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The era of WhatsApp banking is with us

Banking via WhatsApp is spreading from east Africa to far beyond.

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This story was published on our Quartz Africa Weekly newsletter, News and culture from around the continent.
  • Ciku Kimeria
By Ciku Kimeria

I tell African stories

Published

Hi Quartz Africa readers,

How about forgetting all the ATM cards and banking apps you have and instead transacting through WhatsApp? That practice is already making inroads in east Africa, and it could be bigger than you can imagine.

This week I sat down with Kihara Maina, chief executive of I&M bank, with branches across east Africa. He is optimistic about the potential of WhatsApp banking, fueled by the rising affordability of smartphones and mobile internet.

“We want to keep offering customer-centric solutions to Africa’s youth.”

Though Absa was the first bank to launch the service in the region when it unveiled it for Kenyans last year, I&M has rolled it out in Tanzania and Rwanda in the past few months. Maina says it will launch in Kenya later in the year.

How does it work? Well, the bank usually has a contact that acts as a WhatsApp Business number. You have to save it in your contacts and then initiate a conversation by saying “Hi.” It will give you prompts to check balances, statements, requesting new checks, and more. To send money, you only need to open the chat window of the recipient, tap the payment option, type amount, enter PIN, and send the money.

Last year I interviewed Absa’s head of digital channels Andrew Mwithiga, and he said regarding security, “We have put up stringent measures to make WhatsApp banking secure for everyone. We have several security layers on the platform.” He also spoke about Meta’s double encryption and internal cybersecurity mechanisms.

The long term goal is to make your WhatsApp number your bank account just as your email is the bank account number on PayPal. It sounds convenient. If history has shown anything though, it’s that wherever banks are innovating, fraudsters will be on the lookout for loopholes. —Faustine Ngila, east Africa Correspondent 

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The number of businesses selling online in Africa has been rising in tandem with smartphone and internet penetration as well as the uptake of digital payment services. E-commerce revenues in Africa, which stood at $27.97 billion in 2020, are projected to hit $46.1 billion by 2025.

Sendy is a Kenyan logistics company that was founded in 2014 and primarily offered an on-demand delivery platform connecting riders and drivers to customers, who included businesses and individuals. The company has pivoted from A to B delivery to providing complete fulfillment infrastructure for e-commerce and consumer brands across the continent.

Learn more about Sendy in this coming Wednesday’s edition of the Quartz Africa Member Brief. To get the Member Brief directly in your inbox (and save 40%) by becoming a member today.

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This is the problem Fara Ashiru Jituboh is solving with Okra, a financial data company that is moving beyond open banking (nudging banks to open their vaults of customer data) to pioneer open finance in Africa. Jituboh’s vision is that Okra becomes a single channel for any business to request customers’ data—wherever the data are, with the users’ consent, and at the least possible cost. For customers, the reward is a larger pool of solutions based on their own data.

Check out Quartz Africa’s Innovators 2021 list, which showcases the pioneering work of female Africans.

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Kukua, the company behind Africa’s first animated superhero franchise, Super Sema, raised $6 million in a round led by Chinese tech giant Tencent and Alchimia. Kukua’s offices are in Nairobi and London, and this is its second raise since a $2.5 million round in 2018 when it was founded.

Sava, a South African fintech startup, raised $2 million in a round in which many African investors—including Quona Capital, Breega, CRE Ventures, and Ingressive Capital—participated. The company’s product is for small businesses to manage their expenditure and keep records. Its next step: providing credit cards.

Quartz Gems

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Our best wishes for a productive and ideas-filled week ahead. Please send any news, comments, suggestions, ideas, WhatsApp banks, and Fulani dishes to africa@qz.com. You can follow us on Twitter at @qzafrica for updates throughout the day.

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