Nala — Leveling the Playing Field in African Payments

The Acrew Team
4 min read4 days ago

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Over the past decade, the world’s most developed regions have seen substantial advances in financial technology. We have early access to earned payroll through Chime, we earn rewards by paying our rent via online portals through BILT, we connect all of our financial accounts into single aggregators using Plaid, and we use tools like Venmo and CashApp which make sending money to family and friends as easy as sending a text message.

While many of these fintech leaders have enabled greater financial inclusion, a theme near and dear to our hearts at Acrew, the African continent has been left behind, which is surprising considering just how ripe it is for disruption:

  • Reported remittance flows into Africa have more than doubled to $100Bn+ over the last decade (Source), a number which most experts agree accounts for only ~40% of all realized flows into the region
  • The African youth population is skyrocketing, as more than a third of the young people on the planet are expected to be African by 2050 (Source)
  • The cost of payments to Africa is still the highest of any region in the world (Source)

For years, African expats trying to send money back to their home countries have had to deal with extremely high fees, weeks-long transfer periods, and general transaction opaqueness. Nala is seeking to change that.

Nala is an African fintech platform with two distinct product offerings:

  • Nala: a B2C platform enabling people in the US, EU, and UK to easily and cost-effectively send money to friends and family on the African continent
  • Rafiki: a B2B offering called Rafiki, which offers a single API for global businesses to facilitate payments into and outside of Africa

Nala has already helped tens of thousands of users in the US, EU, and UK to send money through 249 banks and 26 mobile money services in 11 markets across Africa. Users switching to Nala cite Nala’s payment reliability, FX transparency, and transaction speed as the three key reasons why they chose Nala vs the alternative solutions in the market. On the B2B side, Rafiki has already seen great demand from global money movers, despite only having launched in March.

Nala was founded in 2018 by CEO Benjamin Fernandes, a former Tanzanian TV host turned entrepreneur after attending Stanford’s Graduate School of Business. One thing we have always loved about Benji is that he’s a hustler. In the first photo below, you can see him on-air as a TV host in Africa — a coveted role in Tanzania — made only more impressive by his young age. The second photo below was taken in San Francisco late last year. Benji knew he’d be in town and texted a Nala customer he knew asking to have coffee and collect some product feedback. That customer brought 20 others with them, and the group sat and talked about payment pain points together. This was one of MANY sit downs Benji has hosted in the last year — all in the name of helping the next customer. Benji’s hustle hasn’t stopped.

Benji as a TV host in Africa
Benji in San Francisco with Nala users

Steering Nala alongside Benji are two exceptional leaders in their own rights. CTO Nicolas Esteves grew up in West Africa and spent 12 years as a fintech operator at Osper and Monzo. Today, he leads Nala’s engineering, data and fraud teams. COO Nicolai Eddy joined Nala from Morningstar’s quantitative index portfolios team. He leads the Rafiki B2B business as well as treasury, finance, and operations. Nico and Nico are based in Europe and Africa, respectively — but you’d never know it, because over the past 6 months they’ve made themselves available during literally every hour of their days. Their tenacity is admirable and contagious.

(L-R) Nicolas Esteves (CTO), Benjamin Fernandes (Founder & CEO) and Nicolas Eddy (COO)

Since our initial investment into Nala, we’ve witnessed this team’s hunger to learn, willingness to make data driven decisions, and ability to deftly navigate through tough transitions. Each of these 3 leaders have spent considerable time in Africa and have incredibly deep connectivity not only within the African fintech community, but also within the local governments and regulatory authorities that govern the regions in which Nala operates. Building a nextgen payments platform is hard. Doing it in Africa is even harder. We’re confident that the relationships that the Nala team have developed over the last decade make them best suited to build the preeminent fintech solution for the African continent.

Today, we at Acrew are incredibly proud to announce that we have led Nala’s $40MM growth financing! We’ve known Benji since first backing him and the team coming out of Y-Combinator, and they’re just getting started. We are joined by an incredible group of coinvestors for this round, including existing investor and board member Sheel Tyle from Amplo, as well as Lexi Novitske from Norrsken22, Sterling Snow from Pelion Ventures, HOF Capital, Nyca Partners, DFS Labs, DST Global, and Ryan King, the co-founder and CTO of Chime, alongside many other enthusiastic supporters.

This capital will propel Nala in their mission to build the global payment rails for the next billion.

By Lauren Kolodny, John Gardner, Tom Porter, and Charlie Liao

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