Nigerian fintech platform Okra has secured a $1mn pre-seed fundraise from TLcom Capital, strengthening its push to build the infrastructure for Africa’s next wave of fintech innovation. With the first API in Africa to retrieve real-time financial data from a bank account to any web or mobile app, Okra’s new investment will be used to scale their team and operations as they cater to their growing client base.
Launched in January 2020, Okra’s “super-connector” creates a secure portal and process to exchange real-time financial information between customers, applications and banks. Currently, developers and organisations in Africa do not have access to real-time banking data, creating large hurdles during the onboarding and verification of customers. Okra is the first in Africa to bridge this gap, delivering a new layer of transparency between organisations and users in the lending, personal & corporate finance and real estate sectors.
Supported by the strong engineering background of their founding team, Fara Ashiru Jituboh (formerly of Fidelity Investments and Canva) and David Peterside (from UCML Capital and Fashion Map), the company’s technical expertise has already seen them connect with all of Nigeria’s commercial banks as well as the likes of Branch, AIICO Insurance PLC, Travelstart, Bamboo, Renmoney and Swipe (YC) amongst others. With the capacity to onboard new clients in under 24 hours, the startup has seen a 175% rise in demand since March 2020 as more companies digitise their services due to COVID-19 and is seeking to expand across Africa.
Speaking on the new investment, Fara Ashiru Jituboh, Okra’s CEO/CTO stated: “Our thesis is simple — financial innovation cannot exist without the proper infrastructure, which is data. Essentially, how far the African fintech sector can grow is intrinsically tied to the success of an infrastructure like Okra and with our core market in Nigeria, we’re opening the door to another level of innovation in Africa’s largest market.”
“There are approximately 125mn banks accounts in Nigeria alone — but over the course of the next two years, we will see that figure rise exponentially, which presents huge opportunities for growth. Our role within this is to deliver ease, speed and transparency to key players within the fintech space so they can get back to driving our continent forward.”
The $1mn investment in Okra marks TLcom’s first investment in the fintech sector and as part of the deal, Andreata Muforo, Partner at TLcom, will join Okra’s board. Ido Sum, also a Partner at the VC firm, will join as a board observer.
Andreata Muforo, Partner at TLcom, added “We are always looking for startups with the potential for high value-generation and Okra’s technology provides the foundation for new fintech solutions in Africa for years to come. Equally, it was important for us to know that their leadership had the entrepreneur-led focus which is crucial for execution. Fara’s background was vital here — she’s an expert in over 20 programming languages, worked with multiple Fortune 500 companies and is a great example of why we’re committed to investing in more female founders. She leads by example and we have seen her and David build a really exciting business, in a little under a year, we’re excited to help them grow further”.
Okra marks the latest company to take advantage of Open Banking initiatives across the globe, which has attracted increasing attention from investors. In the USA, Plaid, which allows users to connect their bank accounts to an app, has been acquired by Visa for $5.3bn since launching in 2013. Yodlee, an American company offering a similar service, secured more than $140mn of funding before being acquired by Envestnet in 2015.
Okra’s Co-Founder and COO, David Peterside, concludes, “When we started Okra last year, our priority was to help African fintechs and banks build the best in class technology and solve problems for their customers. This investment marks the next chapter of this mission. For too long, simple financial tasks like budgeting, internal reconciliations and credit assessments have been additional stressors for businesses and we’re filling a long-standing gap in the market. Our aim is to make these processes as seamless and pain-free for our clients so they can focus on their core services.”