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Bfree, a Nigerian startup enabling lenders recover debt ethically, gets $3M backing

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Bfree, a tech-enabled debt collection startup based in Nigeria, was founded to automate and introduce ethical debt recovery processes after its founders witnessed the use and adverse effects of aggressive retrieval techniques, such as incessant calling and debt-shaming, by predatory digital lenders.

After its launch in 2020, the startup introduced a number of scalable debt recovery methods including a self-service platform, which allows borrowers to set up new payment plans, and conversational AI tools (chatbots and callbots), as part of its collections-as-a-service offering. These tools ensure humane after-sales services for borrowers, and action based on behavioral and financial data.

Over the years, its customer-base has grown to include some of the major banks in Ghana, Kenya and Nigeria, where it plans to continue scaling, backed by the $2.95 million fresh funding it has just secured in a round led by Capria Ventures. Angaza Capital, GreenHouse Capital, Launch Africa, Modus Africa, Axian CVC and a number of angel investors, also participated in the round that brought the total funding raised to $6.5 million, including last year’s undisclosed $1.1 million bridge round.

Julian Flosbach (CEO), who co-founded the startup with Chukwudi Enyi (COO) and Moses Nmor (CPO), told TechCrunch that while Bfree started out with digital lenders, which he says are quick to adopt its products, they currently only work with a handful of them, as their key focus is on banks, which contribute up to 70% in revenues.

“Because of the immense pressure to increase our margins, we essentially had to either increase pricing or let go of a lot of smaller customers,” said Flosbach, adding that it makes business sense to work with banks because of their large loan portfolios compared to digital lenders. The startup currently serves 14 customers, although it has worked with 45 since launch.

Bfree says 92% of its interactions with customers are fully automated, but has maintained a call center, manned by a small team, for when customers call or for follow-ups that require phone calls. It also launched a loan collection management SaaS dubbed Workflow, which targets companies with in-house collection teams or those that are not keen to outsource.

The startup is arguably the only tech-enabled credit recovery company across Africa, where collectors continue to heavily rely on traditional options like call centers to follow-up on settlements.

Bfree to create secondary market  for loans

Its current loan portfolio stands at over $400 million, out of which it has managed to collect 12.5%.

The startup also plans to create a secondary debt market, to allow third-party investors like hedge funds, looking to diversify their investments, to buy non-performing loans (NLPs) from banks in Africa. Debt buyers purchase loans from banks at a fraction of the debt’s face value, and make profits from collection. Banks sell NLPs to minimize their risk, manage loan portfolios and free up funds.

“We collect so much data of borrowers, especially defaulting borrowers. We were able for the first time to actually develop an algorithm that can value these assets. We can predict how much is a loan that has not been paid back, let’s say for 90 days; how likely is it going to be paid back over the next one year. Then we go to banks and buy these assets and take them off their balance sheets, allowing them to offload the risk,” said Flosbach.

He added that they also have an analytics solution for banks to help them gain insights into secondary debt markets.

Commenting on the investment, Susana García-Robles, managing partner at Capria Ventures, a Global South specialist VC firm investing in applied Generative AI, said: “The advent of generative AI provides a pathway for more efficient scaling, enabling the company to expand across the continent at a reduced cost. Bfree is well-positioned to play a crucial role in improving accessibility and mitigating risk in financial services.

“We foresee the growing prominence of credit management and are confident that Bfree will spearhead the creation of a secondary market on the continent for distressed assets. Bfree has secured significant partnerships with top-tier banks and fintechs, affirming the effectiveness of its product and reinforcing our belief in its potential to transform credit collection in Africa,” said García-Robles.

As the startup diversifies its offerings, it has also slowed down its aggressive expansion plans announced two years ago, when venture capital flowed freely and “growth at all costs” was the mantra, to concentrate on its three key markets in Africa. This is upon the awareness of varying market dynamics, and the realization that every market needs different approaches and products.



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NASA To Make Major Announcement On Its Ambitious Mars Sample Return Mission Today; Watch Live

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NASA is hosting a press conference on April 15 for a big announcement regarding its Mars Sample Return Mission. The agency said that the speakers will discuss the next steps of the mission aimed at retrieving samples collected by the Perseverance rover on Mars at 10:30 pm IST. The speakers include NASA Administrator, Bill Nelson and Associate Administrator of the Science Mission Directorate, Nicky Fox.

You can watch the teleconference live at NASA TV and its official website here. The discussion will be based on the report by the Independent Review Board which was set up in 2023 to evaluate the technical, cost, and schedule plans prior to confirmation of the mission’s design.

ALSO SEE: NASA Shares Views Of Perseverance Rover’s Sample Collection In Latest Milestone On Mars

The Mars sample return program, apart from its complexities, has a major problem to deal with – a supposedly ‘unrealistic’ budget. Ever since its landing in the Jezero crater on Mars, the Perseverance rover has collected two dozen soil and rock samples which are waiting to be shipped to Earth early next decade.

