Interview: Reshaping Southern Africa Financial Landscape (IESEG)

Interview: Reshaping Southern Africa Financial Landscape (IESEG)

Interview: Reshaping Southern Africa Financial Landscape (IESEG)

Dec 20, 2023

Dec 20, 2023

Dec 20, 2023

Team photo
Team photo

- Long version of an interview made on 20/12/2023, to access the original article click here -

In the Southern African financial landscape, a new initiative, "CYTO", which stands out for its digital proposition, is ready to emerge. The mind behind this disruptive venture is Joachim VALOT, a recent graduate of the Corporate Finance Master's program at IÉSEG. His commitment to financial innovation and social impact, together with the skills he acquired at IÉSEG, have shaped "CYTO", which is set to redefine financial management in Angola and on the continent.

CYTO… what’s behind this name?

CYTO is first and foremost a team: Tamara Lerner, Thiébault Husson, and myself. We've been working together on this venture for nearly a year now. With the vision of "Empower Africa's Financial Future", our overall objective is to build a bridge linking the African and European continents by facilitating access to financial services for their inhabitants and the diaspora. This idea is a response to the problems I have encountered along the way.

To give a bit of context, I'm both French and Angolan. Angola is a Portuguese-speaking country in southern Africa. I grew up in Angola and came to France to study. During my studies at IESEG, I set my sights on a career in banking, with a first experience in a bank in Togo, a second in private banking in Luxembourg, and a final one in an investment fund in the United Arab Emirates. It's the second experience that will have the effect of a trigger for me. First of all, it destroyed my imposter syndrome, and then it allowed me to question the role I could play in society. The idea of making a career in an institution based in Europe or Africa certainly seemed comfortable, but not very satisfying. I must admit that my ego played a role here, haha.

This personal process is the first step. The second is identifying a problem. This is where my dual nationality comes into play. The fact that I have one foot on each continent gives me a magnifying glass of all the disparities that persist. Naturally, I focus on what I know - financial services. Even something as simple as a money transfer becomes a headache when an African country enters the equation.

After the facts, come the why. There are a plethora of reasons behind these disparities. My short experience in this field has enabled me to understand that the financial system is constructed in such a way as to exclude Africa. However, technological progress and the emergence of innovative players like Lydia or Revolut in Europe, Venmo or Paypal in North America, Mercado Pago or Uala in Latin America, Alipay or WeChat in Asia, and even Flutterwave or Jumia in Africa are concrete proof that an alternative is possible. And even though some of the names I have mentioned are unicorns today, some of them have flaws. We accept that these are inspirations for CYTO, but we intend to do better.

How do we intend to do better? Of course, our overall vision is to revolutionize financial services on the African continent. We are taking a step-by-step approach by first tackling the problem of money transfers. We aim to launch a web and mobile platform for international transfers between Europe and Africa, starting with my two countries, France and Angola. The big challenge here is to make this platform easy to use, with a strict regulatory framework and a banking network that spans the two continents, all for an efficient service at an unbeatable price.

So you decided to use your French and Angolan networks to provide a solution to this problem...

Absolutely. On this point, I would like to say that our enthusiasm does not prevent us from being pragmatic. At our stage, it's important to emphasize, even hammer home, all our strengths. The backgrounds and experience within our team enable us to navigate and make ourselves heard among the financial circles in Africa and Europe, which is crucial in a complex business sector like ours. Just as our experience in market finance enables us to identify and mitigate the risks inherent in transferring funds. Our in-depth knowledge of financial organizations ensures that our operations comply with international standards to combat money laundering and the financing of illicit activities. There are so many aspects of CYTO that are important to highlight because they make it the best project, carried out by the best team at the best time.

You mentioned African players. Are some African countries better served than others?

Some African countries already have start-ups offering such services, notably Egypt, Nigeria, and Senegal. These companies have found their market and some have become giants. However, to date, no player has distinguished itself in this way in southern Africa. This difference is due to a huge number of factors, including market dynamism and growth. I'm passionate about history, so I'm interested in the political and cultural aspects of things.

