Taking The Leap – The Infosys Challenge And Beyond: Part I
By Zulfikar Deo, Co-Founder Strategy and Marketing at BizGees
Winning the Infosys Challenge for financial inclusion triggered a journey highlighting paradigm shifts occurring in the world of finance. Bizgees met at the UNICEF FinTech Jam for Good 2016 and were members of the first batch of F10 – FinTech Accelerator program in Zurich. They are currently working on their product/market fit supporting refugee entrepreneurs access business level financial services. This is their experience.
Winning the Infosys Challenge was a great experience for the team. During the FinTech Jam weekend, they discovered significant segments of the global population are excluded from mainstream financial services, 2 billion by some estimates. This ranged from communities in rural areas in the developing world to new emerging communities that are displaced. BizGees – then hacking under the SVG title – decided to focus their attention on the displaced populations segment. Currently, they are over 60 million people – the population the size of the UK / France – who have to leave behind their families, friends and ways of life due to conflict and climate change. The Syrian displacement is a well-known example on the news in most countries today.
Two of the major constraints of the Infosys Challenge were: The identity of the target group had to be validated. Secondly, technology had to play a significant part in supporting the communities in accessing finance. Claro partners supported the team with organising the UX Journey Design. This helped the team select segment population to focus on.
Most of the communities would not qualify because access to technology was a key challenge for them, let alone being able to verify their identities. However, sections of the displaced communities had their identities validated by UNHCR, cases like UN Camps in Jordan are good examples. UNHCR has been using biometrics. They also offer these UN Registered Refugees with debit cards they top up every month. This allows for efficient flow of funds in near real time. The team also discovered in one UN Camp there is an informal economy of $11m a month. (Source: Cambridge University Study) However, none of the businesses there can access financial services of any kind.
BizGees felt this would be ideal ground for alternative finance. Peer to peer finance would be a fitting way to get the supporters of refugees to engage and support them in their hour of need. It would also enable refugees to lower their sense of isolation. BizGees felt peer to peer micro loans would be good way to help people overcome psychological concerns that come with displacement. It would also support the refugee entrepreneurs scale their businesses and engage with people who care about them at the same time. These relationships would could also be the base of building life long friendships. Collectively, the team then settled on the concept of interest free micro loans as the take up rates for interest free finance would be high and it would be culturally sensitive.
Innovate Finance invited BizGees to their Global Summit to highlight this winning concept. The team delivered their pitch and used the event to network. The conference was a great space to meet up with other professionals with an interest in finance and the future of finance. This included meeting the BBC and giving a radio interview. The venue – the Guildhall in the City of London – had special significance for one of the team members. He had previously served with the City of London Militia ( Honorable Artillery Company) . Historically, their role focused around protecting the Guild of the City of London.
The next step for BizGees was to decide whether to take the project forwards. As a team they felt conceptually there was merit in what they had come up with. Now they were entering the chaos of the startup world. They applied to over five accelerator programmes, pitched three times before being accepted onto the F10 programme. This took them 6 months to achieve. During this time, only two of the 6 initial members from the FinTech Jam were left.
The second part of the blogging series will be published soon. For more details on BizGees, visit the website here.