The samples are being collected because scientists believe they might have signs of ancient life on the red planet since it used to have oceans billions of years ago.

According to NASA’s plan, it will send a lander with a rocket to Mars which will transfer the samples to an orbiter built by ESA. This orbiter will then send the samples back to Earth. All this is expected to cost between $8 to $11 billion, the review board said in its report released last September. In the upcoming announcement, NASA might clear the air regarding the feasibility of the mission and if it is worth pursuing.

ALSO SEE: What Does A Solar Eclipse On Mars Look Like? NASA Answers With Breathtaking Views





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Mess Created By NASA Will Be Inspected By ESA’s Hera Mission; Here’s All About It

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The European Space Agency (ESA) is gearing up for an ambitious mission called Hera, set to launch in October 2024. The mission’s target will be Dimorphos, an asteroid orbiting the larger space rock Didymos.

Dimorphos gained international attention when it became the subject of NASA’s Double Asteroid Redirection Test (DART) mission. On September 26, 2022, NASA’s spacecraft intentionally collided with Dimorphos to test whether altering its orbit was a viable method of planetary defense.

Now, ESA’s Hera mission is poised to rendezvous with Dimorphos in 2026, building on the groundwork laid by DART. The objectives are ambitious: Hera will delve into the Didymos binary asteroid system, conducting the very first assessment of its internal properties. Additionally, it will meticulously analyse the aftermath of DART’s kinetic impactor test, including studying the crater left behind by the collision.

Hera represents a significant milestone in asteroid deflection technology, paving the way for future planetary defense strategies. By conducting a detailed post-impact survey of Dimorphos, Hera aims to transform the DART mission into a well-understood and repeatable defense technique.

ALSO SEE: NASA’s DART Mission’s Second Observer Captures Unsettling Images Of An Asteroid Crash

What makes Hera even more groundbreaking is its role as humankind’s first probe to rendezvous with a binary asteroid system. It will also be armed with innovative technologies, including autonomous navigation and low-gravity proximity operations.

Using ground-based telescopes, scientists know that DART changed Dimorphos’s velocity but they need a close-up inspection to determine the change in its mass. The HERA mission also includes two cubesats – Milani and Juventas – that will collectively investigate Dimorphos’s composition and change in its properties.

NASA ruled the DART mission a success after the spacecraft was able to change Dimorphos’s orbit around Didymos by 33 minutes. Scientists believe that this technology could one day help us deflect a planet-killing asteroid if one heads toward Earth someday.

ALSO SEE: Collision Of NASA’s DART With Asteroid Dimorphos Changed Its Shape; Finding Excites Scientists





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Unexpected Discovery In A Nebula 3,800 Light-Years Away Leaves Astronomers Surprised

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Astronomers peering into the depths of space have stumbled upon a celestial spectacle unlike any other – a stellar pair locked in a cosmic dance, surrounded by a mesmerizing cloud of gas and dust. But what sets this duo, dubbed HD 148937, apart from the stellar crowd is a remarkable tale of cosmic collision and rebirth.

Located a staggering 3800 light-years away in the Norma constellation, HD 148937 is home to two stars of immense magnitude, each boasting a mass far surpassing that of our Sun.

Yet, upon closer inspection, astronomers were met with a perplexing revelation – these stars, once thought to be twins, harbor striking differences. One star appears 1.5 million years younger and inexplicably magnetic, while its counterpart bears the marks of age and lacks magnetic allure.

Utilizing data collected over nine years from cutting-edge instruments like PIONIER, GRAVITY, and FEROS, astronomers uncovered a violent history. The evidence pointed to a tumultuous past, wherein three stars once roamed the system, until two stars collided, birthing the stunning nebula that now envelops HD 148937.

ALSO SEE: NASA’s Hubble Telescope Captures ‘Fierce And Fabulous’ Tarantula Nebula Brimming With Baby Stars

“The two inner stars merged in a violent manner, creating a magnetic star and throwing out some material, which created the nebula,” professor Hugues Sana, lead investigator explained in an official statement.

This cosmic ballet not only reshaped the system’s destiny but also shed light on a longstanding mystery in astronomy – the origin of magnetic fields in massive stars. While magnetic fields are common in stars like our Sun, their presence in more massive counterparts has long puzzled astronomers. The discovery of HD 148937 provides compelling evidence that such magnetic fields can arise from stellar mergers, a phenomenon observed only in theory until now.

“Magnetism in massive stars isn’t expected to last very long compared to the lifetime of the star, so it seems we have observed this rare event very soon after it happened,” said Abigail Frost, lead author of the new paper published in the journal Science.

ALSO SEE: ESO’s Very Large Telescope Captures ‘Gloomy Portrait’ Of Cone Nebula, A Staggering Star Factory





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