This article is divided in two parts. Read part 2

Digital Ecosystems, tech giants, GAFA/BATX, super-platforms are all common names to refer to the new breed of corporations arising in the US and China. They operate in more than 20 sectors, both online and offline, including the financial sector, and have been around for more than a decade. These tech giants started small and have been disrupting markets year-on-year. For the last five years, they have reached unprecedented growth. With a huge customer base and virtually unlimited resources, these corporations have been shaping how the consumer and enterprise markets behave. Their impact is so big that an economic model was created by a consulting firm just to study how they operate.

But who are they?

A simple way to refer to these tech giants is by using their acronyms: GAFA refers to the American tech giants – Google, Apple, Facebook and Amazon that collectively generate $271bn in revenue alone.

Their Chinese counterparts are the BATX – Baidu, Alibaba, Tencent, and Xiaomi have a combined market capitalization of about $900bn and average annual growth of 50%

At a first sight, they look completely different from each other, but taking a closer look at them, we can spot some common characteristics that are the reason for their massive success both in the US and China:

  • They are Customer-obsessed – Jeff Bezos in its annual letter to shareholders is always amazed and in-love with his customers and how they have been continuously shaping Amazon’s business – this is from last year’s letter:


One thing I love about customers is that they are divinely discontent. Their expectations are never static – they go up. It’s human nature. We didn’t ascend from our hunter-gatherer days by being satisfied. People have a voracious appetite for a better way, and yesterday’s ‘wow’ quickly becomes today’s ‘ordinary’


His counterpart, Jack Man Ha from Alibaba applies his mantra: “customers first, employees second, and shareholders third” in every piece of Alibaba’s business, from culture to operations, every bit of Alibaba is always with the customer in mind.

  • Everyone is a customer – anyone connected is a customer and anyone that isn’t connected has the potential to become one. This is so intrinsic in their mindset that if it means that they need to build that missing layer of connectivity they will do it.  Facebook Free Basics
  • They manage customers, not products – By building sustainable relationships, they turn interest into commitment, and commitment into revenue. This means that they cater to every customer need, from e-commerce, messaging and cloud services to financial services.


These tech-giants create digital ecosystems not corporations and are set to be the providers of everything for everyone. When launching a business, they never think of geography or culture.  – there are no markets for them, just customers.

How can they shape Africa’s financial ecosystem?

Let’s now focus on one of the latest trends from these giants: financial services provided in their platforms and how it can impact the African financial services landscape.

BAF/FIBR in this useful blog post takes us on a time-travel journey to 2030 where they tell the story of Anna a Nigerian woman who uses several super-platforms to attend to her professional and personal’s needs. Here’s an excerpt:


Today, Anna uses Alibaba and its affiliate Ant Financial daily. She uses mobile payments to buy input supplies and household items, and most of her clients use Alipay for her services. Anna still uses Facebook to offer discounts, and she keeps a local Adclick presence on Google. She’s taken on several microloans through Ant Financial’s channels, and this has helped her business grow rapidly. She’s started to explore the wealth management options she found easily on Ant’s Nigerian Wealth marketplace.


It may sound a bit too much futuristic, as presently Africa doesn’t have the necessary infrastructures and mechanisms for these tech-giants to strive. However, the constraints that are presented to these super-platforms are the same barriers faced by African digital financial providers and financial institutions: smartphone penetration rates are still low as well as connectivity in rural areas, official ID holders are low and even when ID is in place, verifying ID is still difficult for financial providers, regulatory constraints paired with digital and financial literacy make the top constraints for the proliferation of DFS in Africa.

DFS, regulators and fintechs in Africa in their quest to massify their offerings to low-income populations will simultaneously pave the way for tech-giants to enter Africa. When these barriers are solved, and they will be, we will have created the ideal battleground for super-platforms acquire their next billion users.  Although it may sound alarming, especially for the financial industry, both US and Asian banks and telcos have found a way to take advantages of co-living with these powerful players and have adapted their positioning to strive in a new market. African players will have the advantage of learning from them and the opportunity to adapt.

Want to know more? Read Part 2 here.


Papersoft - Maria Zuzarte

Exploring how innovation and human-centered tech are crucial for financial and digital inclusion in Africa. Tech and digital savvy powered by curiosity. At Papersoft, I define compelling value propositions and provide comprehensive understanding on complex problems, co-creating the future steps that get ideas into market.

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Maria Zuzarte

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