From the Ivory Coast to Estonia

Justin Petrone

E-resident Fabrice Amalaman’s inspiring story about building PayQin, a mobile bank for Francophone Africa

PayQin is the brainchild of Fabrice Amalaman, a native of the Ivory Coast, or Côte d’Ivoire, a nation of 25 million in West Africa where the official language is French. While mobile banking solutions are available for Anglophone countries like Nigeria, Amalaman believed that there needed to be a solution for French-speaking Africans. PayQin was born, providing secure transactions using virtual cards for customers in the Ivory Coast, Senegal,  Cameroon, and Mali, run by an Estonian company headquartered in Tallinn’s Karjamaa District.

It was the latest chapter in Amalaman’s country-hopping life. Born in the Ivory Coast, he moved to Paris to study, working at EPI Capital and BNP Paribas in the investment sector, before moving to Stockholm and later Riga being part of the first Fintech batch accelaretor with Swedbank and Startup Wise Guys .

It was while in Stockholm that he decided to start PayQin. “I got the idea to build something for Africa, because I knew the problem of online banking there,” he says. Indeed, many Africans do not have bank accounts and rely on mobile solutions, such as pay cards, for online transactions.

“Our product allows people who don’t have access to financial services to generate virtual cards to pay online,” says Amalaman, noting that soon they will be able to order physical plastic cards. Users can transfer funds within the four Francophone West African countries, free of charge.

“One of the interesting use cases we have is for small business owners who use our service to promote their businesses online,” notes Amalaman. PayQin currently has about 70,000 users. “People are using it and it’s growing.”

PayQin was initially incorporated in London, but given the UK’s exit from the European Union, and Amalaman’s desire to operate the firm within the EU, he began to look around for alternatives.

“Brexit happened and at that point, Estonia was the easiest way to incorporate the company and manage it remotely,” says Amalaman.

He adds that the company maintains an office in Abidjan, the capital of the Ivory Coast, and he is frequently working between the two countries, which made the suite of digital services made available via e-Residency a sensible decision for the firm.

Amalaman was also familiar with Estonia and had visited the country many times, to attend its Latitude59 startup conference, for example. PayQin OÜ was incorporated in Estonia in March 2020, and around that same time, Amalaman also applied for a startup visa, which allowed him to set up in the country. His e-Residency meantime was finalized by that summer and with the help of a Tallinn-based service called MoveMyTalent, he was able to find an apartment. “They did everything and it was quite straightforward,” says Amalaman. He adds that after stints in Stockholm and Riga, settling into Estonia wasn’t difficult. “I am very used to the weather and everything,” he says. “It’s more or less the same thing.”

Amalaman is now laying the grounds for the European office of PayQin and has hired a growth manager in Tallinn and will soon hire more. In total, the firm has 17 employees.

Earlier this year, the company also raised €300,000 via a network of Estonian investors to support PayQin’s growth. Amalaman says the company plans to launch money remittance from Europe soon, which will allow people in Europe to deposit money straight into their PayQin accounts. As noted, the firm also plans to make plastic cards available to users and is working with a local bank in Africa to do so.

While Amalaman’s path to date has been mercurial, from the Ivory Coast to France to Sweden to Latvia and now Estonia, he says he has no plans at the moment to move on from PayQin just yet.

“It’s never good to do one thing forever, but right now, I am 100 percent behind this idea,” says Amalaman.

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