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Inclusive Fintech 50 launches 2021 competition to recognize early-stage fintechs driving innovation in an era of uncertainty

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The Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI) has launched the third year of Inclusive Fintech 50 (IF50), a competition to recognize the most promising inclusive fintech startups pushing the frontiers of innovation. This year, the competition seeks to recognize early-stage fintechs that are helping low-income customers and micro- and small enterprises not just respond to the pandemic, but rebound, rebuild, and recover after the past year’s devastation.

IF50 is sponsored by Visa, MetLife Foundation, and Jersey Overseas Aid & Comic Relief, with support from Accion and IFC. In its first two years, IF50 attracted applications from over 700 startups across 162 countries, cumulatively reaching almost 175 million customers. Each year, an independent judging panel of global fintech experts reviews the applicants to select 50 winners based on four criteria: inclusivity, innovation, scale potential, and traction.

Participation in the competition provides startups with visibility and credibility among investors as well as media and partnership exposure; 19 winners from the 2019 cohort have since raised a collective $182.5 million in investment. In addition, this year’s winners will be featured in early November during Financial Inclusion Week, an annual virtual event organized by CFI for the inclusive finance community to discuss the latest developments and key issues facing the sector. Winners will also be featured in this year’s research findings and media coverage. For example, several publications from the past two years prominently featured IF50 winners.

For the 2021 competition, new benefits to IF50 winners include access to Practical Business Skills, a global digital platform created by Visa to deliver free educational resources to help small and micro business owners make confident, informed decisions to grow their businesses. Winners will be able to customize and co-brand this turn-key solution to support the local recovery efforts of the small and micro businesses they serve. Eligible winners will automatically pre-qualify for Visa Fintech Fast Track, a program that aims to speed up the process of integrating with Visa and its ecosystem partners and helps fintechs enhance and introduce new and innovative payment experiences. These tools, together with the networking and platform that IF50 provides, serve as an invaluable platform for startups at the earliest stages of their journey.

As the COVID pandemic continues to rage in many parts of the world, fintech startups and services have proven to be an invaluable lifeline for vulnerable people, facilitating remittances, digital payments, and payments associated with government safety nets. Higher rates of fintech acceptance present new opportunities for startups to go beyond traditional offerings to deliver valuable financial services that will ensure the financial health and resilience of underserved people.

Expert judges include a diverse group of independent fintech experts, investors, and founders, including:

  • Nejoud Al Mulaik, Director, Fintech Saudi
  • Tarek Assad, Managing Partner, Algebra Ventures
  • Sarah Austrin-Willis, Senior Director, Financial Solutions Lab, Financial Health Network
  • Ginger Baker, Head of Financial Access, Plaid
  • Anne-Marie Chidzero, Chief Investment Officer, FSD Africa Investments
  • Bernhard Eikenberg, Managing Partner, Emerging Markets, Community Investment Management
  • Brad Jones, CEO, Wave Money
  • Buhle Goslar, Africa CEO, Jumo
  • Jojo Malolos, CEO, JG Digital Equity Ventures and Data Analytics Ventures
  • Kunal Upadhyay, Advisor, ADB Ventures
  • Shwetank Verma, Co-Founder and General Partner, Leo Capital
  • Gabriela Zapata Alvarez, Independent Consultant (Financial Inclusion)

The application window opens today, and interested startups are encouraged to apply by July 23 via the IF50 website.

Key quotes:

  • Managing Director of the Center for Financial Inclusion, Mayada El-Zoghbi, highlighted the timeliness of the theme noting, “As the world continues to wrestle with the challenges presented by the pandemic, fintechs can play an important role in helping those most impacted move towards recovery. For example, by supporting micro- and small enterprises, which have been devastated by the pandemic but will be ground zero for eventual economic recoveries across the developing world. As difficult as this crisis has been, it has prompted a surge in fintech innovation and an openness to new ideas, the benefits of which could be applied to other challenges beyond the pandemic. We need to be intentional about how we can use this as a springboard for making advances elsewhere, such as with women’s financial inclusion, the responsible use of data, and in navigating the impacts of climate change.”
  • Beth Hurvitz, Global Head of Social Impact, Visa Inc., noted, “Digital payments are an onramp for financial inclusion, helping people and businesses meet their needs and stay afloat in the current context. Fintechs are key to enhancing access and the benefits of digital adoption for the underserved. Visa is committed to work with the payments ecosystem on initiatives such as Inclusive Fintech 50, to support SMB owners to become digitally enabled and rebuild stronger, more competitive and resilient businesses for the recovery of our communities.”
  • Krishna Thacker, Director, MetLife Foundation, noted, “At MetLife Foundation, we recognize the ability of tech to reach low-income people further and faster, but we’re also focused on engaging the customer and changing their financial outcomes. Through Inclusive Fintech 50, we want to identify, recognize and support organizations that are going beyond inclusion to build resilience and financial health for low-income customers – a need highlighted by the pandemic.”

