Kahanbu Mastayaboo, 26, ties her five-month-old daughter, Esther, around her waist as she walks down a market in Kanyabayonga, a small town in Eastern Congo, to buy some grocery with her husband, Muhinto Meso, 23. When they’re settled on a purchase, Mastayaboo passes their electronic payment (e-payment) card to the cashier, who swipes the card on a scanner on the back of a smartphone, on which Kahanbu Mastayabo taps her personal code to confirm the purchase.
In the conflict-ridden area of Congo’s North Kivu province, a total of 6,180 families – more than 37,400 people – are stranded out of their homes. The e-payment vouchers offered by the Congo-based Norwegian Refugee Council (NRC) have been a useful method of allowing people to select the goods they need the most, says NRC’s Emergency Coordinator in Congo, Ibrahim Abdullya Ly, who is responsible for the planning and implementation of e-Voucher markets. “By using e-Vouchers, we are eliminating many of the risks of fraud and theft that exist with paper vouchers or cash distributions,” he continues. “And since the electronic system works much faster, we have been able to accommodate 200 more families per day compared to other systems.”
However, many are wary of inputting their personal and bank account details on mobile applications – especially with the subculture of internet fraud that is so common in parts of Africa.
Africa is a continent that is both rich in educated populations and poor on infrastructure, with the Economist Intelligence Unit estimating that the continent will add 122 million people to the labor force between 2010 and 2030. With an average GDP growth rate of 5 percent in the past 16 years, it is not news that Africa is a market on the rise, with one of the biggest challenges to market penetration remaining the large percentage of the population that is unbanked. According to a report published by the African Development Bank in 2013, 77 percent of the continent’s population is unbanked. Meanwhile, in Sub-Saharan Africa, 12 percent of adults (64 million adults) have e-payment accounts; 45 percent of which are unbanked.
Between 2012 and 2015, smartphone penetration more than doubled in Africa, making e-payment a potential bridge to help overcome urban challenges like transportation. Over the past five years, e-payment in Africa has become increasingly mainstream year after year, making it a key tool to tap into in cultivating the future of African cities’ economies.
Playing as catalysts, startups, small and medium enterprises work both alongside and against each other to infuse the e-payment culture in the mindsets of shoppers and businessmen.
22seven in Cape Town
Founded in January 2012 as a mobile application that unites all your bank accounts, 22seven was launched in spite of skepticism about its security. Operated by the India-based Yodlee, the Cape Town-based company has allegedly been investigating glitches and hackers. Kenny Inggs, co-founder and chief technical officer, says that so far there has been no concerted effort to penetrate the company’s security, “because there is really nothing a criminal syndicate can do with it, we just hold information.”
“There is no pot of gold so it is not really lucrative for a syndicate… They have no way to tie into a real person with email, name or identity number, so there is no reason to even try access it for identity theft.” he says. The only real value of the information the mobile app holds is identity theft, so 22seven has added in extra security to ensure that all personal identifiable information is encrypted.
Bankymoon in Johannesberg
Founded in 2015, Bankymoon provides e-payment services using blockchain technology. “There is a lot of hyperbole about blockchain right now,” says the CEO of Bankymoon, Lorien Gamaroff. “Blockchain will change everything and become the beating heart of finance,” he adds.
According to Investopedia’s definition, a blockchain is the equivalent of a full history of banking transactions. Bitcoin transactions are entered chronologically into a blockchain in the same way that bank transactions are, with blocks acting like individual bank statements. The technology uses a digital ledger to efficiently share and track information related to contracts and transactions, the records of which are permanent, verifiable and secure.
One year after its establishment, Bankymoon was celebrated and given honors in the “Blockchain & Bitcoin” category at the African FinTech Awards which took place at the Finance Indaba Africa 2016 in October. Bankymoon has also made lots of proposals concerning energy, and Gamaroff and his team have expressed interest in innovating the energy sector as well.
Kobocoin in Nigeria
Similar to bitcoin, Kobocoin is a digital currency and payment system but “with an African heritage.” The term kobo refers to a monetary unit in Nigeria. The system developed by Felix Onyemechi Ugoji, a Nigerian entrepreneur based in London in 2014, is of a decentralized nature. The website explains: “The Kobocoin blockchain is distributed, to independently verify the chain of ownership of each and every kobocoin amount. The wallet on your device is a node. It works to maintain the security and integrity of the blockchain along with all other nodes. There is no central database. This is the decentralized nature of the Kobocoin ecosystem.”
ConnectAfrica in Nairobi
Turning away from personal e-payment, ConnectAfrica is a business-to-business technology solution connecting various payment networks together. Once an enterprise is signed up on to the system, it is able to facilitate cross-network transfers. ConnectAfrica targets e-wallet providers, banks, and payments service providers among others. Founded in 2012, the startup initially planned to only connect business across East Africa together, but later they connected West Africa too.
FarmDrive in Nairobi
Founded in 2014, like the name suggests, FarmDrive focuses on empowering farmers through a mobile application that organizes farming finances. FarmDrive aims to enable the 50 million smallholder farmers across the continent to increase their productivity, with the aim of helping to feed 9 billion people by 2050. “FarmDrive expects to capitalize on the large underserved market that has been bottlenecked from inaccurate or lack of recordkeeping that will now have sufficient data to receive traditional financing,” says the co-founder Peris Bosire.
The mobile application provides a simple digital record-keeping platform that enables farmers to keep track of their farming activities. Combined with existing agricultural data, the farmer’s input is used to develop a comprehensive credit profile to be used for the farmer’s credit assessment by financial institutions to help them find funding when needed. The system encourages financial institutions to lend more to smallholder farmers without worrying about risks since the records are transparent.
The data is also collected to help comprehend each farmer’s specific needs and provide them with needed information accordingly. This empowers farmers with insights that they can make use of in their farming operations, maximizing benefits and further potential.