What are Fintech CEOs saying about the future of inclusive fintech?

An insight, an opportunity, and a challenge

Meet the pioneers who are creating AAA (Appropriate, Affordable, and Accessible) products in emerging markets

Last week, an incredible community of entrepreneurs who are building cutting-edge financial solutions for the underserved met to imagine and shape a fairer, more appropriate financial world. For the second time, CEOs from Catalyst Fund companies joined CEOs from the Accion Venture Lab, FMO, and Quona Capital portfolios at the CEO Forum at the Fintech for Inclusion Global Summit 2019 in the Hague.

Over 55 fintech CEOs reunited and noted the enormous progress we have made as a sector in advancing AAA (accessible, affordable, and appropriate) solutions for the underserved. Partnerships between old, new, and new-to-the-sector players have resulted in innovative business models and new approaches to access. All CEOs also noted the need to go further in discussing our failures and improvisation to generate community-wide learning. However, even with improvements in technology and business model innovations, the traditional challenge of patient capital persists.

Our team left the event energized for the work ahead of us to build a stronger community of inclusive fintech leaders. We took away three lessons:

“We need to openly talk about failures”

While the inclusive fintech community has vibrant conversation around success and innovation, the dialogue around challenges and failures is less apparent. Today, most conferences, networking events, and demo days, focus on achievements, and founders put their best foot forward in an effort to show that everything is going well and according to plan. However, in reality, most things do not go according to plan! And there is a lot to be learned as a community from these improvisations and failures.

As a startup CEO you might be feeling like everyone else is getting it right, BUT you. At the Forum, CEOs wanted to talk about their challenges and failures, and to openly share tips with each other. The event revealed the value of honesty and openness, and the value of sharing tips on topics such as: customer acquisition and retention, strategies to form partnerships and build talent, promoting healthy team cultures, and leading through adversity or conflict in the organization.

At Catalyst Fund, we have been accelerating fintech startups towards product-market fit, working through the ups and downs of early-stage venture development and part of our mandate is to share our learnings. For example, we have learned that striking a good balance between ‘tech and touch’ is critical for startups to build trust with their low-income customers who might not be digitally savvy. Our goal is to gather these learnings from the ground up and share them with others, such as the Design for Trust toolkit in digital financial services. This, as well as a myriad of other useful frameworks and insights, are shared on our Toolkits page and our blog on BFA’s F4Life.

The Catalyst Fund Team at the Fintech for Inclusion Global Summit 2019

“Early-stage startups’ biggest challenge is still…capital”

One of the biggest struggles for CEOs still remains raising capital to develop and scale their business, particularly in emerging markets. Several investors, on the other hand, shared how they struggled to navigate the early-stage startup space and called for better tools to help unlock funding at these earlier stages.

We are acutely aware of this disconnect and we see an important role for philanthropic capital to fill the gap in early-stage venture development and knowledge building for the ecosystem. To this end, we collaborated with CGAP and spoke with several funders to start creating a common language, such as our the AAA framework to assess the innovation, viability, and impact of inclusive fintech solutions and unearth investment opportunities. This and other tools could benefit the investors we work with to give them greater visibility on a pipeline of inclusive fintech startups in emerging markets, and a framework to evaluate the impact of new emerging solutions.

“Partnerships are the backbone of scalable and sustainable fintech solutions”

The Summit brought together players of all kinds — fintech startups, investors, VCs, banks, private sector companies — to highlight the opportunity for greater collaboration to improve the financial health of the underserved.

At Catalyst Fund, we have seen how partnerships can amplify outcomes if they are structured correctly and data is leveraged appropriately. For example, by leveraging new forms of data and facilitating the customer journey, fintechs can help traditional financial institutions build solutions that work for low-income customers.

And partnerships also happen among support organizations, like accelerators. During the Summit, Catalyst Fund launched its accelerator landscape report, which assesses the landscape of global accelerator models for fintech startups in emerging markets and attempts to identify opportunities for growth, collaboration, and shared learning. Just like the CEOs gathered at the Forum, accelerators, startups, and investors should be open about sharing results and lessons learned. Together, we can nurture a stronger global support ecosystem and unlock philanthropic and investment capital for the innovators building the future of inclusive finance.

(Authored in collaboration with Rasima Swarup, BFA)


Catalyst Fund specializes in early-stage venture building targeting low-income customers in emerging markets, and fosters learning for the ecosystem to unlock capital and spur innovation for financial inclusion. Managed by BFA, the program was founded in 2016 with the support of the Gates Foundation and JPMorgan Chase & Co. The fund draws on BFA’s expertise from 12 years of using finance to create solutions for low-income people in emerging markets.

Stay connected by signing up for the Catalyst Fund mailing list and joining the Inclusive Fintech Group on LinkedIn.