Africa’s top 40 Digital Leaders: #8 – Nigeria’s Mitchell Elegbe, Unicorn builder

In depth
This article is part of the dossier: Digital Africa

By Honoré Banda, Jaysim Hanspal
Posted on Wednesday, 17 November 2021 14:44, updated on Tuesday, 23 November 2021 10:54

Mitchell Elegbe is the MD/CEO of Interswitch
Mitchell Elegbe is the MD/CEO of Interswitch

Nigerian fintech legend Mitchell Elegbe is celebrated as a pioneer of the country's digital uplift, creating Interswitch, one of Africa's first unicorns. It achieved the $1bn+ valuation after a $200m injection from Visa in 2019. He comes in at #8 on our list of Africa's Top 40 Digital Leaders.

Mitchell Elegbe founded Interswitch in 2002, after his first encounter with an ATM swallowed his card in Scotland.

An alumnus of the China Europe International Business School (CEIBS) Global CEO Programme and the African Leadership Institute’s Archbishop Tutu Fellowship Programme, he now wants to help transform African economies and push towards a cashless marketplace.

He comes in at #8 on our list of Africa’s Top 40 Digital Leaders.

Interswitch is a Nigerian digital payments company and one of the continent’s first unicorns. In 2010, shareholders decided to sell two-thirds of the company to raise more funding. Nine years later, after a $200m cash injection from Visa, it was valued at $1bn. Its planned initial public offering in London, though, has repeatedly been delayed and does not yet have a launch date.

Pan-African designs

Interswitch’s main market is Nigeria, but it is set on becoming a pan-African digital payments platform. This year, it is expanding its Quickteller Business ‘seamless payment solution’ to businesses in East and West Africa.

With Elegbe at the helm, Interswitch has grown at an incredible rate; now it provides fintech and digital services such as technology integration to governments, banks and high-net-worth  individuals.

In alliance with the Cross River State government, Interswitch developed software responsible for digitalising all government departments.

Elegbe says that digital tools need to be rolled out in many other sectors to help African economies to grow, calling for Nigeria’s national ID programme, which was launched in 2014, to create digital identities and make them easily verifiable.

Fintech expansion in Africa can have varying levels of success.

In a 2013 interview with Forbes, Elegbe said that Interswitch may not be successful everywhere. “Southern Africa is quite developed and so chances are that any payment infrastructure you need to have in those markets already exists. But in West, Central and East Africa, there is still room for development, so we felt we should begin to spread our tentacles across these regions,” he said.

Through its credit card company, Verve, Interswitch has supplied more than two million cards and has 190,000 businesses using its services, helping local startups to grow and develop.

Digital payments will not cover the payment landscape overnight, so Interswitch has about 11,000 ATMs across different banks.

Funding innovation

Interswitch also wants to put its money into African fintech. It launched a $10m venture arm in 2015, which the following year acquired Vanso, a Nigerian fintech security company.

At TechCrunch Disrupt in 2020, Elegbe said: “We’ll be very selective in the companies we invest in. They should be companies that Interswitch clearly as an entity can add value to. They should be companies that help accelerate growth by virtue of what we do and the customers that we have.”

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