Posted on

African payment startup Chipper Cash raises $13.8M Series A

African cross-border fintech startup Chipper Cash has closed a $13.8 million Series A funding round led by Deciens Capital and plans to hire 30 new staff globally.

The raise caps an event filled run for the San Francisco based payments company, founded two years ago by Ugandan Ham Serunjogi and Ghanaian Maijid Moujaled.

The two came to America for academics, met in Iowa while studying at Grinnell College and ventured out to Silicon Valley for stints in big tech: Facebook for Serunjogi and Flickr and Yahoo! for Moujaled.

The startup call beckoned and after launching Chipper Cash in 2018, the duo convinced 500 Startups and and Liquid 2 Ventures — co-founded by American football legend Joe Montana — to back their company with seed funds.

Two years and $22 million in total capital raised later, Chipper Cash offers its mobile-based, no fee, P2P payment services in seven countries: Ghana, Uganda, Nigeria, Tanzania, Rwanda, South Africa and Kenya.

“We’re now at over one and a half million users and doing over a $100 million dollars a month in volume,” Serunjogi told TechCrunch on a call.

Chipper Cash does not release audited financial data, but does share internal performance accounting with investors. Deciens Capital and Raptor Group co-led the startup’s Series A financing, with repeat support from 500 Startups and Liquid 2 Ventures .

Deciens Capital founder Dan Kimmerling confirmed the fund’s lead on the investment and review of Chipper Cash’s payment value and volume metrics.

Parallel to its P2P app, the startup also runs Chipper Checkout: a merchant-focused, fee-based mobile payment product that generates the revenue to support Chipper Cash’s free mobile-money business.

The company will use its latest round to hire up to 30 people across operations in San Francisco, Lagos, London, Nairobi and New York — according to Serunjogi.

Image Credits: Chipper Cash

Chipper Cash has already brought on a new compliance officer, Lisa Dawson, whose background includes stints with the U.S. Department of Treasury’s Financial Crimes Enforcement Network and Citigroup’s anti-money laundering department.

“You know in the world we live in the AML side is very important so it’s an area that we want to invest in from the get go,” said Serunjogi.

He confirmed Dawson’s role aligned with getting Chipper Cash ready to meet regulatory requirements for new markets, but declined to name specific countries.

With the round announcement, Chipper Cash also revealed a corporate social responsibility component to its business. Related to current U.S. events, the startup has formed the Chipper Fund for Black Lives.

“We’ve been huge beneficiaries of the generosity and openness of this country and its entrepreneurial spirit,” explained Serunjogi. “But growing up in Africa, we’ve were able to navigate [the U.S.] without the traumas and baggage our African American friends have gone through living in America.”

The Chipper Fund for Black Lives will give 5 to 10 grants of $5,000 to $10,000. “The plan is to give that to…people or causes who are furthering social justice reforms,” said Serunjogi.

In Africa, Chipper Cash has placed itself in the continent’s major digital payments markets. As a sector, fintech has become Africa’s highest funded tech space, receiving the bulk of an estimated $2 billion in VC that went to startups in 2019.

Image Credits: TechCrunch

Those ventures, and a number of the continent’s established banks, are in a race to build market share through financial inclusion.

By several estimates — including The Global Findex Database — the continent is home to the largest percentage of the world’s unbanked population, with a sizable number of underbanked consumers and SMEs.

Increasingly, Nigeria has become the most significant fintech market in Africa, with the continent’s largest economy and population of 200 million.

Chipper Cash expanded there in 2019 and faces competition from a number of players, including local payments venture Paga. More recently, outside entrants have jumped into Nigeria’s fintech scene.

In 2019, Chinese investors put $220 million into OPay (owned by Opera) and PalmPay — two fledgling startups with plans to scale first in West Africa and then the broader continent.

Over the next several years, expect to see market events — such as fails, acquisitions, or IPOs — determine how well funded fintech startups, including Chipper Cash, fare in Africa’s fintech arena.

Read More

Posted on

As Meatpacking Plants Reopen, Data About Worker Illness Remains Elusive

The Smithfield Foods plant in Tar Heel, N.C., is one of the world’s largest pork processing facilities, employing about 4,500 people and slaughtering roughly 30,000 pigs a day at its peak.

And like more than 100 other meat plants across the United States, the facility has seen a substantial number of coronavirus cases. But the exact number of workers in Tar Heel who have tested positive is anyone’s guess.

Smithfield would not provide any data when asked about the number of illnesses at the plant. Neither would state or local health officials.

“There has been a stigma associated with the virus,” said Teresa Duncan, the director of the health department in Bladen County, where the plant is located. “So we’re trying to protect privacy.”

Along with nursing homes and prisons, meatpacking facilities have proven to be places where the virus spreads rapidly. But as dozens of plants that closed because of outbreaks begin reopening, meat companies’ reluctance to disclose detailed case counts makes it difficult to tell whether the contagion is contained or new cases are emerging even with new safety measures in place. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said there were nearly 5,000 meatpacking workers infected with the virus as of the end of last month. But the nonprofit group Food & Environment Reporting Network estimated last week that the number has climbed to more than 17,000. There have been 66 meatpacking deaths, the group said.

And the outbreaks may be even more extensive.

For weeks, local officials received conflicting signals from state leaders and meatpacking companies about how much information to release, according to internal emails from government health agencies obtained through public records requests by Columbia University’s Brown Institute for Media Innovation and provided to The New York Times. The mixed messages left many workers and their communities in the dark about the extent of the spread in parts of Iowa, Nebraska and Colorado.

