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60 Columbus Cir
New York, NY, 10023
United States

Matt Flannery, Founder, Branch.co; Co-founder and board member, Kiva

Matt began developing Kiva in late 2004 as a side-project while working as a computer programmer at TiVo, Inc. In December 2005 Matt left his job to devote himself to Kiva full-time. As CEO for 10 years, Matt led Kiva's growth from a pilot project to an established online service with partnerships in 80 countries and hundreds of millions in dollars loaned to low income entrepreneurs.

More recently, Matt has dived back into the startup world by creating Branch.co. Branch is a for profit, Android-based "branchless bank" for Africans just launched in 2015. Matt is Skoll Awardee and Ashoka Fellow and was selected to FORTUNE magazine's "Top 40 under 40" list in 2009. In 2011, Matt was chosen for the The Economist "No Boundaries" Innovation Award. He graduated with a BS in Symbolic Systems and a Masters in Philosophy from Stanford University.


Could you please give us a bit of background on yourself, and on Kiva?

About ten years ago, I found myself a restless computer programmer.  I was just out of school at Stanford and wanted to do something meaningful.  I went on a long trip and, in the process, started volunteering for a microfinance institution in Africa.  I enjoyed interviewing the borrowers and was inspired by their stories.  I tried to invest in their businesses and realized how rewarding it could be.  This led me to start Kiva.org -- a web platform enabling microlending all over the world.  I was CEO for ten years and we have sent over $700M to entrepreneurs in over 80 countries.

What will you be discussing at The Economist's Buttonwood Gathering on October 20th?

Recently, I’ve become intrigued by the rise of mobile money and smart phones in Africa.  I wanted to figure out if we could reach borrowers directly through their phones, without ever meeting them.  So I recently started a new company -- Branch International -- to try and figure that out.  We started lending in Africa 6 months ago.  Borrowers download our app and they share all sorts of data with us.  Through machine learning, we process the data and assign a credit score.  It’s like magic -- we send loans nearly instantly.  We are now doing thousands of loans each week  and it’s getting out of control.  

From a technological perspective, what has been the biggest challenge in getting microloans to the people who need them?

Have you ever visited a bank in the developing world?  What you will see is there is often a line around the building.  I used to think “there must be a protest or something!”  I came to find out that it’s normal.   Banks usually have terrible customer service and little motivation to improve!

That’s one reason why people are converting to mobile money at a record pace.  And with Android, they are generating so much data that was previously unavailable.  Startups can use that data to create a credit market where there was none previous.  This represents a huge opportunity for the next generation.  We can deliver modern financial services almost immediately to people who were previously unbanked.  

A significant number of Americans don't use the traditional banking system.  What tools can financial institutions use to provide services to under-banked segments of the population?

The FICO score system in the US doesn’t take into consideration the useful data that citizens are generating outside the system.  For instance, which people in your network are willing to endorse you?  What does your educational history tell about the likelihood you can repay your student loan?  If you run a business, what does your cash-flow predict?  There are a number of startups working on these questions right here in the USA.  It’s an exciting time.  Credit will never be the same.  

The Buttonwood Gathering will feature a strong set of FinTech industry speakers and panelists in addition to yourself - who are you most looking forward to hearing from?

I’d like catch up with the team from Paga Tech, which is disrupting the mobile payments space in Nigeria.  Nigeria is such a huge, promising market for mobile finance.  However, the growth of the market has really been hurt by monopolies and rigid regulation.  Paga Tech is offering a cross-carrier mobile payment platform that seems to be taking off.  If it does, that will be very good because it will set a precedent for other sub-saharan countries to follow.