Unbundling financial data through APIs and driving data-driven insights with value-add products in Africa keeps getting more exciting as major players continue to raise more money for scale.
Less than a year after its $3 million seed round, San Francisco- and Africa-based fintech Pngme has snapped up another $15 million for its financial data infrastructure play. The company is also describing itself as a machine learning-as-a-service platform.
Octopus Ventures led the Series A round, with follow-on investment from Lateral Capital, EchoVC, Raptor Group and Two Small Fish Ventures. Other investors like Unshackled Ventures, Future Africa, Lagos-based Aruwa Capital, and The51 participated too. Pngme also received checks from angel investors; some include Hayden Simmons of RallyCap, Plaid's Dan Kahn, Richard Talbot, ex-COO of RBC Capital Markets and Kyle Ellicott of Intersect VC.
Pngme's platform caters to fintechs and other financial institutions across sub-Saharan Africa. When the founders, Brendan Playford and Cate Rung, last spoke with TechCrunch, Pngme was heading out of stealth mode in Nigeria, Kenya and Ghana.
Right now, Pngme has three core products for clients in these three markets. In addition to its already known API and mobile SDK, Pngme has added a customer management platform. The company says combining the three products will drive its customers' adoption and use of personalized user experiences and financial products.
In a conversation with TechCrunch, Playford references building personalized user fintech experiences to what Alipay and WeChat have done in the past couple of years.
When users sign up, both platforms provide the right recommendations on every financial service before offering the right product when they make up their minds.
"It's a highly data-driven user experience. And every fintech or bank wants to provide that same data-driven user experience. From instant loans or savings, or overdrafts, or whatever it might be, it's all just like a user experience around a product," Playford said, referring to both Chinese super-app juggernauts. "If you get to the core of all of the business problems for financial institutions, they're looking at doing two things. One is they're looking at lowering their customer acquisition costs. And then they're looking at increasing the lifetime value of their customers."
Playford says Pngme wants to mirror this playbook. But why has it become important for the company all of a sudden?
Most African financial institutions and fintechs are racing to offer fully customized user experiences and financial products tailored to their customers’ needs. To fuel these products and user experiences, data infrastructure is needed. Machine learning models are supposed to be trained to acquire, retain and maximize the lifetime value of a customer.
These processes can be expensive and time-consuming, leaving them with the difficult task of choosing between building the infrastructure or serving their customer.
Pngme allows financial institutions and fintechs to collect and aggregate financial data at scale. The company says its mobile SDK and data processing pipelines collect alternative financial data and unify it with other data sources to create a holistic picture of an individual's financial behavior.
"The pain point we solve is the cost of building the infrastructure is very high. And the data science, the data engineering talent, just globally is really hard to find. So building a data infrastructure as a service works really well because it's a subscription to get those services which you'd normally need a five- or six-person team to build this infrastructure."
The close of Pngme's Series A brings its total investment to $18.5 million, making it the most funded in this fintech category across the continent. Other prominent startups include South African-based Stitch, and Nigeria's Okra, Mono and OnePipe.
Although each platform has morphed into providing more complex data offerings, Playford says one of the important things Pngme has considered since February is clearly distinguishing itself from these other platforms.
"What we do is that we've kind of really differentiated ourselves to be not just collecting the data that we can see but also, we can connect to Mono data, Okra data, and we can connect with banks' data. We essentially merge all that data and then put machine learning models on top for the clients. That can be predictive credit models, segmentation models and really positioning ourselves as a data processing infrastructure for banks and fintechs."
Playford's explanation of how he thinks Pngme is different resonates with the way other founders think of their own platforms. But time will tell how long these products can keep being dissimilar.
Pngme's proposition has found traction with some unnamed tier-one banks in Nigeria and South Africa; fintechs Kuda, Umba, Renmoney, CredPal and credit bureaus like TransUnion Africa.
Pngme will use the investment to acquire more customers, it says. One way the company plans to make this happen is by expanding its executive team. Pngme is hiring Lorraine Kageni Maina as the CSO and Nick Masson as the CTO.
Alongside key executive hires, Pngme is expanding its data science, engineering and sales teams globally. COO Rung says Pngme’s infrastructure has processed billions of data points from hundreds of financial institutions across sub-Saharan Africa. The next plan is to double down on its Insights Library product and expand its third-party data connections to other markets over the next year.
For Octopus Ventures, the lead investor in this round, Pngme shows the need for actionable data to drive the explosion of digital fintech services for Africans.
On why the VC firm invested, Tosin Agbabiaka said, "The elegance of the technology solution, combined with an exceptional team and strong market traction with large institutions underlines our belief that Pngme will power the next generation of financial services in Africa, helping to give millions of more people access to banking and lending.”