Kenya’s Cellulant may seek up to $150m for digital payments growth

By David Whitehouse
Posted on Thursday, 20 May 2021 17:44

Cellulant's acting CEO Akshay Grover. Photo supplied.

Kenyan digital payments provider Cellulant plans to seek up to $150m to fund expansion, acting CEO Akshay Grover tells The Africa Report.

The company might probably seek the money in the first quarter of 2022, with the amount likely to be about two or three times the $50m raised in a previous funding round, Grover says in Nairobi. Cellulant will be looking for mostly equity finance and will target US investors, along with those in South Africa, Europe and the Middle East.

Cellulant, founded in 2004, operates an electronic payments gateway via its app and website for individuals and businesses to process transactions. It has partnerships with 33 of Africa’s largest mobile-money operators, and serves 35 African countries with a physical presence in 18. Grover aims to use new money to develop merchant lending products and artificial intelligence capabilities for customer data analytics and credit-scoring techniques. Cellulant will also strengthen its marketing capacity and “forward hire” technological specialists, he says.

  • The company is already in the process of launching services in a range of new African markets including Ethiopia, Egypt, Morocco and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
  • “All of them are [a] priority,” as Cellulant’s customers such as major African airlines and e-commerce players have been “strongly pushing” for the expansion, Grover says.
  • He expects to be operating in a range of new countries by next month.
  • The company will establish physical presence in some of its new countries, he says, adding that more details will be available in June.

Permanent CEO?

Grover, who previously held a range of executive roles at Dubai-based iSON Technologies, became chief financial officer of Cellulant in January 2021. From the start, his role was to be a “business partner” for the CEO rather than just an accountant, he says. He was named acting CEO this month, taking over from co-founder Ken Njoroge.

An issue that predates Grover’s tenure was created by the irregularities uncovered at Agrikore, a blockchain-based agricultural marketplace in Nigeria.

In September 2020, Cellulant found that 14 Agrikore employees had inappropriately received funds from Agrikore wallets. The findings prompted the sacking of the employees and the resignation of the company’s co-founder Bolaji Akinboro, who was CEO of Cellulant Nigeria. The Agrikore platform has been closed down.

  • Management has sought to address business process issues, and new safeguards have been implemented, Grover says, declining to detail the steps taken.
  • The Nigerian business is now focused on payments rather than agriculture and has been able to attract new clients, he adds.

There is, Grover argues, only a limited pool of candidates for Cellulant’s permanent CEO position. Headhunting for a new CEO for a founder-run business, he says, is “not the easiest thing in the world.”

He questions whether a proven ‘steady state CEO’ is the best choice for a company that is growing fast. But it would be hard to appoint a founder of a successful tech start-up, as such candidates would want to concentrate on their own business, he adds.

  • Grover clearly hopes to be appointed to the top job permanently. “Why wouldn’t I?” he says. “I am not rich enough to retire.”
  • For now, Grover says, the company is keeping its options open, adding that a decision may still be six to 12 months away.

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