Each year, millions of immigrants move abroad to start new lives, and one of the biggest hurdles they face is access to financial services.
In 2020, tech entrepreneurs, Ridwan Olalere and Rian Cochran launched LemFi (formerly Lemonade Finance) in Canada to solve these challenges for the remittance corridors in Nigeria, Kenya, and Ghana.
The duo met at OPay, one of Africa’s most successful fintech platforms, where they were working in key leadership positions. After combined decades of navigating the underlying complexities and regulatory nuances of cross-border payments in emerging markets, the two were uniquely positioned to leverage their experience as a launching pad for LemFi. “After a year of parting ways at Opay, we reunited and decided to build this remittance solution,” Cochran told Bendada.com.
Since its launch, LemFi has expanded from the three remittance corridors it started with to about 10 African countries, including Togo, Uganda, and Rwanda. As part of its efforts to scale its growth through global expansion, LemFi has raised $33 million in a Series A round led by Left Lane Capital.
Y Combinator, Zrosk, Global Founders Capital, and Olive Tree also participated in the round. This brings the company’s total funding to about $46.8 million, according to Crunchbase.
With this latest funding, the fintech startup intends to expand its product offering to Europe, the Middle East, and Asia, as well as innovate new product offerings according to the needs of its users. “We want to pursue more licenses to drive expansion and also build up the products,” says Cochran. “The choice of our current markets—Canada, the UK, and the US and the ones we will be expanding into is informed by data showing immigrant communities that will find our solutions relevant.”
Inside Lemfi’s journey of providing financial services for immigrants
Having lived on three continents and leading a multicultural team, our mission is deeply personal: creating a world where financial services are universally accessible. We’ve already made life easier for over half a million people, but we’re only just getting started,” Olalere, who is the company's CEO, said.
“Our product is a game changer for users since traditional banks and other leading neo-banks have always steered clear of less common or more volatile currencies,” Ridwan Olalere explained. “This has driven immigrants to often use unsafe, informal channels or to stitch together several other services to solve some of their basic financial needs. Until now.”
In 2021, Lemfi acquired UK-based Rightcard Payment Services. This enabled the fintech company to obtain an Electronic Money Institution (EMI) license from the UK's Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) to provide customers with more services, such as higher transaction limits, e-money accounts, and more.
“We acquired a small payment institution license from the FCA that gave us a quick start on onboarding users in the UK. We acquired Rightcard when we noticed that we would outgrow this license,” Cochran said over a call with Bendada.com. “The acquisition was purely for the license, it was what we needed, allowing us to act very much like a bank.”
Recently, Rightcard obtained an International Money Transfer Operator (IMTO) license from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). The IMTO license allows LemFi to offer its services in partnership with Nigerian banks, empowering users by eliminating the need for intermediaries. In other African countries, Lemfi leverages partnerships with existing countries to provide its offering. For instance in Kenya, Lemfi partners with Cellulant.
“LemFi has been very deliberate and strategic in acquiring licenses and building a robust network of financial institution partners to facilitate cross-border payments for immigrants,” according to Matthew Miller, Principal at Left Lane Capital, who joined LemFi’s Board of Directors as part of the transaction.
We’re excited to support LemFi as it expands its product offering to serve more immigrant communities globally. — Matthew Miller
Building through unstable FX rates and tough regulations
Until June, Nigeria had a fixed FX policy, trading at ₦460 to $1, most people were still unable to access it at this rate. Recently, the CBN announced a new policy allowing the exchange rates to be determined by the market; since this regulation was effected, the rate has gone up to about ₦770 per $1.
This has affected several businesses in Nigeria, especially in the tech ecosystem where the funding comes in dollars and the revenue in Naira.
What does this mean for fintech in the remittance space?
Rian Cochran said that “Overall, it does not impact us too much, there is user behaviour that can be affected but we don't carry exposure to whatever happens to our pay-out countries because we do not hold significant liquidity in these countries.”
What is most likely to affect its operations is regulations. “Regulations are always a challenge for fintechs. It comes with the territory because not all regulations are clear; we work with the information we have,” he added. “We are building a global business in a short time. So, there is a diversity of regulations as well, but we always make sure that we work with good people in place.”
“On a daily basis, what we are constantly doing is fighting for everyday Africans to be globally included financially,” according to Olalere.
The LemFi co-founders believe that cross-border payment is the future. “It is a very important stepping stone to much greater things that are yet to come,” they said.