Vendors and customers turned to upstarts OPay and PalmPay in recent weeks to send and receive money after a central bank edict to swap old banknotes for new ones, which was later overturned, created a shortage of cash in Africa’s biggest economy. Traditional banks could not handle the surge in online transactions. As of March 24, the two apps were ranked first and second in a list of Nigeria’s most downloaded finance apps on Google’s Play Store compiled by analytics company SimilarWeb — above the apps of traditional banks. OPay, owned by Chinese billionaire Yahui Zhou through his web browser company Opera, has become the main alternative to banks for money transfer and bill payments during the cash crunch, say industry observers. PalmPay’s app is preinstalled on Android phones produced by Transsion, the Chinese manufacturer whose brands Tecno, Itel, and Infinix are among the most popular smartphones in Africa. Transsion co-owns PalmPay with another Chinese company, NetEase, and was the lead investor in a $40 million raise which the startup used to break into the Nigeria market, laying the foundation for other Chinese investors to splash more cash on the startup.
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