A chat with Mxolisi Msutwana about Onafriq’s rebranding, global mission and other implications

David Afolayan
“We took the word “Ona” from Yoruba, which means road or path. Then, we combined it with the variation of the French word. “Afrique”, which means Africa. Then, the “IQ” is a reference to the brilliant solutions that we are building…”
A chat with Mxolisi Msutwana about Onafriq's rebranding, global mission and other implications

Mxolisi Msutwana joined MFS Africa as General Manager for operations about eight years ago. At the time of joining, the company had about 30 people. A couple of years later, he transitioned to become the Chief Operating Officer of the business.

Mxolisi (Mx) has a background in electrical engineering. With an interest in business, he went ahead to obtain a postgraduate Diploma in Business Administration and later an MBA from the Gordon Institute of Business Science. At the moment, he is the COO of Baxi by Onafriq.

I spoke with him about the company’s recent name change from MFS to Onafriq, the circumstances surrounding the change, what it meant for the team and how this will influence the company going forward.

Read the excerpt below:

Similar read: Digital payments network MFS Africa rebrands to Onafriq following US expansion

Q: Welcome on board, Mxolisi Msutwana. A few weeks ago, pan-African fintech company MFS Africa unveiled a major rebranding, changing its name to Onafriq. What is the reason behind this decision?

With MFS, our goal, essentially, was to connect wallets together to allow them to be able to operate with each other in peer-to-peer transactions. So the name, Mobile Financial Services (MFS), was very relevant and it was the right fit for the business at the time. 

Subsequently,  we started connecting, adding bank accounts, connecting banks into the ecosystem and then outside of Africa, connecting money transfer operators into the ecosystem. 

So that was our organic strategy. We then combined that with an inorganic strategy where we made an acquisition of Baxi for collections and disbursements in Nigeria. This afforded us the leverage to carry out offline payments as well as do agency banking.

A chat with Mxolisi Msutwana about Onafriq's rebranding, global mission and other implications
Mxolisi Msutwana

Our latest acquisition, GTP will allow us to offer prepaid and mobile payment services across America. So, if you think it, the name MFS we started with (Mobile Financial Services) seems to be a bit limiting now. This is especially if you look at the array of services and the fact that our business has now moved beyond Africa, into the US and Europe.

This is coupled with the fact that the name MFS is trademarked in the US. All of this combined offered us an opportunity to actually have a look at how to rebrand to reflect what we have at the moment, which is essentially an omnichannel experience.

So, the name Onafriq is definitely a better fit for where we are at the moment as well as where we are going with MFS. Now, Onafriq is a global name. And, we have got our various businesses under the global business name.

Q: Let us look at the meaning of Onafriq. I am curious here. Africa has a lot of languages. This sounds like a Yoruba word from Nigeria. The continent has hundreds of languages, so why Yoruba? Second, considering the fact that you are now a global brand,  isn’t this name going to be limiting?

Right from the onset, our roots have always been to be proudly Pan-African. So, in whatever journey that we undertake, we always want to reflect the Africanness of the business.

Now, you cannot say that you are truly a Pan-African FinTech company if you are not in Nigeria. Nigeria, even for us, is one of our biggest markets on the continent. Then, we believe that when we are looking for a name, it makes sense for all of us to honour our major markets.

So, we took the word “Ona” from Yoruba, which means road or path. Then, we combined it with the variation of the French word. “Afrique”, which means Africa. Then, the “IQ” is a reference to the brilliant solutions that we are building and the amazing team that is building them. 

So, we combined all of those together to come up with Onafriq. I think it essentially consolidated a multitude of ideologies and missions that we are driving across Africa and the world.

Digital payments network MFS Africa rebrands to Onafriq following US expansion
Onafriq logo

Now, to your second question on whether the name is going to be limiting, I believe that it is definitely not. We have operations in 40 countries in the ecosystem with over 500 million mobile wallets, 200 million bank accounts and about 300,000 agents. We also offer card processing and card issuance services to over 250 partners. You will find some of these partners in the US and Europe.

With this name change, we can reflect our innate depth and experience as an African fintech company. For us, it reflects our projected African roots, but also reflects where we want to see ourselves in the future. So, instead of it being a limitation, it is going to be a differentiator as a proudly African brand.

