#AfricaLeads: Affordable capital for Africa’s informal retailers
by Louise Burgers. Nomanini’s journey to launching a new supply chain finance solution called StockNow to serve Africa’s informal retailers.
by Louise Burgers. There is now a new supply chain finance solution called StockNow that connects FMCGs and financial service providers to serve Africa’s informal retailers at scale. StockNow, an easy-to-use app for retailers developed by fintech platform Nomanini, makes it possible for informal micro and small retailers to purchase retail stock digitally.
Nomanini is one of the fastest-growing fintech platforms in Africa today, and this digital retailer solution will help Africa’s informal retail markets to assess stock when they need it – and scale. According to Nomanini, 10-million informal retailers in Africa are reached by global FMCG value chains, but lack access to responsible and affordable finance solutions to keep their shelves stocked to attract customers and grow their businesses.
How it works, is that the StockNow app connects informal retailers to distributors of global fast moving consumer brands relevant in the general trade market; and, crucially, enables the traders to purchase goods using stock advances to keep their shelves stocked with essential goods. This “ensures business continuity and support for last-mile consumers”, Nomanini stressed, in a market release issued recently.
What it does, is give informal retailers access to foundational business finance solutions, demonstrated through the first case study that went live in Tanzania, with a key partner Nestlé ESAR, as we reported in Retailing Africa at the time. So, through Nomanini’s launch of StockNow, the relationship has now been formalised with the market, enabling a more strategic approach to alleviate some of the challenges experienced by retailers in Africa’s general market, especially as the continent limps into recovery phase after the catastrophic economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Covid really highlighted how important these retailers are to their communities,” said Nomanini’s CEO, Vahid Monadjem, at the recent launch of StockNow. “And unfortunately, their lack of access to responsible business finance solutions means that they are particularly vulnerable during and after times of crisis. In response to challenges we saw retailers face during the pandemic and related lockdowns, we established the opportunity to accelerate the development of our digital working capital solutions to provide tools to help retailers keep their shelves stocked with essential goods.”
Providing stability and certainty
In uncertain times and market disruptions, business requires some certainty; and as sole proprietors, retailers in the informal sector require stability, and working capital solutions such as the StockNow app, which is available on android devices and feature phones, can provide greater resilience and a buffer against shocks, somewhat, Monadjem and his team explained. StockNow will also enable the retailers in the informal sector to build stronger financial track records and trade with more confidence and volume over time.
StockNow went live in June 2022 and is being rolled out to thousands of informal retailers in Tanzania, with plans underway to scale the solution across the continent from Mozambique to Uganda, The Democratic Republic of Congo to Egypt. Nomanini reports that FMCGs scaling into emerging markets encounter challenges, because without affordable working capital, many informal retailers go through periods when they cannot pay suppliers to restock their inventory due to a lack of cash flow at the time of delivery.
“As a result, stock is unexpectedly returned to the depot, leading to high operational costs. Nomanini’s StockNow solution helps FMCGs overcome these challenges by providing an end-to-end solution to provide responsible working capital so that informal retailers can stock their shelves in a predictable manner.
“By digitising the supply chain, StockNow enables FMCGs to increase operational efficiency by unlocking trade data and gaining visibility into the sales and preferences of informal retailers. Automating settlements and incentivising e-payments within the value chain also lead to improved efficiencies.”
New strategy for Nomanini
For Nomanini, the launch of StockNow marks a big shift from enterprise B2B technology solutions to a move into embedded stock advances in the FMCG value chain. ‘Nomanini’, meaning ‘any time’ in siSwati, gives expression to the fact that the digital platform is available at any time. Launched in 2010 in South Africa, the fintech connects merchants, distributors, and service providers to overcome fragmentation, optimise digital distribution, and scale Africa’s informal retail ecosystem by combining new digital financial services with existing distribution networks. This, it says, has been the key to its success.
Since Nomanini launched a decade ago it has evolved into an integrated digital finance platform that “is dedicated to empowering informal retail merchants across Africa”. Currently active in Zambia, Lesotho, Kenya, Namibia, Tanzania, and recently launching in Cote d’Ivoire, Nomanini’s embedded new supply chain finance solution provides merchants with two key benefits: the ability to offer a wider range of digital products to attract more customers; and access to banking services and responsible working capital to help finance and grow their businesses.
The company originally launched after recognising a need among informal retailers to provide fast and easy access to airtime for their customers. For many retailers, this is a core offering that draws customers into their stores, enabling them to cross-sell other items with higher margins. From launching and enabling mobile airtime vending devices for informal retailers in South Africa; to building a broader need for a white-label e-vending platform for mobile top ups for the informal retail market, the company has assisted with growing the bottomline of the informal retail market.
“Even at this early stage, though, Nomanini recognised that there were limitations to developing country-specific solutions and made the decision to focus on interoperability. This would enable the company to take its offering into several different markets in Africa and to empower more merchants to attract more customers and to sell more,” the company reported at the time, launching a trial into Mozambique in 2016.
It was while looking for investors to refinance the Mozambican distributors that it became aware of the fact that banks needed a business banking platform with which to reach retailers. This led to a second – and defining – change in focus and business strategy for the company as it pivoted towards delivering not just airtime, but also banking services.
The greatest need, however, remained in the retail market, specifically in relation to financing solutions on the continent for the volume market. This led to its present-day business focus and a partnership with Standard Bank in 2019 to implement an ‘open-loop platform’ to provide business banking services to informal retailers in a format that is suitable to their businesses. The partnership enables Standard Bank to onboard informal retail merchants as SME clients without requiring the bank to modify its existing SME processes or requiring informal retailers to open a traditional bank account, or even visit a bank branch.
The move to providing supply chain finance
In 2020, having formed a strategic partnership with Nestlé Eastern and Southern Africa Region (ESAR), a strategic move towards supply chain finance became possible. Working with both Standard Bank and Nestlé, Nomanini deployed a digital supply chain finance (SCF) solution that would digitise payments from informal retailers into the FMCG supply chain.
This enabled retailers, whose businesses remain mainly cash-driven, to build up credit profiles and to qualify for loans to improve their product ranges: “The underlying technology lowers financing costs and improves business efficiencies for both buyers and sellers. It works by automating sales transactions and tracking invoicing and payment right from initiation through to completion. More specifically, it enables informal retailers to buy in stock directly from Nestlé under credit terms offered by Standard Bank. This means they no longer have to use microlenders, who charge high interest rates, to finance the purchasing of stock. And, as their credit profiles improve, they can access financing for an even wider range of stock.
“In line with Nomanini’s mission of enabling informal retailers to offer a richer selection of goods and services to their customers, the new SCF platform enables retailers to provide a broad selection of airtime and data packages, mobile banking solutions and retail goods to underserved markets and, in this way, to grow their businesses.”
Main image credit: Nomanini.
Louise Burgers is the Publisher and Editor and Co-Founder of RetailingAfrica.com. She has spent over 20 years writing about the FMCG retailing, marketing, media and advertising industry in South Africa and on the African continent. She has specialised in local and Africa consumer trends and is a passionate Afro-optimist who believes it is Africa’s time to rise again and that the Africa Continental Free Trade Agreement (AfCFTA) will be a global gamechanger in the next decade.
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