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P2P lending takes hold in Africa

Africa has caught the attention of those in the ever-evolving peer-to-peer (P2P) lending sector. A recent report published by the University of Cambridge Judge Business School analyses the current position of Africa on the world’s alternative finance stage.

The Africa and Middle East Alternative Finance Benchmarking Report, published in February, is the first comprehensive study of the size and growth of crowdfunding and P2P lending markets in Africa and the Middle East. The report includes additional chapters on the regulatory landscapes in Africa.

The report comments that the United Kingdom has long led the way in the P2P lending sphere. It explains that the public’s dissatisfaction with the banks and the increase in the number of new crowdfunding and peer-to-peer lending platforms have combined to pique the interest of the British people in the available alternatives to traditional finance.

An inspiring technological revolution has been supported by laws, tax breaks and government initiatives. The industry has catapulted, leaping from an estimated valuation of $880 million in 2010 to $34 billion just five years later, in 2015.

Other countries are beginning to follow the UK’s lead and, if the trajectory of the UK is anything to go by, the P2P lending scene will soon be coming to life all over the world.

The report explains that crowdfunding in Africa is just beginning to gain publicity and garner attention. As detailed in the document, the third-largest model in Africa is P2P business lending, which totalled $16 million in volume over a two-year period between 2014 and 2015.

This model experienced rapid growth, starting at a modest $2 million, and reaching a sizeable $14 million in 2015. Some 90% of online alternative finance originated from platforms headquartered outside Africa, evidencing the potential for home-grown platforms.

Kenya and South Africa are the market leaders, raising $16.7 million and $15 million respectively from online channels in 2015. P2P business lending had a lower average deal size, of $41,000, with an average of 24 lenders each.

The market is relatively evenly distributed across 10 core countries. South Africa had the largest number of online alternative finance platforms, with eight surveyed respondents. Egypt and Morocco followed, with three domestically-based platforms each, and then Ghana and Nigeria, with two per country. Senegal, Uganda, and Zimbabwe had one surveyed platform each.

South Africa’s FinTech specialist and White Label Crowdfunding (WLCF) partner, Khonology, says crowdfunding will provide establishing African businesses with funding alternatives. It believes that the high barriers to business loans faced by SMEs will no longer be a hurdle for innovative, grass root solution providers.

“With many township entrepreneurs depending on their small businesses and business plans to acquire funds, crowdfunding reduces barriers of entries, such as collateral or healthy balance sheets,” says Khonology CEO Michael Roberts.

“Crowdfunding offers access to cash that will empower the misunderstood, determined and small township businesses,” he adds.

According to the report, the East Africa region has the largest market share of the alternative finance market. In 2015, East Africa accounted for 41% of total African market share, while West Africa accounted for 24% and Southern Africa accounted for 19%.

The make-up of the South African market differs markedly from the rest of Africa. In 2015, the vast majority of market activity – $13.8 million – came from P2P consumer and business lending, with the remaining $1.2 million spread across microfinance, donation-based and reward-based crowdfunding.

The rapid growth and emergence of online P2P lending models in South Africa suggests that this model will likely dominate the national market, and could potentially propel South Africa forward as the emerging market leader for both online consumer and business peer-to-peer lending in Africa.

Regulation and policy for alternative finance are at the very earliest of stages of development for many financial regulators globally, and this is the case in Africa. Nevertheless, several positive steps have been taken towards developing a specific regulatory response to this emergent industry that provides additional and vital channels of financing for individuals, start-ups and SMEs.

What is clear is that there is no customised, tailor-made alternative finance regulation regime that has been enacted in Africa, as has been the case in other more established markets, such as the UK, Italy, the USA or Malaysia. Existing, generic financial services regulations are still likely to apply to firms seeking to provide services that fall within the remit of these existing laws.

Many risk-adverse corporates will wait for the implementation of the regulatory framework before acting on this opportunity. However, WLCF has repeatedly witnessed that the regulatory risks are lower than many expect.

Having recently partnered with the local value added reseller Khonology, WLCF is looking to collaborate with the founders of new African platforms and is keen to support the shaping of the market.

“Africa is based on Ubuntu and community spirit; amazingly, crowdfunding looks to leverage this community engagement,” says Roberts. “Africa currently has a need for alternative solutions to the current legacy service offerings.

“Khonology loves the fact that crowdfunding leverages technology to provide a solution that is community driven and requires active participation and engagement. The collaboration that Khonology has embarked on with WLCF is testament to our business offering; we provide knowledge, collaborate and drive transformation.”

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Personal computing devices sales still decline in MEA

The Middle East and Africa (MEA) personal computing devices (PCD) market, which is made up of desktops, notebooks, workstations, and tablets, suffered a decline of -7.3% year on year in Q2 2017, according to the latest insights from International Data Corporation (IDC).

The global technology research and consulting firm’s Quarterly PCD Tracker for Q2 2017 shows that PCD shipments fell to around 6 million units for the quarter.

