How European fin(tech) providers impede support to African-led foundations

Or how they could support it instead | Or how to get around it

12 June, we’re ready to start iMPACT Direct! In six weeks’ time Isaac, Richard and me set up the first prototype for donors to donate directly to 4 highly professional participating NGOs in Ghana and Kenya.

Today, it’s 1st of August. It took us another seven weeks (!) at 10 different financial and fintech providers to get a bank account and a donation button. That meant:

  • Exploring all the opportunities that are there (a whole lot — we checked around 30 options).
  • Researching their websites for what is possible and what isn’t.
  • And then emailing them or calling them several times a week to check the progress.

Especially since two years, when European financial regulations became far more strict in fighting money laundering and financing terrorism (In Dutch: De Wet ter voorkoming van witwassen en financiering van terrorisme (Wwft). So, when applying for a bank account as a foundation, banks will check each board member’s ‘identity’ and the money flows . A so-called Know-Your-Customer (KYC) check.

So far, so good.

Several banks offer a commercial account for foundations. The websites advertise with how fast you can have a bank account after registration. So, at first, we were thinking we could choose which one fit best.

However, this was the reality:

Two weeks after our online registration at ABN AMRO Bank, a sales lady called me back to make an appointment for an onboarding call 4 weeks later. “Pretty fast,” the lady commented on the phone. 21st of July I had a 45-minute call with a nice lady who liked out website and idea so much. Then our paperwork and explanations went to the onboarding department. And 2 days later the application was rejected.

(Why? Read on, I’ll tell you below.)

Because of COVID-19 and many companies starting an online webshop there were extra waiting lists. I was told many times.

For the banks the waiting lists were:

  • SNS Bank was very much transparent about their waiting lists to open a bank account as a foundation: 3 months.
  • Triodos told us: “At least 2 months.”
  • Rabobank told us: “You first need to have your private accounts with us.”
  • ASN Bank and online bank N26 don’t provide commercial accounts for foundations.

After a tip, we turned to online Bunq Bank. They said that it will take a few days. And yes, it worked quite fast to get the basics working, despite the many technical bugs (probably because they just launched a new tech-system). And in total it took 4 weeks to get everything working.

Fastest was TransferWise — we had an account in 2 days. Great for money transfers to Africa — but we couldn’t use it for the donation button (as it doesn’t provide a personal IBAN).

We had our bank account. “Now we can almost start!” we must have thought…

One last thing to be able to start iMPACT direct: applying for the technique behind the donation button at a Payment Service Provider (PSP). I think the most well-known one is Mollie.

At least it was Mollie, we turned too first. And they do the entire KYC-check all over again. Even though the bank just did exactly the same. It took 3 weeks again, and then Mollie rejected our application.

Why we have rejected at the bank at and Mollie? I imagine someone at the onboarding department with a list of all potential financial risks in front of him.

Ø Foundation with just one board member and thus probably little checks and balances (reason for ABN AMRO to reject our application).

Ø Foundation without ANBI status (reason for Mollie to reject our application).

Ø Donations or crowdfunding

Ø Transfer money to Africa. (SNS and Mollie mentioned this as a potential risk.

Ø The entire country ’Ghana’ on a blacklist (MangoPay, PayPal and Adyen)

Ø No insights of total of money flows (because private accounts are with a different bank and we will be using TransferWise to transfer to Africa.)

Ø And the most peculiar ‘risk’ we’ve heard at Multisafepay (who did very friendly explain their policies in a call): “With foundations we can’t check who is donating. Something we can when a company sells something through their web shop.” (I still don’t get it…)

If your application ticks the box(es) of potential risks, you get extra checks (if the organisation has the capacity to do so) or get rejected.

Some PSPs welcome everyone, but with very high rates (what I understand as: they’re buying the risk they take).

It had been so frustrating at times, because all of this is so non-transparent.

A few banks and providers do have their information online or they are very clear on what they do and don’t do in a first email contact. However, most of them have a sales-department who will tell you that everything is possible or all will be ready for you in just a few days.

Getting to the onboarding department new criteria come up, you never heard before; The 3 board members needed at ABN AMRO and the ANBI status needed for Mollie.

Some PSPs even required to first register, before they could tell me anything about their criteria. Something that sounds ridiculous to me, but perfectly normal for some fintech providers.

At first, I was thinking we did something wrong that we were not welcome or rejected so many times. Asking for help from colleagues made me realise that it is a problem that all foundations transferring money to Africa face, especially the smaller ones.

Partin and others are exploring how foundations can de-risk themselves at the bank. It’s something in progress, but has at least to do with:

  • Apply for an ANBI status (for foundations in the Netherlands; which will take a minimum of 8 more weeks at the tax institution (!)).
  • Have at least 3 board members for checks and balances.
  • Ensure transparency of all money flows.

As it can’t be that if you want to support great African-led projects there would be no way to do it, we also add some tips for the fintech providers:

  • Look at our partnering NGOs! It are all formally registered NGOs in their country and have a bank account at national bank (who also did a KYC-check).
  • Look at our website and you’ll find (financial) transparency. And that’s in the first place, because we want to be transparent to our donors and partnering NGOs. We promised 95% of all donations, so we need to show that we do what we say.
  • Take size into account! It can’t be that we — as a starting initiative — have everything in place just as well-established multimillion-NGOs have. Actually, it was on purpose that we didn’t had everything in place, because first of all we want to test our idea, learn and adapt, before advancing to a more professionally organised initiative — in terms of board and ANBI.

Finally, 2 days ago we managed to find a solution at Bunq Bank (again!) for the donation button. Click for a preview.

(To be continued! Indeed, it means that https://impactdirect.eu can start very soon from now!)

(Or fill in more Payment Service Providers you know In the Excel, so the overview gets more complete.)

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