Ibrahima Kourouma discusses his entry into fintech

Ibrahima Kourouma discusses his entry into fintech

Noel K. Tshiani, the founder of Congo Business Network, discusses with Ibrahima Kourouma, co-founder of Pallya, about his entry into the fintech sector on the African continent in this exclusive interview conducted for TechCabal.

Tell our readers about yourself.

My name is Ibrahima Kourouma. I am the co-founder and Chief Operating Officer of Paylia, an African fintech startup building an all-in-one payment platform for merchants and consumers. I was a senior program and change manager at Cisco Global CX Centers in the business unit CX Programs, Change and Governance.

While at Cisco, I led the design and execution of the overall program as well as change management initiatives and strategy for Cisco Systems’ Managed Services, a $14 million virtual engineer innovation program. I also developed the long-term organizational program and changed the roadmap and plans, resulting in a 90% adoption.

As an avid digital transformation and change management consultant, I have addressed many issues related to digital transformation adoption in both the public and private sectors, particularly in the financial sector in French-speaking countries in Africa. I was central to the preparation of the Guinean government’s first strategy for digital transformation and innovation, now in its second implementation phase.

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I have a Master of Business Administration and a Master of Science in Organizational Leadership from Nichols College in the USA with a focus on e-Government and Digital Transformation.

What does Paylia do and what inspired you to start it?

Paylia is a mobile app that allows businesses to accept payments from any payment provider. When traveling around Africa, we noticed that merchants had to open separate accounts for each mobile network and purchase separate devices to accept payments from customers on different networks.

The whole process was very inefficient and made no sense as sellers had to remember codes and go through different payment flows just to accept payment from a customer. We figured we had the technical talent to quickly iterate and build a solution that simplifies the end-to-end customer-to-merchant payment experience.

Besides fintech, is there another sector in Africa that has potential for business?

Africa is the new country for startups and entrepreneurship. With economic development and the birth of a true middle class, business opportunities multiply.

Many trained and creative Africans want to undertake and are looking for profitable business ideas to create, earn a fortune or just live passionately and comfortably.

There is no shortage of promising sectors: tourism, energy, mining, construction and building, and training services, but also traditional sectors such as agri-food or agro-industry are among those with the greatest potential for investment and yet are under-explored.

What has surprised you about entrepreneurship so far?

Doing business in Africa is like an obstacle course. The obstacles are of various kinds: an unfavorable business environment, cumbersome administrative formalities, a difficult political context, as well as the weight of culture and society.

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The most important barriers to the development of entrepreneurship in Africa, which we have noticed, are the regulations in force in some countries, which do not contribute to the development of this niche. There are also traditional banking systems that are not open to the world.

We also quickly understand that Africa is primarily a cash-based society. About 95% of all transactions are cash-based, making it difficult for merchants to track sales and manage finances. The other side of this is that mobile penetration is around 75%, so there is great opportunity for businesses to switch to reliable digital payment solutions.

Another challenge we faced was how to build a solution that addresses core customer pain points while gradually changing customer behavior because it is very easy for businesses and consumers in Africa to hold onto cash.

Of course, there are also challenges with corruption. I think most people are good in themselves, but there is a lot of friction between people wanting to keep their hard earned money and paying their fair share of taxes for example.

What can be done to strengthen the economic relationship between the United States and Africa?

Advances in trade, investment and technology in Africa provide enormous economic growth and increased prosperity for both regions and are best realized through values-based foreign policy and a market-based model of development, education and accountability. There is no better time to accelerate US trade and investment in Africa than now. Despite Africa’s enormous economic potential, the United States has lost significant opportunities to traditional and other emerging partners.

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I believe that in order to strengthen economic relations between the United States and Africa, a values-based foreign policy is necessary with a focus on building a modern, inclusive economy. The focus should be on economic transformation, moving workers from low-productivity sectors such as agriculture to higher productivity areas such as industry and the service sector, as well as increasing productivity within sectors.

In the same context, and as an African living in the diaspora and a founder, we have a strong force for development, through remittances, but more importantly, through promoting trade, investment, knowledge and technology transfers. It was estimated by the International Monetary Fund that entrepreneurship has an investment potential of over $2 billion by 2023.

My hope is that over time, leaders in both countries will have no choice but to investigate and advocate for the untapped potential of Africa and African entrepreneurship.

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