With access to finance cited as a major barrier to development by small business owners across Africa, Ghanaian startup Bloom Impact has developed a digital marketplace that provides entrepreneurs with simple and convenient access to financial services.
Formed in April 2017 by Carol Caruso and David Hutchful, Bloom Impact aims to empower small businesses to grow and offer employment by easing affordability of and access to finance.
In addition to having access to a wide range of banking products, entrepreneurs can learn along the way about how to be eligible and product terms and conditions, as well as obtain other tips and guidance. They can also learn about and access their credit history, helping them further understand loan feasibility.
Business owners apply using the mobile app for a loan, savings or checking account, and Bloom’s scoring algorithm connects them with the best suited financial service providers and products on the platform. Using Artificial Intelligence (AI), the system can vet, validate and match entrepreneurs to the banking products that suit them best, with Bloom having partnered with a host of banks.
“Since we partner with banks rather than lend ourselves, we are not competing with other nano-credit digital lenders, several of whom we plan to onboard to serve tiny loan demands. So for now, if a bank isn’t on our platform we are competing with them for product offerings, albeit in a highly digital, more efficient way,” Caruso told Disrupt Africa.
The fintech startup became the ninth venture to receive investment from EWB Ventures, the investment arm of Engineers Without Borders Canada, in October of last year, with the funding allocated to scaling up Bloom’s operations. Expansion to Nigeria is scheduled to take place this year, with Caruso saying the startup will continue growing across West Africa and into a few East African countries where it has seen increasing demand.
This is quick growth for a company that only launched its MVP in the fourth quarter of last year, before it released its first full version in February. Since then it has had over 1,000 downloads with 80 per cent active usage.
“To-date several hundred businesses have submitted applications and opened accounts or received loans. Demand from entrepreneurs doubles monthly and roughly 68 per cent of applicants are women, with 60 per cent of them previously being unbanked,” said Caruso.
Bloom Impact earns revenues from the qualified leads and applications it generates for its financial service providers, and has been earning steady revenues since February. Caruso said its advantage was in the fact it complemented traditional financial institutions rather than “disrupting” them.
“Many fintechs can compete with banks, Bloom Impact leverages the financing and other strengths of financial service providers by cooperating rather than competing,” she said.
“Although some providers take longer than others to adapt to the innovative digital process, after a few months of adjustment they begin fully reap the benefits of quick, vetted, qualified SME leads to grow their portfolios.”