KAMPALA — While micro, small and medium enterprises account for over 80% of businesses in Uganda and employ the largest number of the country’s working population, they still find it hard to access bank credit. This is mainly because majority are informal, fragile, lack collateral and thus considered risky.
However, in a bid to close the financing gap and enable them continue playing their rightful role in Uganda, Social Lend Africa, a Financial Technology Company (FinTech) has democratized lending to ease access to credit, using a digital platform.
Through the platform, small business owners in need of credit are linked to lenders, so as to access affordably and conveniently, according to the Social Lend Africa co-founder and chief executive officer Marvin Peter Akankwasa.
Akankwasa alludes to the existing gap in the market, between businesses that need credit and those who can give it.
“We believe everyone deserves to access quality financial services to enable them pursue a life of dignity and prosperity. So we lend small unsecured amounts of money at scale to millions of financially responsible Africans,” he says.
According to him, SMEs in Uganda need about $4.8b (Shs17.8 trillion) to be able to finance their businesses and scale operations but they cannot access the money, yet there are many unbanked people with sizable amounts of savings and income that can be loaned out.
“There is an opportunity in bringing cheap credit to both banks and the unbanked in an efficient manner; this efficiency can better be achieved by going digital,” Akankwasa says.
Social Lend Africa, which is one of the FinTechs participating in the 40-days-40-FinTechs initiative launched recently, by HiPipo, in partnership with Crosslake Tech, ModusBox and Mojaloop Foundation.
The project seeks to enable FinTechs to innovate solutions that facilitate cross-network financial transactions at minimal risks to enhance access to financial services.
Running for 40 days, the project will see the participating 40 FinTechs, acquire interoperable development skills to improve access to financial services, using the Mojaloop open source software.
Akankwasa applauded HiPipo, saying that the project has come at a right time, when Social Lend Africa is focusing on democratising lending and borrowing, which he said they cannot achieve unless they revolutionise risk assessment and credit extension.
“I am happy that Mojaloop is trying to revolutionise how payments are done; with Mojaloop, I am sure that we have a tool that is going to make financial technology better. We are looking forward to working with Mojaloop Foundation, HiPipo and other partners in enhancing financial inclusion,” Akankwasa said, adding that the Mojaloop software will help them make financial technology better.
Founded over four years ago, Social Lend Africa has over the years helped micro and small enterprises access affordable credit.
It screens borrowers, facilitates the transaction and services the cash advance. Borrowers can then use the cash advance for business, consolidate debt, finance purchases or cater for certain personal financing needs.
The company was established in 2015, initially lending money to small business owners and students around universities for their tuition. It initially traded Spectrum Xchange (U) Limited before rebranding to Social Lend Africa in in 2018, owing to the growth in reliance on peer-to-peer lending networks.
“We settled for Social Lend Africa because we felt it represents our aspiration to leverage our online peer-to-peer lending networks and spread them across Africa, enabling entrepreneurs and small business owners easily access instant, short-term loans through a simple loan application process, via a secure platform,” Akankwasa says.
Due to the need to leverage technology to ease the application process and also provide access to credit to more consumers, it went fully digital in May 2019 by launching the Social Lend Africa web app, which helps customers access credit any time.
The HiPipo CEO Innocent Kawooya said: “I am excited to learn about Social Lend Africa. We are happy that your registered and made the shortlist for the 40-days-40-FinTechs project, a brainchild of HiPipo. HiPipo is a 15-year old company that focuses on using technology to serve and save millions of people mainly in Africa.”
Kawooya says that while offering people credit is a noble job, it is so challenging as businesses, mainly start-ups need loans yet most of them do not have collateral to access the loans.
“Many of these start-ups are by young Ugandans who do not own anything except their innovative minds and products they are developing. Most lenders can never come to their help because of lack of collateral,” he explains.
Kawooya also explains that informal lenders are also hard to deal with as they charge high interests and yet their conditions are short term.
“It is thus exciting to interact with a company like Social Lend Africa that is trying to democratise lending and borrowing. It will be nice for Social Lend Africa to develop an interoperable solution that would enable it do lending and borrowing from multiple institutions all brought together on one platform,” Kawooya explains.