OP-ED: Is traction a la TymeBank the new standard for fintechs looking to raise VC?

Fintech leaders are facing up to the realities of plummeting global VC funding. TymeBank's trajectory exemplifies the evolving landscape for securing venture capital.

OP-ED: Is traction a la TymeBank the new standard for fintechs looking to raise VC?
Photo by Pete Alexopoulos / Unsplash

There was plenty of humble pie to be had at this year’s Money20/20 Europe event in Amsterdam, Netherlands.

The gathering serves as a premium platform for content, sales, and networking, attracting leading brands and personalities from the global money ecosystem, including payments, fintech, and financial services.

Bottom basics

With the fintech industry experiencing a dramatic drop in funding—from $238.9 billion in 2021 to $113.7 billion in 2023—regardless of the bullish sentiment of fintech proponents worldwide, the data points to a broader recalibration driven by a plethora of complex economic factors, not least the global trend towards higher interest rates. This shift has made it increasingly difficult for even the most promising and rapidly expanding companies to secure funding, which is now being provided at lower valuations compared to previous years.

Given this backdrop, the fact that in 2023 Africa and the Middle East experienced their third-highest year for venture capital investments since 2016 is somewhat encouraging. However, consider this dose of humble pie: according to the African Private Equity and Venture Capital Association’s (AVCA) Venture Capital in Africa Report, Africa's share of the $285.2 billion in global VC funding in 2023 was estimated to be in the lower single digits, with North America attracting $144.3 billion, Asia $78.1 billion, and Europe $52.4 billion. While Africa's VC ecosystem is still nascent compared to major VC hubs, its share of global VC allocation has been increasing over the past decade, albeit from a very low base.

Traction Tyme

The unfolding growth story of the South African challenger bank, TymeBank, has got me pondering what the new market traction baseline for securing VC funding might be for African fintechs. 

In 2021, TymeBank raised $110 million in a Series B extension round led by Tencent. Then, in 2022, the company acquired Retail Capital, a fintech loan company, to enable TymeBank to start offering customers health and funeral insurance. 

In January 2024, TymeBank CEO Coenraad Jonker told Business Report that, as of December 2023, the neobank had become the first digital bank in South Africa and on the continent to register sufficient customer adoption to unlock profitability. 

Last month, TymeBank announced securing $77.8 million in a pre-Series C funding round led by Norrsken22 and Blue Earth Capital, with participation from existing investor Tencent. The funds raised are earmarked for further expansion of TymeBank's operations in South Africa and the Philippines, future expansion into Southeast Asia, and a partial share buyback. (TymeBank is already active in the Philippines and Vietnam as part of the Tyme Group.) 

Context corner

In late 2018, Patrice Motsepe’s African Rainbow Capital (ARC) secured approval from the Prudential Authority of the South African Reserve Bank to buy 100% of Tyme Digital from the Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA). Early the following year, TymeBank was officially launched in South Africa as the country’s first fully digital bank. 

Several years earlier, in 2012, Tyme (Take Your Money Everywhere) was initially spawned in South Africa by a Deloitte Consulting project funded by mobile operator MTN before, being spun out. After achieving impressive early market traction in the country but failing to secure local VC backing to fund growth—despite lobbying South Africa’s legacy banking industry—in 2015, Tyme’s founding team eventually managed to convince the CBA to acquire the business for a reported A$40 million.

Side-bar: Cheers to Dominique Collett for letting me in on what it was like to be part of the founding team at Tyme during the early days on a throwback African Tech Conversations podcast episode published in 2015. It’s definitely worth a listen.

Back to the present, Jonker recently told the Financial Times that TymeBank expects to close its full Series C funding round later in 2024, aiming to raise at least $100 million.

Despite the turbulent economic environment, Jonker remains highly optimistic about the growth potential of fintech in Africa and Southeast Asia, and specifically about TymeBank's prospects in these markets. His upbeat outlook surpasses even the cautious bullishness expressed by previous TechTides Africa column hijackers, AZA Finance founder and CEO, Elizabeth Rosiello, and Revio co-founder and COO, Nicole Dunn. It’s likely the traction talking.

It appears that these days, it’s much more a case of “show me your traction and I’ll show you the money” than in prior investment cycles.

Editorial Note: This opinion editorial was first published by Business Report on 19 June 2024.