Jean-Louis Menann-Kouamé: ‘Our success is based on that of Orange Money’

By Quentin Velluet, special correspondent in Abidjan
Posted on Thursday, 12 May 2022 19:11

A woman performs a financial transaction at a bank of the French mobile operator Orange in Abidjan, Ivory Coast, September 18, 2020. REUTERS/Macline Hien

Orange Bank Africa still does not have the authorisation to launch in Senegal, Mali, or Burkina Faso, but its managing director agreed to explain the progress of the African digital bank in Côte d'Ivoire, where it has already attracted 800,000 customers.

Nearly two years after taking over as head of Orange Bank Africa (OBA), Ivorian Jean-Louis Menann-Kouamé is keen to highlight the strength of his digital bank, which the French telecoms operator launched in July 2020 with its partner NSIA, a 25% shareholder. At the beginning of the adventure, however, OBA’s announced ambitions were much greater than they are today. The African digital bank, chaired by Paul de Leusse, director of Orange Bank in Europe, had hoped to reach 10 million customers by 2025, thanks to a rapid launch in Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso.

Due to a longer than expected approval process with the Central Bank of West African States (BCEAO), these objectives have not been achieved. At the end of April 2022, the service had 800,000 customers in Côte d’Ivoire, the only market at the moment. We met with the director for an interview on the sidelines of the Cyber Africa Forum (co-organised by Jeune Afrique Media Group), which was held from 9-10 May in Abidjan.

Jeune Afrique: Orange Bank Africa had 500,000 customers six months after its launch in July 2020, but few figures have been published on the state of your development since then. Two years later, have you managed to convince as many customers as you did when you started?

Jean-Louis Menann-Kouamé: We have nearly 800,000 customers in Côte d’Ivoire and have granted just over 80bn CFA francs ($128.3m) in pico-credits [Editor’s note: up to 100 euros] to date. Today, our computer system is capable of allocating a pico-credit to an applicant in less than 10 seconds, seven days a week and 24 hours a day, regardless of the user’s geographical location and connection. Where 2G works, Orange Bank works.

Our offer has thus been successful, enabling us to increase the loan limits to 300,000 CFA francs, and we hope to be able to increase this to 500,000 CFA francs, or even 1m CFA francs, before the end of the year.

We have also increased the repayment period, which was 30 days. This has now been extended to 90 days. Finally, we have launched ‘mood’ repayment, which, unlike repayment in fixed instalments, allows an individual to repay his or her loan in small amounts when he or she can.

This is an offer that appeals in particular to our clients in the informal sector. Few figures were given until now because we did not want to communicate haphazardly until we were sure that we had tested the robustness of our system and had the references that I have just outlined.

BCEAO authorisations will be given country by country… We are not in a hurry.

Your initial timetable provided for a rapid launch in Senegal and then successive implementations in Burkina Faso and Mali. Although applications for approval were submitted to the BCEAO several months ago, it has still not granted you these precious permits. Why is this?

You don’t start up in a new country just because you’ve started up in a previous country. You have to meet several requirements, which we are working on with the BCEAO, such as the maturity of our activity. The authorisations will be given country by country and will allow us to request the opening of branches in Senegal, Mali and Burkina Faso with our current shareholder, which remains NSIA. We are not in a hurry.

Do you fear competition from Wave, which has just obtained an e-money issuer licence for the entire West African Economic and Monetary Union area, and has confirmed that it wants to create partnerships with banking players to offer services similar to yours?

Wave is not a competitor of Orange Bank. They have obtained a licence as an electronic money issuer. However, this type of institution is not authorised to offer credit or savings accounts. It is authorised to enable clients to transfer money, manage withdrawals and deposits and pay bills. It is a non-issue.

In Africa, we are building on the success of mobile money and lending to customers we already know.

How would you judge the growth of Orange Bank Africa compared to Orange Bank in Europe, which has had some financial difficulties?

The business models are different. In Africa, we are building on the success of mobile money and lending to customers we know because they already have an Orange Money e-wallet. This service has about four million active customers in Côte d’Ivoire, three million in Senegal, three million in Mali and three million in Burkina Faso. In other words, we already have a potential of 13 million active customers who are eligible for our pico-credit and interest-bearing savings services. In France, the model is based on a longer and different history than ours.

Finally, I would like to mention that there is no financial link between Orange Bank Africa and Orange Bank, although Paul de Leusse, CEO of Orange Bank, is Chairman of OBA’s Board of Directors.

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