KAMPALA — Over the past few years, distinctions between financial institutions and telecom service providers have been gradually breaking, thanks to the emergence of Financial Technology Companies (FinTechs) that are providing the needed bridge.
FinTechs are transforming lives in Uganda and the entire African region for the better; facilitating payments, boosting financial inclusion and enhancing customer experience.
Among the key FinTechs that has played a great role in this space in Uganda is True African, a mobile and online Financial Services Hub that provides custom tailored software solutions to address specific business needs, payment gateways to banks, collection platforms to utility service providers and individual and corporate mobile and online wallets.
True African, a pioneer Financial Technology Company (FinTech) in region also enables individuals and business enterprises to securely and efficiently transact large volumes of payments on a single platform under one umbrella.
True African ventured into the market 18 years ago, with the short messaging service (SMS) product, giving the firm market visibility, before venturing into mobile banking in 2002, according to the company’s founder and managing director Eric Kamau.
As pioneers in the value added services (VAS) industry, True African has over a decade of network connectivity across the country, with a multiple channel software platform that integrates with off-the-shelf SMS and USSD gateways.
It offers a wide range of services including MasterCard QR; a payment solution that harnesses technology to allow consumers pay for goods and services using mobile phones at merchant outlets.
Mastercard QR empowers merchants to easily and securely accept digital payments through a no-cost Point-Of-Sale solution that provides a cash-like experience for merchants and a low-risk investment for the user.
“MasterCard QR is secure, smart and easy; providing a cost-effective alternative to cash payments,” Kamau says.
The other product is Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) Code Aggregation that allows high-speed interactive communication between the subscribers and applications across a GSM network.
It offers both dedicated and shared USSD codes. Under the dedicated USSD, a code is aggregated and solely used by the client while the shared USSD code is used by multiple companies or services where each company is allocated an extension off the main code.
Other products are merchant collections, bulk payments, mobile banking, software development and a VSLA Imara platform.
This has put them at the center of the electronic payments industry in the East African region.
True African is one of the FinTechs taking part in the 40-days-40-FinTechs initiative organised by HiPipo, in partnership with Crosslake Tech, ModusBox and Mojaloop Foundation.
The initiative seeks to enable FinTechs to innovate solutions that facilitate cross-network financial transactions at minimal risks to enhance access to financial services, most especially for the poor.
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.
Kamau commended HiPipo for the initiative, saying that interoperability discussions are timely and good for the industry.
“I was around when Mojaloop was being founded. We understand that some of these projects we are undertaking need to be hosted somewhere, costs must be managed and all other interoperability issues must be addressed. We are happy to engage with HiPipo and other likeminded partners on how to enhance financial inclusion,” Kamau says.
To support the financial inclusion journey, Kamau says that it is important to understand the special needs of the people you want to serve, so that you develop products that meet their needs.
“Having technology alone is not enough; you must understand the special needs and requirements for different people,” he notes.
Keen about delivering solutions that meet the diverse needs of their target market, Kamau says the firm is also seeking to devise ways of solving financial management problems in refugee camps.
“We cannot just digitalise people; it is a process. People need to first understand what you are doing before they accept to go digital and do digital financing,” he notes.
Kamau explains that the firm innovated a saving solution that is currently used by several non-governmental organizations and other entities such as the Central Broadcasting Services (CBS) Powesa Sacco, helping them to manage their funds effectively.
In Eastern Uganda, True African is undertaking a project that offers women crop insurance. Under the project, True African allows members to access farm inputs from registered shops, lends them money and empowers them on agricultural commercialisation.
He says that over 50 women farmers have benefited from the pilot project and they are now planning to expand it and manage it under one application.
The HiPipo CEO Innocent Kawooya says the 40-days-40 FinTechs initiative seeks to celebrate and shine a light on FinTechs that are transforming millions of lives.
He commended True African, saying it has an inspiring story.
“Part of the HiPipo story was inspired by True African. The True African story and their understanding of the digital-financial inclusion sector is important in this journey. True African has been here, and done so many successful projects. These have been 18 years of developing the digital financial sector,” Kawooya said.
He added: “We are happy that True African has kept going and growing with the industry; the millions of messages you have sent, the solutions you have created have served and saved millions of people.”
True African has won several accolades including Top 100 Mid-Sized Company organised by KPMG and Daily Monitor, 2009, Top ICT SMME in Africa, Africa IT Achievers, 2007 and ICT Innovation Awards, UCC 2004.