The emails also reveal the deference some county officials have shown toward the giant meatpacking companies and how little power they have in pushing the companies to stem outbreaks.

“Bad news spreads way faster than the truth,” said a county health official in Colorado of an outbreak at a Cargill plant, according to notes from a conference call last month. “At this point, we are not doing anything to cast them in a bad light. Will not throw them to the Press.”

Questions about the transparency of governments and companies about the coronavirus extend far beyond meatpacking. Chinese officials have been widely criticized for not fully disclosing the extent of the virus’s spread within their borders. And in the United States, President Trump has questioned the official death toll from the coronavirus, suggesting that the numbers may be inflated even as public health experts and statisticians say the opposite is more likely true.

Image
Credit…Jeremy M. Lange for The New York Times

The meat companies are not legally required to disclose how many workers are sick. But legal experts say privacy is not a valid reason for keeping the numbers from the public.

“Alerting a community about the number of cases in a particular place is a standard public health response,” said Nicole Huberfeld, a public health expert at Boston University. “People need to act appropriately if they are exposed.”

The lack of full disclosure also demonstrates the industry’s sway as a major employer in the Midwest and the South.

While more than 80 percent of beef and pork workers are unionized, even labor leaders acknowledge it is not as easy to shut down meat plants as other factories because they are essential to the food supply. Auto plants, for example, were shut down relatively early during the pandemic and have only just begun to reopen.

After some slaughterhouses did close, restaurants and stores experienced significant shortages of meat, leading Mr. Trump to issue an executive order designating meat plants “critical infrastructure” that must stay open.

But the order did not address crucial issues like testing, leading many companies to reopen plants or keep them operating without fully assessing whether employees had contracted the virus.

Image

Credit…Daniel Acker for The New York Times

Across the country, many local health departments have encouraged companies to test employees — but stopped short of ordering them to do so.

On April 21, health officials in Dallas County, Iowa, told Tyson Foods that they could provide rapid testing kits for workers at its local plant in Perry, according to the emails. An early draft of that message to Tyson managers underscored the urgency, saying, “At this time, we strongly recommend this option be implemented immediately.”

But the county’s lawyer asked that the language be revised to read, “At this time, we ask you to consider this be implemented as soon as possible.”

In an interview, the county attorney, Chuck Sinnard, said he recommended revising the language because he did not believe the health department had the authority to order Tyson to conduct tests.

“It was in the vein of choosing wording cautiously and conservatively so we didn’t get in a position where we were overstepping our bounds,” he said.

On May 5, the state health department, which ultimately worked with Tyson to test employees, said 730 workers, or 58 percent of the plant’s work force, had tested positive for the virus. About two weeks ago, Tyson started to disclose the number of coronavirus cases at a handful of its plants around the country where there has been widespread testing.

In North Carolina, workers and community advocates in the Tar Heel area started to raise the alarm in April, as local news outlets reported a string of infections linked to the Smithfield plant.

In neighboring Robeson County, 59 residents who work at the Tar Heel facility have become infected, out of a total of 669 cases in the community, according to Melissa Packer, the county’s assistant health director.

But like the rest of the public, Ms. Packer does not know the full extent of the outbreak at the plant.

In conversations with state officials this month, Ms. Packer said, a number of county health directors requested that plant-specific numbers stay private. One of the reasons, she said, was that the local officials wanted to avoid antagonizing the meatpackers while they worked alongside them to curtail the outbreaks.

“A lot of the concerns were around fractured relationships,” Ms. Packer said. “Some local health directors from the counties where there are processing plants expressed some concerns about how that may negatively impact the relationship they have built with the management of the companies.”

Image

Credit…Daniel Acker for The New York Times

A spokeswoman for North Carolina’s health department, Amy Ellis, declined to reveal plant-specific data. She said the state has recorded a total of 1,952 cases across meat plants in 17 counties.

Smithfield said it continued to “report all Covid-19 cases to state and local health officials, as well as the C.D.C.” and was working to provide free testing to all its employees.

This month, Gov. Pete Ricketts of Nebraska announced that the state would not disclose the number of coronavirus cases in specific meat plants without the consent of the companies. The state is releasing aggregate case numbers across the meat processing industry, the governor’s spokesman said. Some of Nebraska’s big meatpackers have also started revealing less about case numbers to their employees.

Eric Reeder, a local union president representing workers in 14 plants around Nebraska, said that the larger the outbreak, the less transparent some of the companies have become about the case numbers.

  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated May 20, 2020

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      Over 38 million people have filed for unemployment since March. One in five who were working in February reported losing a job or being furloughed in March or the beginning of April, data from a Federal Reserve survey released on May 14 showed, and that pain was highly concentrated among low earners. Fully 39 percent of former workers living in a household earning $40,000 or less lost work, compared with 13 percent in those making more than $100,000, a Fed official said.

    • Is ‘Covid toe’ a symptom of the disease?

      There is an uptick in people reporting symptoms of chilblains, which are painful red or purple lesions that typically appear in the winter on fingers or toes. The lesions are emerging as yet another symptom of infection with the new coronavirus. Chilblains are caused by inflammation in small blood vessels in reaction to cold or damp conditions, but they are usually common in the coldest winter months. Federal health officials do not include toe lesions in the list of coronavirus symptoms, but some dermatologists are pushing for a change, saying so-called Covid toe should be sufficient grounds for testing.

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.

    • How can I help?

      Charity Navigator, which evaluates charities using a numbers-based system, has a running list of nonprofits working in communities affected by the outbreak. You can give blood through the American Red Cross, and World Central Kitchen has stepped in to distribute meals in major cities.