Yoco: Using data as a catalyst for SME recovery

By Katlego Maphai Time of article published May 16, 2020

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JOHANNESBURG - The current Covid-19 pandemic has challenged the world on every possible level. It is not only a health crisis, but a social, economic, and political quandary that world leaders have been grappling with for months. 

Making sound decisions has never been more important, but a lack of data makes this task challenging. In our early responses to the pandemic, Yoco turned to its team of data analysts to help plot a way forward for the company and our customers. Insights from this data and listening to the needs of our customers have informed the backbone of our response. 

Simultaneously, we were watching the small business community and market struggle through the sea of information, misinformation and anecdotal evidence. In a few short weeks, there appeared to be a scramble for data collection from a number of authorities indicating one critical factor: there are no easily accessible data sources to tell the story of small business in South Africa. 

Data is a vital component – not only in our ability to rise up and meet this pandemic – but also in our day-to-day actions and planning, and in our ability to predict the needs of the market. Timely data needs to inform what we think, build, and communicate. 

The Yoco Small Business Recovery Monitor is our first attempt to give South Africa line of sight into the small enterprise landscape. It’s the first of a kind real-time view, that we hope will help our customers and policymakers with decision making. It has been informing and fuelling our response at Yoco .

Midway through the Level 5 national lockdown, our data reflected the dark reality of what was happening on the ground in South Africa. 92 percent of small businesses went offline entirely; their livelihoods grinding to an abrupt halt. 

A deeper dive into the data gave us insights into the correlation between Covid-19 cases and the level of small, medium and micro enterprises economic activity in each region. Many of these were unprecedented and helped Yoco map a way forward for merchants. 

Ultimately, the way we navigate this pandemic – shifting from surviving to thriving – will be through harnessing the full capabilities of the technology and data at our disposal. When  we can quantify what is happening, we can better qualify our decisions. 

Small businesses have always been the core of our country. And here I refer not only to their ability to create employment opportunities and grow our gross domestic product, but also to their untapped potential in unifying people. 

The national lockdown has been fiercely difficult for every single person in South Africa. Not simply for its economic devastation but for the immense loss each person feels in not being able to experience the things that bring them joy, or comfort. 

When you ask yourself what you miss most about the world as it was before covid-19, the answers are often connected to small businesses. 

Local cafes, corner shops, and boutiques mean so much more to us than the products and services they sell. We support small because the people behind these businesses are our friends, families, and fellow entrepreneurs. To see their businesses disappear would be a tremendous knock to our spirits. 

The Small Business Recovery Monitor is a vital step towards bringing these businesses into the spotlight. As we watch them recover and restart, we can use the data to clear the pathway for them. We can more aptly tell their stories, and champion their needs. For small business owners, the Recovery Monitor is also a window into the industry. To shift perspective you need the right lens, and perhaps through a lens of data we can cut through the noise and find not only insight, but innovation. 

Katlego Maphai is the co-founder and chief executive of Yoco, a financial platform for small businesses. The Yoco Small Business Recovery Monitor in partnership with IOL is a live small business transaction data resource. The index is updated daily with the latest information from more than 80 000 Yoco merchants, relating to their turnover by province and industry. ​


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