Cross-border payment is one major pain point for people especially when it comes to sending money from one African country to the other or sending or receiving money in Africa. Pizza takes a trip to Ghana to meet Sesacash CEO & Co-Founder, Blaise Bayuo, an entrepreneur pushing the boundaries of cross-border payments in Africa by leveraging on blockchain.
Pizza: You are the Co-Founder & CEO of Sesacash, one of the FinTech solutions out there pushing boundaries in the financial services space in Africa. Kindly introduce yourself and tell us more about your vision and mission.
Blaise Bayuo: I am always fascinated by how we can use technology to solve both global and local problems. I have developed my life around technology entrepreneurship since 2010. I have a background in urban and development planning from Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Ghana, which I acquired in 2008. Immediately after my bachelors, proceeded to Meltwater Entrepreneurial School of Technology to study a two-year programme in software technology and entrepreneurship. Recently, I graduated with a masters degree in Innovation and Sustainability from Lund University, Sweden.
My entrepreneurial journey began back in 2010. I graduated from MEST in 2010 and that marked the beginning of my journey as a technology entrepreneur. While at MEST, I co-founded an eCommerce software startup called RetailTower – a technology that helped online stores in the US and Europe to market their products on Google, Amazon, eBay, Shopzilla among others. We grew the user base of RetailTower to about 15,000 online merchants globally and we were among the first 100 apps to be listed on the Shopify.com apps store. As the CEO of RetailTower, we built a global startup that received a series of investor-funding, became profitable and was acquired.
In 2018, we built Sesacash and have been growing the project and our community since then. With Sesacash, our mission is to provide financial freedom to developing countries by giving people more choices on how to protect and spend their money. We are doing this by leveraging blockchain technology to provide businesses and individuals in Africa a secured, faster and cheaper way to make cross border payments or protect themselves against inflation. In the long run, the vision is to build a decentralised finance protocol for financial transactions and payment systems in Africa.
Pizza: Sesacash has developed a solution that enables a user create a multi-currency wallet and international account, helping to solve some of the major pain points in borderless transactions in Africa and around the world today. Do you think that FinTech startups, not traditional financial institutions, will provide the solutions to the many limitations in cross-border transactions we witness today?
Blaise Bayuo: Cross-border payments are still expensive, especially on the African continent. It is a complex process to navigate. FinTechs have the capacity to leverage new and emerging technologies to make this faster and cheaper. Banks are locked-in to legacy technologies and regulatory frameworks that make it costly or slower for them to adopt emerging technologies like blockchain to offer innovative cross-border solutions. There is the potential for FinTechs to build new solutions to fill this void and offer cheaper solutions due to lower operational costs.
Pizza: Cryptocurrencies, compared to fiat, offer a cheaper and faster means for completing borderless transactions and blockchain makes this possible. But would it be correct if one said that although Sesacash is powered by blockchain, it does not power cryptocurrencies but fiat, changing the way that fiat is used for money transfer or currency conversion. For a delivery van full of pizza, could you solve this seeming puzzle for us? And what lessons, if any, can blockchain-powered startups take away from this?
Blockchain use cases have been limited to only cryptocurrencies and that actually limits the adoption of blockchain. On the contrary, blockchain has applications in our daily lives in ways that are unimaginable. We are building on the power of blockchain to offer a simple and cheaper solution to process cross-border fiat payments. The whole principle of cheaper asset transfer and swaps for crypto can be applied to fiat as well. We have built a token economy around fiat cross-border payments to make cheaper and rewarded users for using blockchain fiat money transfer. Blockchain startups can make it easy for end-users to enjoy the benefits of blockchain without understanding the complexities of blockchain. End-users don’t understand how to handle the long and complex private keys and mnemonic phrases that we have to guard with all our lives. Blockchain startups should explore ways to insulate users from the complexities of blockchain while building solutions on the blockchain. The end-user wants a product that works and now how complex the product is.
Pizza: Digitizing currencies seems to be the way to go for some reserve banks these days. Perhaps this is because electronic money appears to be unable to shake off the limitations of paper money. As an entrepreneur in the borderless money-transfer business, do you think that the introduction of central bank digital currencies (CBDCs) by reserve banks or central banks in Africa will significantly solve the problem of cross-border transactions in Africa? Tell us why or why not.
Blaise Bayuo: It will partially solve the problem but may not entirely. The CBDCs may remove the role banks play in fiat distribution in a particular country. So it will be easy to make a p2p fiat transfer without the need for a commercial bank in the process. As you know, all the CBDCs are built on different architectures; while some are developed on central databases, others are deployed on the blockchain.
Besides, for those built on blockchain, the blockchain protocols differ. In effect, cross-border payments may still present some problems regarding the exchange modalities. In the long-run, however, when systems become interoperable, it will significantly solve the problem.
Pizza: Today, transactions are increasingly becoming borderless, but sending money from one part of Africa to another can be a mess. It’s also difficult to use one’s local currency to access other African currencies and foreign currencies such as the US dollar. How does Sesacash make this possible?
Blaise Bayuo: By creating virtual currencies, it is easy for us to issue users with any other currencies via our smart contract. So we have the liberty to issue different currencies instantly when needed.
Pizza: Presently, Sesacash offers its borderless wallet services in Ghana and Nigeria. Do you face regulatory hurdles in these countries? How do you think regulators can improve the work that they do so they get to protect public interest without stifling innovation?
Blaise Bayuo: Yes, we do face regulatory hurdles and it takes a longer time to regularize operations in each country. One of the major hurdles is the minimum capital requirement for a company like Sesacash to effectively operate in each country. In addition, each country has different regulatory frameworks that make it become a complex process to navigate. The regulators should make it possible for more than 2 companies to pool resources together to operate one licence and the group will hold each other accountable and keep each other in check. This will reduce the capital overhead for FinTechs to acquire some minimum certification to work. Second but more important is the need to harmonise the different regions in Africa into common regulatory zones. For instance, ECOWAS can develop a common regulatory framework that makes it easy for a company based in Ghana to serve customers in all other West African countries without the need for further regularization in other countries. We need a single regulatory zone.
Pizza: Since the outbreak of the Covid-19 pandemic, just as many businesses are closing down, we are seeing subscription and sales in some sectors in the digital economy go way up. How has the impact of Covid-19 been on borderlands transactions and how is your business responding to this?
Blaise Bayuo: These are really difficult times and flow of payment transfers across borders has slowed down but not so much to disrupt our daily operations. We are rather reaching out to more people about how Sesacash can help facilitate payments to families and individuals who may be vulnerable. This is the time we are also seeing increased usage even though the volumes have dipped a bit.
Pizza: Any message to other entrepreneurs out there who are working day and night, leveraging blockchain technology to solve the pain points across various industries in Africa and around the world?
Blaise Bayuo: They should simplify the blockchain solutions by avoiding the complexities of blockchain in their innovations. Blockchain has wider user cases besides cryptocurrencies and entrepreneurs should think in that direction. The use of private keys and mnemonics scare a lot of non-blockchain savvy users.
Pizza: Finally, if you are Laszlo Hanyecz, the man who paid 10,000 bitcoins for two pizzas in May 2010, how would you honestly react when you see bitcoin price today at over $8,800 per coin?
Blaise Bayuo: Well, it means it takes time to build value and we need to support budding projects and give them the room to build value in these projects. It also means that entrepreneurs need to be patient and look at the longer picture with the projects they are building and developing. If he kept the 10,000 bitcoins, he would be $88,000,000 richer today. Value is built over time.