“As forecast, the market followed a similar pattern to recent quarters, with the downturn primarily stemming from a decline in shipments of slate tablets and desktops,” says Fouad Charakla, IDC’s senior research manager for client devices in the Middle East, Turkey, and Africa. “This was the result of desktop users increasingly switching to mobile devices such as notebooks or even refurbished notebooks, while users of slate tablets shifted to smartphones. These trends translated into year-on-year declines of -21.9% for desktops and -15.7% for slate tablets in Q2 2017, while shipments of notebooks and detachable tablets increased 11.0% and 63.3%, respectively over the same period.”

“Market sentiment in the region remained low overall, although an aggressive push from some slate tablet vendors meant the market declined much slower than expected,” continues Charakla. “At the same time, heightened competition has also made it harder for certain players to sustain their slate tablet businesses and generate profits, causing them to lose interest in the slate tablet market altogether. Despite this, slate tablets are still the most popular computing device among home users in the region.”

Looking at the region’s key markets, IDC’s research shows that when compared to Q2 2016 overall PCD shipments were down -11.4% in the UAE, -8.9% in Turkey, and -6.7% in the ‘Rest of Middle East’ sub-region (comprising Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Palestine, and Afghanistan). South Africa and Saudi Arabia bucked this trend, recording year-on-year increases of 3.5% and 9.6%, respectively.

A massive education delivery in Pakistan acted as a key driver for notebook shipments in the region overall. Similarly, the education sector was the biggest driver of detachable tablet shipments, triggered by a huge delivery in Kenya, as well as two other deliveries in Pakistan and Turkey, which enabled this category to achieve the fastest growth of all the PCD categories.

“While a component shortage prevented market players from reducing their prices too much, the average price of consumer notebooks experienced a considerable year-on-year decline in Q2 2017,” says Charakla. “This played a key role in driving demand from the consumer segment, and was reflected in the growing popularity of lower-priced notebook models.”

Looking at the PC market’s vendor rankings, each of the top five vendors maintained their respective positions compared to the previous quarter, with the top four all gaining share.

Middle East & Africa PC Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
HP Inc. 23.7% 27.6%
Lenovo 19.8% 21.5%
Dell 16.3% 16.7%
ASUS 8.7% 9.4%
Acer Group 5.9% 4.1%
Others 25.7% 20.7%

Although Samsung continued to lead the tablet market, the vendor rankings in the space saw quite a few changes, with Huawei catapulting itself to second place. Lenovo also climbed up a position compared to the previous quarter, causing Apple to drop to fourth place.

Middle East & Africa Tablet Market Vendor Shares – Q2 2016 vs. Q2 2017

Brand Q2 2016 Q2 2017
Samsung 20.5% 18.9%
Huawei 11.2% 15.8%
Lenovo 12.7% 9.8%
Apple 9.1% 8.8%
Alcatel 2.9% 5.0%
Others 43.5% 41.7%

“Looking to the future, the MEA PCD market is expected to decline at a faster rate than previously forecast for 2017 as a whole,” says Charakla. “Technological shifts are playing a pivotal role in deciding the future of this market, with demand for certain products shifting to other PCD products and beyond (i.e., smartphones). Accordingly, shipments of slate tablets are expected to continue declining over the coming years as demand is cannibalized by smartphones. Meanwhile, the ongoing shift to mobile computing will see growth in the desktop market remain close to flat throughout IDC’s forecast period ending 2021. Notebook shipments will experience very slow growth beyond 2018, while detachable tablets will remain the fastest growing PCD category, eating away share from other computing devices.”

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Gazer cyber-spies exposed

ESET has released new research into the activities of the Turla cyberespionage group, and specifically a previously undocumented backdoor that has been used to spy on consulates and embassies worldwide.

ESET’s research team are the first in the world to document the advanced backdoor malware, which they have named “Gazer”, despite evidence that it has been actively deployed in targeted attacks against governments and diplomats since at least 2016.

Gazer’s success can be explained by the advanced methods it uses to spy on its intended targets, and its ability to remain persistent on infected devices, embedding itself out of sight on victim’s computers in an attempt to steal information for a long period of time.

ESET researchers have discovered that Gazer has managed to infect a number of computers around the world, with the most victims being located in Europe. Curiously, ESET’s examination of a variety of different espionage campaigns which used Gazer has identified that the main target appears to have been Southeastern Europe as well as countries in the former Soviet Union Republic.

The attacks show all the hallmarks of past campaigns launched by the Turla hacking group, namely:

  • Targeted organisations are embassies and ministries;
  • Spearphishing delivers a first-stage backdoor such as Skipper;
  • A second stealthier backdoor (Gazer in this instance, but past examples have included Carbon and Kazuar) is put in place;
  • The second-stage backdoor receives encrypted instructions from the gang via C&C servers, using compromised, kegitimate websites as a proxy.

Another notable similarity between Gazer and past creations of the Turla cyberespionage group become obvious when the malware is analysed. Gazer makes extra efforts to evade detection by changing strings within its code, randomizing markers, and wiping files securely.

In the most recent example of the Gazer backdoor malware found by ESET’s research team, clear evidence was seen that someone had modified most of its strings, and inserted phrases related to video games throughout its code.

Don’t be fooled by the sense of humour that the Turla hacking group are showing here, falling foul of computer criminals is no laughing manner.

All organisations, whether governmental, diplomatic, law enforcement, or in traditional business, need to take today’s sophisticated threats serious and adopt a layered defence to reduce the chances of a security breach.

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