived on the scene 50 years ago. I am confident we will see the MSME inclusion landscape change significantly.

I am also particularly fascinated by Chilufya's passion, experience, and her heart to see women prosper. Her own life is evident to her frequently referenced quote: “To empower a woman is to empower her children, her family, and her community”.

I look forward to their much-deserved success as they continue to build and improve the existing technological innovations they have as they enter into a hyper scale mode.

Africa is home to about 85 million businesses. Of those businesses: only 438 are confirmed to be big corporations, boasting at upwards of $1 billion in annual sales. Of the 438 corporations, a total of 25% are subsidiary group companies of foreign companies. At least 90% of businesses fall within Small & Medium enterprises. This proves that Africans are very entrepreneurial and we have no challenge starting businesses.

However, to thrive and meet the demands of the future, the core focus should be to build sustainable economies through running sustainable businesses. Our African entrepreneurs must commit to evolving beyond side-hustle type businesses, to formal businesses. Going beyond small businesses or startups to scale-ups and Soonicorns, Unicorns and beyond. Almost all the Unicorn companies we know today, got where they are through a number of intentional decisions, leveraging opportunities and making aptly timed moves. Indeed access to funding and other financial products played a huge role and for as long as MSMEs are financially excluded in Africa we have a long way to go.

What the Chilufya and the PremierCredit team are doing, building a challenger bank for the MSMEs in Africa is well overdue. What makes this exciting is that it’s by Africans for Africans. Not only do they have professional expertise across fintech but they sure understand why Africans need this. As they raise Series A this year to improve their innovation and scale their business, it’s an aptly timed window for Africa. We look forward to their success and the success of many African businesses that they will impact.

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1 comment

1 Comment

Kenneth Igiri
Kenneth Igiri
Jul 22, 2022

PremierCredit's story reminds me of the dramatic rise of MPesa in Kenya. Financial inclusion is still a good opportunity in Africa and I am glad the team has done the necessary research on the size of this opportunity.

I am particularly impressed on the BNPL model for digitalizing micro businesses. I am sure this can also be followed with bespoke education on how to make use of these mobile technologies. Mobile is the future of everything according to GSMA.

Challenger Banks are inevitable and based on Bret King's Bank 4.0, the face of banking is changing and PremierCredit might just be leading Africa's charge to take hold of the future in this are. Well done team!

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