A look at PayPal's potential in Afrika

PayPal has been around for well over a decade now, but in the last few years it’s begun to get significantly more aggressive about its growth. On the one hand, this has become evident simply through the performance of the company. Per late-2017 earnings reports, PayPal is getting more people to use its services more often, and added 8.2 million net new accounts in just the final quarter of last year. That would be a nice number for a lot of tech companies, but is particularly impressive for a business that some believe is falling behind its competition.



Digging a little deeper, the growth is a result of several moves PayPal has made to make itself more useful and more modern. It’s worked on expanding Venmo for instance (a peer-to-peer payment app that many don’t realize is a piece of PayPal). It’s risen as a dedicated payment service trusted by a vast array of online gaming and betting platforms, which cater to huge player bases. You might even notice, if you haven’t looked at PayPal in a while, that they’ve even streamlined their interface and made it, at least in a vague sort of way, more modern.



These are the kinds of changes that make headlines and generate attention. But beneath the surface, PayPal has also taken strides toward becoming more available in some countries and remote communities that never used it before, and in some cases may need alternative banking solutions.



In 2015 it was announced that PayPal was explicitly targeting African markets with a move into Kenya. It was noted at the time that M-Pesa was the preferred mobile money system in Kenya at the time, but PayPal was making a pitch as a more universal system. It would allow users to sell to and buy from users beyond the influence of M-Pesa. It was also mentioned at the time that this sort of service could be particularly important in Africa due to the continent’s relatively poor banking infrastructure, essentially giving individuals a means of connecting beyond communities and borders where banks either weren’t available or wouldn’t suffice.



Expanding on this notion, an article just this spring proclaimed that PayPal was “banking on the unbanked,” beginning to offer services that allow it to become an alternative to regular banks, in some respects. While company officials have stressed that PayPal isn’t looking to replace banks, the idea is to offer some basic financial transfer and management capabilities to people who might not have been able to take advantage of similar functions through banks. And the potential for communities dealing with the aforementioned poor banking infrastructure that plagues much of the continent is significant.



Ultimately, PayPal could wind up providing an important boost to economies all around Africa. It will certainly be an interesting thing to watch in the coming years.

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