Exclusive: Singapore’s Thunes and Standard Bank in advanced talks to extend African payments

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Friday, 12 August 2022 04:00

An employee works in Nairobi
Africa lags behind the rest of the world in real-time payments capacity. REUTERS/Thomas Mukoya

Singapore-based cross-border payments provider Thunes is in “advanced talks” with Africa’s largest bank, Standard Bank, to extend its coverage on the continent, Thunes senior vice-president for Africa Sandra Yao tells The Africa Report.

The planned partnership will help Thunes to expand its presence in some of the 35 sub-Saharan countries where it operates, as well as add new markets, Yao says from the company’s regional head office in Nairobi. Thunes aims to add 13 new sub-Saharan countries by the end of 2023 and has identified Angola and Namibia as priority new markets for entry, Yao says.

The company, led by CEO Peter De Caluwe, was set up in 2016 and offers payments to 126 countries globally. Remittances can be made instantly from international Thunes partners to African countries such as Kenya, Ghana and Tanzania which have a “real-time switch” for bank transfers.

Africa lags behind the rest of the world in terms of real-time remittances. Last year, according to ACI Worldwide, 20 African states remained absent from any kind of real-time payments system.

In South Africa, real-time payments accounted for only 0.8% of total payments. The continent has more than 170 mobile-money wallets, most of which cannot “talk” to each other. Over 80% of the continent’s cross-border payments must be routed offshore for clearing and settlement, raising costs and slowing trade: payments can take between two to 14 days to complete.

  • Thunes is not limited to remittances. Depending on the local regulations in each country, “pay out” partnerships have the potential to be extended to include “pay in”, Yao says. That would allow Africans to send as well as receive international payments via Thunes.
  • The company’s African expansion plans are covered by existing funding, Yao says.

Ethiopia and North Africa

Investors in Thunes include Insight Partners, checkout.com, GGV Capital and Helios Investment Partners. The company’s customers include UberEats, Deliveroo, WorldPay and Western Union, and current African banking partners include Ecobank, Equity Bank and Absa.

In 2021, the company agreed partnerships with Dashen Bank and Ethio Telecom in Ethiopia. Thunes plans to extend its range of banking partners in the country. It currently covers 11 of Ethiopia’s 17 banks, and is the only international payments provider to Ethio Telecom’s mobile-money platform, Telebirr.

The company aims to have all Ethiopia’s banks signed up by early 2023, Yao says.

In July, Thunes agreed a partnership with Attijariwafa Bank in Morocco, Africa’s third-largest remittance receiver after Nigeria and Egypt. Attijariwafa holds about 25% of bank accounts in the country. The partnership allows faster payments and lower costs than banking remittances, with the status of the transfer available at all times, says Asma Ben Gamra, Thunes vice-president for network development in the Middle East and North Africa.

  • The company plans to launch in Egypt and Tunisia by the end of this year, Ben Gamra says.
  • Talks are “in progress” with potential partners, which could be banks or providers of payment services or wallets, she adds.

The bottom line

Companies like Thunes are preparing to deliver the same kind of real-time payments facilities that the rest of the world is beginning to take for granted.

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