Justin Ziegler, MBA ’23: Aiding Global Development via Cross-Border Transactions

Stanford Impact Founder Fellow aims to supply African businesses with an affordable payment network.

July 27, 2023

| by Sarah Murray
Justin Ziegler, MBA ’23

Justin Ziegler, MBA ’23 | Saul Bromberger

Since learning Swahili as an undergraduate at Princeton University, Justin Ziegler has focused on building businesses in Africa. On graduating, Ziegler served as the first chief of staff at Andela, a global talent network connecting companies with engineering talent, which became one of the first unicorns on the continent.

Today, Ziegler is the cofounder and COO of Juice — an accessible, affordable payment network for Africans. Juice enables faster, cheaper, and safer cross-border transactions for businesses that otherwise have to rely on expensive, time-consuming alternatives. The goal, says Ziegler, is to enable emerging market businesses that cannot currently access the global financial system to do so.

He argues that by providing access to better global payment systems, emerging market businesses will be more profitable and scale faster, ultimately strengthening the development of these economies. “Whether you’re a mom-and-pop store, a high-tech company, or a large business, you need to be able to make affordable global payments,” Ziegler says.

Juice’s first priority is focusing on compliance, which Ziegler sees as a key point of differentiation. Western financial institutions are currently ill-equipped to differentiate between legitimate and illegitimate financial flows from emerging markets and are, therefore, much less likely to serve those markets. Given that the U.S. and Europe are key stakeholders in the global payment system, this prevents businesses in emerging markets from operating at full potential. By providing compliance controls and processes, Juice ensures legitimate financial flows and increases access to the global financial system.

In addition to enabling financial institutions to serve emerging markets, Juice provides accessible technology for emerging market businesses to meet their global payment needs. Ziegler believes that technology solutions such as Juice will help level the global economic playing field. “We’re in the early innings of the African tech revolution,” he says. “And we’re already seeing creative solutions to important problems. Just imagine what lies ahead.”

The Problem

In highlighting the problem Juice is working to solve, Ziegler reminds people that making cross-border currency transactions can be taken for granted in developed economies. “Sometimes it’s slow and expensive, but for the most part, it works and doesn’t get in the way of international commerce,” he says. “That’s different in Africa and much of the emerging world.”

The network will provide the connective financial architecture that emerging market businesses require to expand.

In Lagos, he illustrates, mom-and-pop stores selling, say, electronics receive payments in naira, the local currency, and must pay for imported goods in other currencies, largely the U.S. dollar. Because these small businesses are excluded from the global banking system, they have to use local middlemen for foreign currency transactions that come with exorbitant fees, long processing times, and a high risk of fraud.

The Solution

Juice is creating an online marketplace where currencies can be traded directly by businesses and individuals. They are also working with large financial operators, banking partners, and regulators to establish a platform that customers — businesses initially, but eventually individuals as well — can use to send or receive payments from one country to another.

The network will provide the connective financial architecture that emerging market businesses require to expand and reach more customers. “You don’t need to have large treasury teams sourcing dollars, you don’t have to worry about high fees, and you can make your payments too,” he says. “You can have a much stronger bottom line and grow your business more sustainably.”

The team also identified the importance of credibility for businesses in emerging markets to make cross-border transactions. Juice is using software to build compliance controls and processes that will enable banks and regulators across different markets to know that their customers are legitimate businesses making legitimate transactions. Juice focuses on three elements: KYC (know your customer), KYB (know your business), and KYT (know your transaction).

Moreover, by using software to monitor transactions over time, Juice can build an increasingly clear picture of its customers, from their UBO (ultimate beneficial owner) to the kind of business they are conducting. As trust builds, business owners will be able to send and receive increasingly large amounts of money.

“It’s about orchestrating currency exchange and efficiently connecting the global banking system with businesses across Africa and emerging markets — businesses that can’t access the global financial system today,” says Ziegler. “And the key is compliance.”

The Innovator

Ziegler’s conception of community service was once focused on a small town in New Jersey, Leonia, where he comes from a family of teachers and civil servants. “For me, community was that one square mile,” he says.

This changed when his undergraduate studies at Princeton came with an opportunity to learn Swahili at the University of Dar es Salaam in Tanzania, where a local student became a close friend. “He challenged a lot of my assumptions,” says Ziegler. “How could I say this friend was not also in my ‘community’?”

Ziegler was first able to combine his African studies, his expanded sense of community, and an emerging interest in technology startups by taking a position as chief of staff at Andela, which hired African software developers and placed them with tech companies. “That showed me what a mission-driven for-profit company could do in terms of impact,” he says.

Ziegler learned about Juice when his cofounder, Ife Johnson, approached him with the idea. “It resonated with my experience at Andela and at other businesses on the continent I’d invested in, supported, and advised,” he says. “For someone who cares about economic development, working on payment technology that has the potential to transform businesses across Africa is a dream job.”

Juice has ambitious plans. With a team made up of Ziegler, an American with experience in Africa; Johnson, a Nigerian with intimate knowledge of local markets; Joshua Wasserman, their head of compliance who is a former FDIC examiner; and over a dozen other employees, Juice wants to become the go-to currency exchange and remittance platform for businesses in Africa’s leading markets.

This, argues Ziegler, will enable the continent to participate in the global marketplace on equal footing with other parts of the world. “We’ve gained early traction,” he says. “In our first year, we processed a billion dollars in TPV [total payment volume].” One of their investors noted that this makes Juice the fastest African fintech ever to hit that metric.

What he also finds exciting is being part of the new wave of tech innovation emerging across the African continent. “‘Software plays a huge role in it,” he says. “The tech revolution may have begun in Silicon Valley, and places like Stanford, but its future is being written in cities across Africa.”

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