Fintech startup Finja breaks new ground in Pakistan with $1.5m series A funding

Finja founders. Photo credit: Finja.

The catalyst for ecommerce and other internet businesses to flourish in China, India, and Southeast Asia is digital payments. This in turn has a multiplier effect on economic growth.

That’s why today’s announcement of US$1.5 million series A funding for Pakistani fintech startup Finja is notable. More so, because Swedish investment company Vostok led the round – the Pakistan startup ecosystem rarely hits headlines for attracting international investment. Dubai-headquartered Gray Mackenzie Engineering Services also participated in the round.

The ID card data is in Urdu, so we had to develop artificial intelligence to match data typed in English with names in Urdu.

Finja is giving a push to digital payments in Pakistan with its SimSim wallet. The Urdu version of the phrase “open sesame,” which opens a cave in the tale of Alibaba and the 40 Thieves, is Khulja simsim – so the name Finja SimSim doesn’t just refer to the sim card of a mobile phone. Coincidentally, Chinese tech giant Alibaba also got its name from the same tale.

SimSim is similarly out to open up a treasure trove in online business in Pakistan. Finja claims SimSim has been doubling its mobile wallets every month to notch up 80,000 accounts since it went live a few months ago. It has clocked transactions worth a total of US$14 million so far.

Finja partnered with Finca Microfinance Bank for regulatory clearance of its wallet. It ran a pilot of the SimSim wallet with the State Bank of Pakistan, which gave a go-ahead for its commercial launch in June this year. It is now connected with other banks and charges no transaction fees to focus on scaling up.

“Finja will start monetization this quarter with a loans marketplace,” co-founder Monis Rahman tells Tech in Asia. It has already piloted 100 loans delivered through its wallet, which can assess credit-worthiness by analyzing transaction data. An ecommerce marketplace, ticketing, mobile top-ups, and bill payments are other products planned around the wallet.

Nadra biometric ID with a twist

SimSim takes advantage of Nadra, a biometric citizen identity card that the Pakistan government has issued to almost its entire adult population, comprising around 60 percent of the total population of 207 million.

Using the identity card digitally is not as straightforward as it sounds. “The ID card data is in Urdu, so we had to develop artificial intelligence to match data typed in English with names in Urdu. There are several thousand permutations for many names,” explains Rahman.

But investing in the technology to do this is paying off. “Opening an account on SimSim takes less than a minute with real-time Nadra identity verification through a mobile phone,” says Finja in a statement.

Apart from the months it took for regulatory clearance of the wallet, integrating it with banks hasn’t been easy. “The snail’s pace with which most banks operate when it comes to innovation has been a challenge, but our rapid execution speed as a fintech startup is a huge advantage as we iterate and launch new features quickly,” says Rahman.

See: Paytm founder prepares for his next pivot, which could be the biggest yet

“We’re pleased with the execution of the team in this large untapped market with a high barrier to entry,” says David Nangle, partner at Vostok Emerging Finance. “This financing round by international investors is a vote of confidence in the potential of the Pakistani market,” adds Rahman.

This is a follow-on investment by Vostok, which had invested in Finja through a convertible note last year.

source : techinasia

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