FinTech is consumer-driven revolution, says GetBucks CEO Dave van Niekerk

"There is a lot of hype around FinTech at the moment, where everyone thinks that it is the be all and end all of financial services. I see it as more of a consumer-driven revolution. People are looking for more convenient and cost-effective ways to transact and do business."

That is the view of Dave van Niekerk, CEO of FinTech company GetBucks and micro-finance entrepreneur. He will elaborate on his vision during our FinTech Africa event in Cape Town on 20 October. For CFO.co.za we spoke exclusively to him about doing business in Africa, the future of FinTech and the outstanding entrepreneurial talent in South Africa.

Tell us about your background.
"I've always been in micro-finance. I cut my teeth at Unity Financial Services, which became African Bank in 1998. In 2001, I launched Blue Financial Services. The company was listed in 2006 and I left three years later. I launched my current business, Getbucks, a short-term credit provider, in 2012 with a bunch of like-minded investors. We are a FinTech organisation that is operating in nine countries - seven in Africa and two in Europe - and I serve as joint CEO."

You've done a lot of business in Africa. What are the challenges of operating on the continent?
"The challenge is two-fold. Firstly, connectivity and access to the Internet remain issues, which go back to the fact that data is still extremely expensive in Africa. Africans have to pay a lot more than their counterparts in the USA, UK and other developed nations to enjoy access to the Internet through a PC or mobile phone. Companies also have to deal with fewer people having smartphones, although this is gathering momentum on a daily basis. Old-generation phones have an impact on the consumers' ability to connect and make transactions, so the technology itself is also an issue."

"If you have a good idea, just run with it. The best plans don't survive contact with reality. Rather begin implementing as soon as possible, because your concept is going to evolve the whole time."

What can FinTech do for economic growth and consumers on the continent?
"There were no landlines in Africa and everyone just went straight to cellphones. FinTech is following a similar line in Africa to telecommunications. Because the costs of distribution are high and infrastructure that is not readily available on the continent, FinTech will help African markets. The consumer or end user will be able to access financial services anywhere at any time, whereas in the past, they had to go into branches of financial institutions. It's very difficult to find suitable locations for premises in Africa, as rentals are high and connectivity is limited. Financial inclusion means people have to have access."

What is behind the FinTech boom of the past couple of years?
"Boom is the right word to use. There is a lot of hype around FinTech at the moment, where everyone thinks that it is the be all and end all of financial services. I see it as more of a consumer-driven revolution. People are looking for more convenient and cost-effective ways to transact and do business. The financial services industry is having to play catch-up with today's consumer demands of instant availability. We can order hamburgers or books for same-day delivery, but we don't necessary make financial transactions in the same way."

"I am worried about regulation."

Do you think South Africa has the entrepreneurial talent to support such a boom?
"Very much so - there is so much talent here with great skillsets geared towards success in the FinTech market. Local entrepreneurs are hungry for success and constantly innovative, which a necessity if you want to do well in Africa. The challenges come down to regulation and financial support for FinTech start-ups - we don't have the same deep pockets for this as others in global markets. The South African financial services market is a tougher space to navigate in terms of regulation than it is elsewhere in the world."

Are there any local initiatives that have impressed you?
"I look at what the likes of Mpesa, Ecocash and Airtel and other mobile money operators are doing with banks to increase accessibility of services. This is cutting edge on the rest of the continent, but is not as widely used in South Africa because of regulation. Banks are playing an innovative role in SA because regulation stops the other guys from doing it. Then there's Debtbusters, with its innovative online debt counselling model. We're on the right track. In terms of the speed of real-time money transfers, South African banks are ahead of many of their peers in other countries."

What do you see happening in the local FinTech space locally?
"There is still a lot of room for growth, but I am worried about regulation. I see a lot of development on the credit and money transfer side, which will make life more interesting. The important thing is that we need to be able to adopt other people's services to truly be part of an inter-connected world."

Do you have any advice for FinTech entrepreneurs?
"If you have a good idea, just run with it. The best plans don't survive contact with reality. Rather begin implementing as soon as possible, because your concept is going to evolve the whole time."