Q: Following the rebranding from MFS to Onafriq, what will be different?

So when you think about MFS, you automatically know what it means. It is very closely linked to mobile wallets. It was fitting when our goal was to connect different mobile money schemes together. It was a very natural fit. 

Soon, we realized that what we wanted to be able to do was to create a unified experience for many users across the world. And, for us to be able to do that, we needed to regionalize our strategy and localise our use cases, offerings and our channels to be specific to the need of users across different regions. 

So, if you are either in Lagos or in Nairobi, you will notice that the payment systems differ quite vastly. In Lagos, you will be iterating with mostly agency banking. If you are in Nairobi, it is more about mobile banking where mobile wallets are quite native.

It made sense that we are now looking at offering an omnichannel experience depending on which region we are offering that experience in. Hence, the name Onafriq better reflects our ambitions much better than MFS.

Q: So, some people feel that the decision by African fintech businesses to expand outside of Africa is misplaced especially when a majority of the African population are still unbanked or underserved. Do you agree with this?

There are two sides to the answer. Right? This is typically what I call the supply side and the demand side.

So, if you look at the supply side, which is the ecosystem that we have been building. So if you think about the African continent at large, mobile penetration in most countries is higher than banking penetration. So our focus in the past few years has been to make sure that we connect as many mobile wallet users in the continent, as much as possible.

There are, of course, some issues around KYC. But, we work very closely with regulators both locally and internationally to make sure that we can safely serve as many people as possible on the continent

From 2023-2024, Onafriq is not just going to be a company that is based in Africa. But a company that provides services to Africans across the globe. So I believe that Onafriq is positioning for something very big. 

And, when you are creating a network that is as big as this one, you need as many diverse people as you can have. So from the onset, MFS Africa has been multicultural operating, with offices in multiple countries and being fairly comfortable in both Anglo and Francophone countries. So, that has helped us quite a lot to bridge the communication gap and work on joint goals with partners in the various countries.

The second part is understanding what constitutes true interoperability. You know, a lot of people often think about when you say that you want to create connectedness or interoperability, they tend to think about the tech, you know, connecting the platforms together. 

What we believe is that the tech is just the beginning. 

Mxolisi Msutwana
Mxolisi Msutwana

Essentially, the four things that you need to get right when you’re solving the interoperability challenge:

  • The first is the tech, which is the basic.
  • The second is compliance and regulation, making sure that you understand the local regulations, that you have the necessary licenses and that you are working very closely with the regulators to understand and solve the compliance challenges. in the various regions.
  • The third is currency and its effect on your system. And, this is one of the areas that we excel in. Because on the continent, you have to accept that you are going to be dealing with multiple currencies.
  • The fourth one is operations. This is the backend reconciliations and all those things you need to be able to sort things out.

So, what we found out very early on is that if you want to succeed in this space, you need to get off of these pillars quite right. If any one of them is missing, it will definitely hamper your chances.

When we acquired Baxi some years back, one of the goals was to acquire a business that is entrenched in Nigeria, manages the agency space very well,  offers value-added services and is quite strong in the b2b space. With Banksy, we can integrate the business into the rest of the group and facilitate cross-border connections. So we have opened up China-Nigeria transaction routes.

And, we have been able to open corridors in South, Europe, the US as well as connect outbound transactions from Nigeria to many other countries. 

Q: Going forward, what should we expect from Onafriq?

So, what we will offer our partners is the omni-channel experience. 

We have a deep understanding of the various regions that we operate in and we are able to offer use cases and channels that are designed for those regions. So our partners will work with us, depending on whatever it is that the partner wants. That is the first part.

The second part is essentially exposing our international partners to the vast network and ecosystem that we have. 

Onafriq CEO, Dare Okoudjou
Onafriq CEO, Dare Okoudjou

China is another interesting angle for us. As you know, there is a big China-Nigeria trade corridor. There is also the China and Africa interconnectedness that is developing. We have the fintech infrastructure in Africa and now, in Asia, with our Chinese subsidiary, actively supporting African merchants to connect to China and facilitate the trade between those two continents.

So when we look at all of that, I think the possibilities of what we’re able to offer are quite limitless. And, this is what we are excited about.

Q: Fantastic. MX thank you for your time. 

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