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Kazakh fintech star Kaspi a pandemic bright spot

Almaty, Kazakhstan

WITH most staff working from home, the headquarters of Kazakhstan's fintech hero exudes a sleepiness ill-fitting for a company whose rapid rise has been accelerated by the coronavirus pandemic.

Kaspi, Kazakhstan's payment systems and e-commerce leader, became the Central Asian country's most valuable firm after it was valued at US$6.5 billion on the London stock exchange in October in what was the UK's second largest float of this year. The listing took commentators by surprise, coming after a failed attempt - falling short of a US$4 billon market cap valuation - the year before.

But Kaspi's Georgia-born CEO Mikheil Lomtadze, told AFP that the company and its investors, including Goldman Sachs and CIS-focused Baring Vostok - were not fazed by the false start. Mr Lomtadze said that beyond China, where online payment systems Alipay and WeChat have become ubiquitous, there are few markets that have seen user behaviour so utterly transformed by mobile payments as Kazakhstan.

The coronavirus is a stern test of Central Asia's largest economy, with Kazakhstan's gross domestic product expected to shrink year-on-year for the first time in over two decades.

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Kaspi, which began life as a bank in the ex-Soviet country before expanding into peer-to-peer payments and online marketplaces, is bucking the trend. Active monthly users of its app that offers an array of services rose 70 per cent in the first six months of 2020 compared with the same period last year, reaching nearly eight million in a country of around 19 million people.

Kaspi's online marketplace services and army of couriers - exempted from restrictions on movements during a lockdown in March and April - proved vital for businesses.

The app meanwhile delivered more than 60 per cent of all government coronavirus relief payments to eligible citizens.

Investor interest in Kaspi, limited to funds by the terms of the IPO, points to confidence in a future beyond Kazakhstan for the company.

Kaspi has aready entered Azerbaijan, another ex-Soviet state, where it owns the leading online marketplaces for cars, used goods and real estate. Kazakhstan's neighbour Uzbekistan, Central Asia's most populous country with 34 million people, represents another target, Mr Lomtadze said. AFP

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