• The African Exponent continues to share Africa’s economic state and potential as viewed by Africa’s leading political, business and non-profit leaders. This is the second article in the Africa Rising Series highlighting the various success stories from around the African continent.

    Below is a story of how a small microfinance company has turned into an influential financial institution and household name in West Africa, financing over 7,000 projects worth nearly 100 Million USD.

    The story below is shared by Mr. Jean Luc Konan, the Founder and CEO of GROUPE COFINA.

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    From the early 2000s, Africa has registered sustainable growth, mainly driven by a combination of favorable commodity prices and strong productivity gains. This dual phenomenon has generated a growing middle class driven by the emergence of SMEs and entrepreneurs.  Although these development actors account for 90% of the companies created and around 40% of the job creation on the continent, they remain financially excluded by traditional financial institutions.

    After obtaining a masters degree in financial engineering from ESC in Toulouse Business School (formerly ESC Toulouse) and a DESS in Financial Banking from the University V of Paris, I started my career as an auditor at Arthur Andersen’s office before quickly rising to senior positions in renowned banks such as Citibank, Barclays, BNP Paribas and Ecobank.

    In 2008, I joined the Pan African Bank UBA  (United Bank for Africa) as the CEO for Gabon and then Senegal where, thanks to the support of my very focused team, I won the awards for “CEO of the year” in 2012 and 2013 respectively, awarded by the Banker and Global Finance Magazines. Throughout my banking career, I noticed that most SME’s were too small to attract the attention of banks but too big to benefit from microfinance facilities.  SME’s owners often disclosed to me their fear when it came to meeting with bankers, knowing that less than 7% of them had access to credit lines from banks. The deficit in terms of financing is estimated to be over 140 billion USD.

    In 2009, I joined forces with a team of professionals to create a pan-African institution specializing in inclusive finance. We started working on the "Compagnie Financière Africaine" (COFINA) project, which aims to offer financial services to SMEs and entrepreneurs excluded from traditional banking circuits.

    The COFINA Group model is based on a simple concept: the standardization of process and organization, coupled with a country-specific market approach. This approach can be summarized as, think global and act local.

    Indeed in Africa, 90% of companies are SME’s whose activities are correlated to the various ecosystems of the regions in which they operate. COFINA aspired to serve the needs of these enterprises.

    Meso-finance, generally called "the missing middle" by the Anglo-Saxons, comes from the Greek word "mesos" which means "middle". It is the third “highway” of finance, lying at the crossroads of traditional banking and microfinance. By assisting entrepreneurs and SME’s whose financing needs have become too significant for microfinance institutions and insufficiently formal for traditional commercial banks, COFINA aims at proving that its model is a sustainable solution for the development of African SME’s.

    In less than 2 years of activities in three West African countries (Sénégal, Guinea & Ivory Coast), COFINA has gained 30,000 customers and financed over 7,000 projects for nearly 100 Million USD.

    The first observation drawn from these results is the adequacy of Meso-finance as a source of financing for SME’s, then the economic and social impact of the model. According to demographic and social statistics in Africa, a person with a steady job provides daily support for about a dozen persons within the family. With 7,000 projects funded as of September 2015, we can confidently conclude that COFINA has had huge social impact.

    COFINA currently employs 450 employees of 16 different nationalities and we are spread over 6 countries. Our group is also preparing to launch operations in other African countries over the next few years. We plan to conquer the rest of the continent with the objective of being present in 16 African countries by 2021.

    In this competitive environment, we have placed innovation as a key component of its winning strategy. For example, we recently launched COFINA mobile and COFINA online, two unique mobile and web based applications that facilitate branchless transactions, allowing customers to perform financial transactions from their mobile phones and computers.

    Innovation is not only on the technological side at COFINA, but also in customer relations. Our professionals listen to customers’ needs and quickly adapt when necessary. In order to stay competitive, our group recruits people from various countries and backgrounds and this gives the company a strong “think outside the box” DNA. This diversity is very important for COFINA’s operations since it ensures that the company will always provide innovative services and top-notch products.

    Lastly, in May of 2015, we launched the COFINA Startup House, the first integrated incubator in its industry. This was in collaboration with large structures and companies operating in various industries such as information systems, telecommunications, accounting, legal and tax assistance, communication, social media, entrepreneurship training. The COFINA Startup House aims to foster the development of an African innovation ecosystem. Once these startups succeed, we will also assist them in raising equity from our partners.

    By assisting and identifying the winners of tomorrow, COFINA is securing the sustainability of its model and we are truly championing our vision to be the leading pan-African financial institution of savings and credit for businesses and individuals.