About IF50

Inclusive Fintech 50 identifies promising early-stage fintechs driving financial inclusion around the globe through a competitive process led by an independent panel of judges from venture capital, technology, and financial services. Applicants are assessed on the degree to which their target market includes underserved people or businesses, and whether their innovation offers a new value proposition, shows early-stage traction, and can have a noticeable impact on the more than 3 billion financially underserved people globally. Inclusive Fintech 50 is sponsored by Visa, MetLife Foundation, and Jersey Overseas Aid & Comic Relief, with support from Accion and IFC. The initiative is managed by the Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI). Learn more at www.inclusivefintech50.com.

About The Center for Financial Inclusion

The Center for Financial Inclusion (CFI) works to advance inclusive financial services for the billions of people who currently lack the financial tools needed to improve their lives and prosper. We leverage partnerships to conduct rigorous research and test promising solutions, and then advocate for evidence-based change. CFI was founded by Accion in 2008 to serve as an independent think tank on inclusive finance.

About Visa

Visa Inc. (NYSE: V) is the world’s leader in digital payments. Our mission is to connect the world through the most innovative, reliable and secure payment network – enabling individuals, businesses and economies to thrive. Our advanced global processing network, VisaNet, provides secure and reliable payments around the world, and is capable of handling more than 65,000 transaction messages a second. The company’s relentless focus on innovation is a catalyst for the rapid growth of connected commerce on any device, and a driving force behind the dream of a cashless future for everyone, everywhere. As the world moves from analog to digital, Visa is applying our brand, products, people, network and scale to reshape the future of commerce. For more information visit About Visa and @VisaNews.

About MetLife Foundation

At MetLife Foundation, we are committed to expanding opportunities for low- and moderate-income people around the world. We partner with nonprofit organizations and social enterprises to create financial health solutions and build stronger communities, while engaging MetLife employee volunteers to help drive impact. MetLife Foundation was established in 1976 to continue MetLife’s long tradition of corporate contributions and community involvement. From its founding through the end of 2019, MetLife Foundation provided more than $900 million in grants and $87 million in program-related investments to make a positive impact in the communities where MetLife operates. Our financial health work has reached more than 17.3 million low- and moderate-income individuals in 42 countries. To learn more about MetLife Foundation, visit metlife.org.

About Jersey Overseas Aid & Comic Relief

In 2018, Comic Relief and Jersey Overseas Aid announced a four-year £8 million partnership called ‘Branching Out: Financial Inclusion at the Margins’ to improve access to affordable financial services for those at the margins of society in Sierra Leone, Rwanda and Zambia. Comic Relief and Jersey Overseas Aid believe that one of the best ways to do this is by transferring knowledge to build responsible and inclusive financial systems, incubating FinTech, and focusing on service delivery to increase bottom-of-the-pyramid access to financial services including bank accounts, savings, insurance and credit, providing low-income households with the means to plan for the future as well as unexpected events. The partnership grants support a diverse set of organisations, made up of international and local NGOs, with each grantee delivering programmes designed to meet different community and national needs in addressing financial inclusion.

About Accion

Accion is a global nonprofit committed to creating a financially inclusive world, with a pioneering legacy in microfinance and fintech impact investing. We catalyze financial service providers to deliver high-quality, affordable solutions at scale for the three billion people who are left out of — or poorly served by — the financial sector. For 60 years, Accion has helped tens of millions of people through our work with more than 160 partners in 55 countries. More at http://www.accion.org.

About IFC

IFC—a member of the World Bank Group—is the largest global development institution focused on the private sector in emerging markets. We work in more than 100 countries, using our capital, expertise, and influence to create markets and opportunities in developing countries. In fiscal year 2020, we invested $22 billion in private companies and financial institutions in developing countries, leveraging the power of the private sector to end extreme poverty and boost shared prosperity. For more information, visit www.ifc.org.

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Contact information

Lauren Braniff, Vice President, Strategy and Communications
Center for Financial Inclusion: lbraniff@accion.org

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