The growth of digital transformation and the fast-driven digital acceleration to digital payments have both played a part in changing the financial services industry. Different payment focused fintechs in Africa are racing to offer the best services to both merchants and banks.
We caught up with Akshay Grover, the Group Chief Executive Officer, Cellulant, which is a leading merchant-focused payments company serving the African continent. Apart from confirming that Cellulant is going to break even very soon, Akshay gave us very insights into the digital payments space in Africa.
With over a decade of experience working in Africa, Akshay has spearheaded the transformation of Cellulant, propelling its growth and expansion into new markets. In the interview with CIO Africa magazine, he shared insights into his role, the company’s achievements, and its plans for the future.
From successfully productizing services to navigating the challenges brought by the pandemic, Grover’s leadership has driven Cellulant’s success. Follow us we delve into his journey and gain valuable perspectives on the evolving landscape of digital payments in Africa.
CIO Africa Reporter: Who is Akshay Grover?
Akshay Grover: I am the Group Chief Executive Officer at Cellulant, responsible for ensuring efficient customer service. Prior to joining Cellulant. I’ve spent nearly the last decade working in various roles across Africa. Personally, I am married with a 9-year-old child, and I enjoy playing tennis and reading.
How has your experience as the CEO of Cellulant been over the years?
It’s been an incredible experience in the last two years, because I got the opportunity to lead the business and its transformation to becoming a merchant-focused business. Along with the team at Cellulant, I’ve been able to champion the productization of all our services and a full revamp of all our technology stack.
I’ve also seen significant expansion across markets in Africa. Over the last two years we’ve gone into close to nine new markets including South Africa, Egypt, Morocco, the UAE, Cote d’ivoire, Ethiopia etc.
I think the journey with Cellulant, every day is a new challenge partly because we operate in multiple geographies, there’s always a new competitor, new dynamic, change in regulation, change in business environment and I think what I love most about being in this job is having to deal with that dynamism every single day.
What is your proudest moment as the CEO of Cellulant?
It’s hard to pinpoint one specific moment, as there have been several great moments during my tenure. One of them is signing a major partnership agreement with pan-African bank UBA, which enabled us to serve their merchants. Another proud moment is the successful launch of our offline solution, including POS devices in Nigeria, Ghana, and Zambia, allowing customers to pay directly from their bank accounts.
These are the kinds of moments where I feel proud to just have the opportunity to lead a very talented team across the continent.
Have you ever regretted any decision you made as CEO of Cellulant?
Well, nothing in specific comes to my mind, to say that I really great this decision. However, it is important to note that in the course of business, you make so many decisions and some go right while others go wrong. It’s just the nature of decisions. All decisions cannot be right, and all decisions cannpt be wrong either. When I look back at the two years I have served as the CEO at Cellulant, I really can’t find something I would say I regret. But I would be superhuman if I said I made all the right decisions.
Because you have been there before and after the pandemic, what role did the pandemic play in Cellulant’s growth?
The pandemic had both positive and negative effects on our business. On the positive side, the pandemic had a lot of people forced to do more digital transactions rather than using cash. It was a positive for us, given that we are a payments business and our whole endeavor and objective is to digitize more and more payments and to make these payments very smooth. However, certain sectors we served, such as airlines, hotel bookings, and food delivery, suffered due to restrictions, resulting in reduced transactions and revenue. Overall, we believe that the shift towards digitization benefited Cellulant, and we look forward to the post-pandemic period.
With digital transformation at its best today, would you say it is easier to market technology solutions?
Absolutely, a hundred percent. Digital channels have become the primary means of reaching customers, with influencers and chat services playing crucial roles. Marketing integration with chat services is a good way of reaching customers.
I also think that work from home in general has led to integration of marketing into different types of tools. These advancements have become core to effectively marketing Cellulant’s products and services in the new world.
A lot of merchants in Africa, need a seamless payment platform solution, how is your success rate with merchants in the continent?
Let me first contexualise the problem merchants are facing. Many merchants in Africa struggle with accepting payments due to the multitude of different channels and banks in each country. Say for instance you are an SME, and a customer wants to pay for services, they will have different channels of paying.
Every country will always have at least 8 or 10 large banks depending on the market and people will have credit cards of these banks. Every market will also have 3 or 4 quieter banks who also process transactions online. When you think about the number of options that a merchant can receive payments. Even if a merchant wants to digitize payment, he is not able to do that because he can’t offer all these options to the customer to pay.
Cellulant simplifies this process by integrating various payment methods into a single platform. This solution expands merchants’ payment options, making it easier for them to accept different forms of payment. We provide painless integration and simplify fund collection by reconciling statements and transferring payments to merchants’ accounts.
What are the plans that Cellulant has for Africa?
We have already expanded in a number of countries, in the last two years so our objective this year is to go deeper, build more strong businesses in all the markets where we have already rolled out services. We aim to expand our product offerings to existing customers and cross-sell complementary solutions.
This is also a year where we are looking to become profitable. So far we haven’t been, but the aim is this year we would break even and turn profitable which is also an important milestone for Cellulant in 2023. Additionally, we are actively onboarding around 100 new merchants. Our goal is to manage this growth effectively while also achieving profitability, marking an important milestone for Cellulant in 2023.
What is the one thing that people don’t know about Cellulant?
That we have been in business for 20 years!
What is the one thing that people don’t know about Cellulant?
I am deeply spiritual, I believe in God and the fact that if you do good, more good will come to you.
I also drive fast and enjoy driving fast. Of course, the road permitting limits.