Mitchell Elegbe is the CEO and Founder of Interswitch, a Nigerian integrated financial payment company. He worked for Schlumberger Wireline and Testing and Telnet until 20O2, when he left to pursue his dream of creating an electronic payment system for his native Nigeria.
His desire to create a digital payment solution was fueled by an unpleasant encounter with an automated teller machine (ATM) in Scotland, where his debit card became stuck. There were no ATMs in Nigeria at the time, and he was reminded of the long and stressful journeys that people had to make to banks.
Mitchell returned to Nigeria and briefly worked for Telnet, where he pitched his business idea to his boss, who approved and authorized him to implement it. However, the outcome was a failure. Not to be deterred, he decided to sell his software, but everyone he approached turned him down. Still eager and convinced of his company’s potential, he decided to launch Interswitch himself.
Interswitch was founded in 2022 by Mitchell, with headquarters in Lagos, Nigeria. Mitchell initially struggled to raise funds and find a suitable CEO to run the company as he envisioned. He was able to raise some capital through banks with the help of Accenture, a multinational professional services firm. Due to a lack of capital to hire an experienced CEO, Mitchell took on the role himself just four years after completing his mandatory one-year National Youth Service program in Nigeria.
Interswitch is now Africa’s leading and most comprehensive integrated digital commerce and financial services platform, dedicated to inspiring Africa to greatness through innovation, value creation, excellence, and the development of a technology solution that connects individuals, businesses, and communities.
Interswitch provides a centralized, comprehensive, outsourced platform that allows customers from various banks to seamlessly send and receive money. It also connects devices such as ATMs, POS terminals, and other payment gateways.
Education, Career and Awards
Mitchell attended Delta Steel Technical High School before enrolling at the University of Benin, where he earned a degree in electrical and electronics engineering. He graduated from the IESE/Wharton/CEIBS Global CEO program. He was named Ernst and Young Entrepreneur of the Year, CNBC/Forbes All African Business Leader (AABLA) for West Africa, and Harvard Business School Association Leadership Award in the General Management Category.
He is also a Bishop Desmond Tutu fellow of the African Leadership Institute and was named an African Banker Icon in 2019.
Interswitch ranked first in the Delloite Technology Africa Fast 50 in 2014 and received a gold medal for innovation at the Computerworld Honors the same year.
Interswitch began with just seven local Nigerian banks, an ATM consortium, and Globalcom, but now has almost all Nigerian banks and over 11,000 ATMs on its network.
What began as a focus on the Nigerian market has grown into a corporate financial services platform with a presence in other African countries such as Nigeria, Kenya, Uganda, and Gambia.
Interswitch expanded its operations and acquired strong financial service subsidiaries such as Verve and Quickteller.
Helios Investment Partners purchased two-thirds of Interswitch in 2010, and Interswitch acquired a 60% stake in Bankom Limited, a Ugandan-licensed interbank switching company, in 2011. As a result of the transaction, Uganda’s leading interbank switching company was renamed Interswitch Limited (East Africa).
Interswitch formed a payment processing partnership with Discovers Financial Services, an American financial services company, in 2013. Interswitch acquired a significant stake in Paynet Group, an East African payment company, in 2014, and boosted African fintech start-ups with a $10 million investment fund in 2015.
In 2019, Visa paid $200 million for a 20% stake in the company, valuing it at $1 billion, making it one of the few African startups to reach that level.
On lessons from his early experience building Interswitch, Mitchell says: “I learnt early that being trustworthy is an important attribute to make it in life. From a rather young age, I have resolved to make the best of every situation I face, knowing that crises will always throw up latent opportunities for the most discerning”.
Mitchell now devotes much of his time to mentoring and advising young entrepreneurs, particularly those in the fintech industry.
“Considering my background and experience with building a technology business within an emerging market context, I am able to do this. Also, I am a member of the board of Endeavor Nigeria which is a globally renowned entrepreneurial development initiative. This also helps me give expression to my passion for nurturing young people,” he said.