Egypt and Nigeria are former British colonies, and the different conceptions of risk, the market, and innovation held by the Anglo-Saxons are well established. This difference is felt on every continent, and there is no reason why Africa should be an exception. This does not explain everything, but I am convinced that it has had an impact in the long term. The French- and Portuguese-speaking parts of the continent have long suffered from a cruel lack of investment.

Angola is part of Portuguese-speaking southern Africa, a neglected region with a market of 250 million inhabitants, and a young population with real needs in terms of education, employment, and inclusion in the system. The projections made by international institutions and major companies for this part of the world are chilling. The challenges are colossal, and any attempt to respond is going against the tide. But that's what makes the CYTO project so exciting. We are a project designed by young people, for young people. We are convinced that our customer-focused approach has the potential to become a major player in education and financial inclusion on the continent.

Inclusion, education, so beyond profit, you're also looking to have a real impact on Angolan society...

We are pragmatic. Obviously, in this type of activity in this part of the world, the risks are high, but so are the rewards. We never fail to mention this when we talk to our investors.

But the mission we have set ourselves goes beyond a simple practical solution. It's a cultural change that we want to pioneer. It is first and foremost an international demand. These days, we have the feeling that we live in a world that is fragmenting and turning in on itself. My experience proves to me every day that, on the contrary, the world has more common interests than ever before. We have no intention of becoming the Benettons of international finance, but we do consider that the message, "You can be Angolan and study in Brussels, or you can be French and do your VIE in Luanda without having any problems opening an account, transferring money or paying", is a claim in itself. Then there is the message of control over one's destiny. Once again, we are launching our service in an area beset by colossal challenges. We want CYTO's success to inspire millions of young Africans to take control of their lives. Our ambition is to become an emulator of goodwill by providing all the tools, whether technological, educational, or financial.

Personally, it makes much more sense for me, given my background and relationships on both continents, to become a business provider for the Angolan and European financial systems. The demand is there and the profits are much higher. But once again, this role did not satisfy me. I believe that all human beings are born with or develop unique abilities, and it is our role, when we are lucky enough to know them, to use these abilities to do what we consider to be good. Then there's my situation. I'm lucky enough to have been born well, to have had a good education, to have recognized training, and above all to be in good health. For a long time, I wondered what meaning I could give to all these privileges that I enjoyed without having achieved anything. I came away with a certain sense of responsibility, tinged with rather Christian notions of testing and suffering. I can do it, so I have to do it; to do otherwise would, in my view, have been a waste. I seem to have replaced impostor syndrome with savior syndrome. But I think the perfect entrepreneur is somewhere in between.

What do you consider to be the most important qualities of an entrepreneur?

I don't claim to have a universal experience of entrepreneurship, but in reflecting on this question, I realized that entrepreneurship is a personal adventure that reveals and amplifies one's shortcomings.

For my part, I know that before I started, I was sorely lacking in gratitude. Gratitude has become central for me, firstly towards others. Entrepreneurship means starting alone, and over time, people join you and contribute in their way to make the project a reality. I'm not just talking about my colleagues, although I can't thank Tamara and Thiébault enough for taking the project on board and working on it every day. I'm also talking about customers, external partners, and even you, Alice, for inviting me to do this interview. The success of a project depends on the goodwill of a huge number of people, and sometimes one person can radically change the course of a project. We can't afford to be ungrateful.

Secondly, I think that gratitude is important for oneself. Entrepreneurship is a Sisyphean challenge, one problem solved reveals two others and there are more failures than victories. So it's important to celebrate every milestone reached, every goal achieved that brings us closer to success, otherwise we give up. This last aspect is linked to a key quality of the entrepreneur: resilience. Once again, entrepreneurship is above all a mountain of problems accompanied by insurmountable obstacles. It's essential to have the determination and adaptability to break down or get around these barriers.

My secret for staying the course is to tell myself that when I have an idea, 95% of the people who have the same idea can't implement it for whatever reason. Of the 5% who can, 95% try but give up at some point, and of the remaining 5%, 95% do it but badly. Quick maths is infallible and motivates you to do your best.

- If you read until here you must be very interested in our project, why not meet us directly? Schedule a chat by clicking here-

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