Loans with the help of satellite images

How does a corn farmer in East Africa prove their creditworthiness? A start-up has come up with a solution for connecting remote regions to the rest of the world. The only requirement? A mobile phone.

Apollo client Virginia in Nakuru

By Simon Brunner in the Credit Suisse Bulletin

“Show me your credit rating and I’ll tell you who you are,” is the unwritten rule of the economic mainstream: If a global company, a small village shop, a home buyer or even an entire country wants to borrow money, they must first provide proof of their assets and income. But how can a farmer in rural Kenya provide reliable financial information when such information depends in large part on his harvest?

Apollo Agriculture, a start-up founded in Nairobi in 2016, wants to solve this problem with the help of remote sensing technology and data science. Apollo uses machine learning models to build credit profiles for their customers, using alternative data sources. This includes inferences from satellite imagery of customers’ fields, as well as self-reported and behavioral data gathered during the customer enrollment process. Apollo then provides approved customers with a package of farm inputs, advice, and insurance, on credit that is customized to the size of their farms. This means that farmers in the Kenyan city of Nakuru, for example, can access the quality seed and fertilizer they need to increase their yields and are protected in case of drought.

Co-founder and CEO Eli Pollak has ambitious plans: “Our business is helping small-scale farmers make more money on their farms. We see fantastic opportunities to help farmers expand and achieve higher returns, including higher profitability crops, more crop diversification, irrigation, and access to markets.”

Accion Venture Lab

As part of its Financial Inclusion Initiative, Credit Suisse supports Venture Lab, the seed-stage investment arm of Accion, an NGO and pioneer in the area of financial inclusion. Venture Lab provides startup capital and support to innovative start-ups that facilitate, improve, and reduce the cost of access to financial services for people living in poverty. Apollo Agriculture is part of Accion’s portfolio. 

Improving realities

A conversation with Laura Hemrika, the Global Head of Corporate Citizenship & Foundations at Credit Suisse

Q: Laura Hemrika, what does Credit Suisse seek to achieve through its Corporate Citizenship activities?

A: Through our work, we seek to contribute to a more inclusive future where all people can both access the resources and develop the financial, entrepreneurial, and other skills they need to thrive in the economy and society. We focus on the topics of financial inclusion, financial education, and future skills, and partner with NGOs and social enterprises transforming the realities of thousands of people worldwide.

Q: Why did Credit Suisse choose to support Accion’s Venture Lab?

A: Venture Lab has a very successful approach to identifying innovative new financial inclusion business models and helping them reach scale. Thanks to their smaller size, presence on the ground close to investees, and international team with deep experience in building financial inclusion and tech businesses, they are better placed to do so than we are, and are a great complement to our strengths. They provide early-stage investment capital — which can be difficult to obtain, especially for start-ups in emerging markets — and work closely with entrepreneurs to help build their companies. These companies are the future of financial inclusion, merging big data, new technology, and new models to deliver financial services to new customer segments, especially low-income people in developing countries.

Q: What support does Credit Suisse provide to help partners achieve sustained growth and impact?

A: Our partners need not only capital but also expertise to grow and achieve a greater social impact. We, therefore, complement our grant funding with the knowledge and expertise of our employees through a number of employee engagement programs. Whenever valuable, we also try to connect our partners to other Credit Suisse resources, such as our clients and business colleagues, or to our other partners. Together we can achieve an even bigger impact.

A version of this post appeared previously in the Credit Suisse Bulletin.

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