Founded just two years ago, the fintech – a portmanteau used to denote a finance and technology company – has made significant strides towards broadening the capabilities of mobile transactions.
Over the last decade, the movement of cash from one point to the other has been made relatively easier with the rise of mobile money services.
Pioneered in Kenya with Safaricom’s M-Pesa service, 52 percent of sub-Saharan Africans use mobile money service in a part of the world where 63 percent of the population remains unbanked, according to a report released by Ericsson Consumerlab.
In Ghana alone, 7.8 billion cedis worth of transaction was done via mobile money according to the Bank of Ghana’s 2016 Payment Systems Statistics. This was a 121 percent rise from the total volume of transactions in 2015.
‘We believe that in Africa, we are not ‘card people’ we are ‘mobile people’, says Andrew Takyi-Appiah, the co-founder and chief executive officer of Zeepay.
“[Unlike the rest of the world] we have leapfrogged to mobile immediately. Africa has in circulation of about 35 million cards but as at the end of 2016, there were about 158 million active mobile wallets on the continent,” he adds.
The statistics may seem unbelievable considering that banking has been on the continent for over a century while mobile money has been around for a little over a decade since the early days of M-Pesa.
But Takyi-Appiah says this is has become possible because of the relative simplicity that mobile offers. His company is one of the companies leading the mobile revolution on the continent. Founded just two years ago, the fintech – a portmanteau used to denote a finance and technology company – has made significant strides towards broadening the capabilities of mobile transactions.
“…everybody has the need to store value, to move cash for transfer and everybody has the need to make payments,” say the former banking executive.
Tapping to Pay
While mobile technology has undeniably shaken the concept of money, the continent remains cash-heavy. This is because people continue to pay for basic services and commodities with crisp bankrolls despite the much-heralded advancement of mobile money. Mobile money has largely been used as a means of remitting money from the urban working class areas to the rural agrarian regions.
“The next question,” According to Takyi-Appiah “is how do we make mobile transactional? Which is the path we have chosen to take at Zeepay.”
The company is working towards a future where cash is light with people simply tapping their phones to pay for goods and services.
“Because we are not card people, Zeepay, is designed around that. We believe the mobile networks have done a wonderful job in creating all these wallets before we came to market. So, let’s make it transactional.
To make it transactional, you need to scale it up, so that the wallets now have near field communication (NFC) technology feature; which is basically the idea that you tap your phone; you put your pin in and then you pay. It is simply a look up feature that is able to encrypt and decrypt, therefore makes it safe for financial services.”
Aside being able to pay for services, Zeepay allows for cross platforming, also known as interoperability. The present condition means that mobile money users on different networks can either not send money to one another or have to endure higher charges for crossing the platform.
Ghana’s vice president, Mahamudu Bawumia, has challenged industry players to come with a plan on how to make mobile money interoperable by August 2017. Even before that deadline, Zeepay is already ahead of the game, allowing users to circumvent that hurdle.
Building a business
Starting a company is no easy task anywhere in the world. Takyi-Appiah, who left a well salaried job in order to focus on building what he hopes will be ‘the Uber experience for startups in Ghana’ has had his fair share of the arduous journey.
“I have worked with corporate all my life until I did this…It was somebody’s headache to pay me, somebody’s cost to fly me, for the labs and engineering work that we did, [but now] you have to do it yourself. Sometimes, you look at the bill and you get scared”, says Takyi-Appiah, switching between the first and third person.
The challenges are so many. First of all, raising money. It took us two years to raise money and you can never raise enough when it comes to fundraising for a startup… But we are grateful that a company by the name Glico decided to come on board. There is a director-shareholder of ours and he actually gave us our first seed fund. [He calls in the morning] then I go over and he gives me a cheque. And I cried. Because it was hard to believe that someone believed in us so much he would give us a cheque.
Another challenge is developing people and them leaving you. That’s a painful one, I am sure our sister startups are going through [as well] …I guess they have to move on and you can’t hold it against them but it’s a painful one.”
Despite these challenges, coupled with the demands of family life, Takyi-Appiah, describes starting his own company as “whole learning curve” and very rewarding.
For me, the whole learning curve of a startup is an amazing one… It is tough; really tough. It breaks you. But then as you get into it, it models you to a new breed. It makes you see things from a different perspective…It makes you a lot more innovative because you are boxed up and you need to show relevance. It is a humbling experience. I would say it is an experience worth living. I would encourage everybody to give it a try one day in their lifetime.”
The company has witnessed relative success in its young life. It has about 24,000 users with the oil marketing company Star Oil being one of its strategic partners. Some other partners include Airtel, Glico, Tigo and yah!. It now has operations not just in Ghana, but in the United Kingdom and they terminate transactions into 10 African countries including Kenya, Rwanda and Nigeria.
This drive towards a cash-light society has won the company many accolades, locally and globally. In 2015, it won the Ghana and Africa editions of the highly coveted 1776 pitching competition, which saw them represent the continent at the global round in the United States. It has also participated in Demo Africa, a selective exhibition event which brings together hundreds of the tech industry’s players in search of the next big idea.