At the LHoFT, we strongly believe that financial technology is crucial to advancing financial inclusion, empowering groups that have been left behind by the traditional financial system. Whether it’s financing for rural farmers, point of sale technology for underbanked merchants, or specialised insurance products, the positive impact being driven by entrepreneurship is improving lives around the world.
Building on the success of previous experience, CATAPULT: Inclusion Africa is a unique one week program of Fintech startup development built by the LHoFT Foundation, targeting African Fintech companies, focusing on creating bridges between Africa and Europe and aligned with the sustainability goals of Luxembourg’s finance centre.
In the run up to our Financial Inclusion event we will be sharing insight from key figures in the Financial Inclusion world, beginning with Joshua Businge Muleesi, Co-Founder of AKABOXI:
“Founders should look at how to tap in the existing infrastructure like banks, insurance companies, mobile money etc. and avoid reinventing the wheel, as this makes it easy for their product to be adopted by the rural poor communities which are the most financially excluded.” – Joshua Businge Muleesi
Can you tell us a little about yourself and your company?
I am a computer scientist that is passionate about using technology to impact people’s lives. I have 5 year’s experience in software development and worked on various projects, particularly in the healthcare space to improve people’s lives
Akaboxi started towards the end of 2016 when my co-founder and I realized that something had to be done to enable individuals in rural poor communities have a digitalized way of managing and monitoring their saving, borrowing and providing access to credit through credit scoring. Akaboxi provides a Personal Digital Assistant (PDA) device to communities powered by the akaboxi android application to provide a fast way to credit score, manage and monitor the savings of these individuals in the saving groups. Every individual is provided with an NFC card that is used for Identification during transactions.
What were you involved in before AKABOXI which led to the development of this idea?
My co-founder and I met in 2014, at which time she was a banker at one of the largest micro-finance institutions in Uganda called Centenary Bank Limited and I was a software developer at a healthcare startup. When we met I was interested in finding opportunities to invest in my money other than putting my money in a bank saving account, as the interest was very low. This is when she told me about the money lending side business she was doing with some of her trusted clients that didn’t have any collateral but always paid their loans on time with interest.
Later she told me about how she also saved with these village saving groups that existed back in her village. These saving groups of about 30 individuals also known as Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAS) meet on a weekly basis to save and borrow from each other. After she finished sharing with me about these communities I was intrigued about how this process worked so I decided to travel with her and do a community survey. We learnt how this system was working and why it had survived even in this highly digital era. The majority of these individuals were saving less than a dollar a week which was hard to bank, and they also didn’t have any collateral for securing a loan later on to obtain any credit this made it hard for them to put their money in any formal financial institution.
The challenge with such saving groups is that they are manual, which means all the records are kept in books and money collected (if it’s not loaned out) is locked up in a box, hence the name AKABOXI meaning THE BOX. This community saving box is kept mainly at the house of the elected group leader. In some unfortunate situations at times the money in the box can be stolen and everything is lost. The annual saving collection meant that at the end of the year the savings and interest where shared among the different members of the saving group and later the records were discard preparing for the new year to start saving all over again. This kind of system made us realize the opportunity that was presented to us, and how if a well-designed digital system was put in place it could immensely improve their lives.
The AKABOXI device for community savings groups
What are the challenges involved in introducing a digital financial product to rural farming communities, and how do you overcome them?
- Most rural farming communities are not financially literate, which means they have no knowledge of being able to properly handle their finances and make them grow. Digital financial products need prior training before they can be fully be utilized and appreciated by the farming communities.
- Too many steps that may be involved to complete a single process make it difficult to use these digital financial products.
- Lack of confidence in the technology since it involves keeping track of their savings
How we overcome them:
- We make it a point to provide initial training before deploying a digital financial product to the saving communities.
- Follow-up trainings are also provided on monthly basis for the next 6 months before the product is fully deployed.
- We also identify a local technical coordinators that is part of each saving group to ensure that the process proceeds with ease.
- We try to eliminate all unnecessary processes and keep only the essential ones.
- We try to optimize this by providing an SMS notification to track the savings they have put on the group account and their total savings.
What advice would you offer to other founders looking to increase Financial Inclusion in Africa?
Founders should look at how to tap in the existing infrastructure like banks, insurance companies, mobile money etc. and avoid reinventing the wheel, as this makes it easy for their product to be adopted by the rural poor communities which are the most financially excluded.
A typical community savings group
When you were beginning to develop AKABOXI, in what ways could a bootcamp of this kind help you the most?
A bootcamp of this kind provides an opportunity to network with like-minded individuals, enabling us to learn from their experience on how to navigate around some of the challenges we might be facing such as regulation.
What’s next for AKABOXI? What do you see as the key challenges as you grow further?
As we grow further AKABOXI is targeting how to turn this community saving model of the Village Saving Loan Associations (VSLAS) to an online community that individuals who can’t afford to meet physically can trust. We also looking on how to power this online community with back-end technologies like blockchain in order to avoid fraud but to also be able to operate at scale.
What does ’financial inclusion’ mean to you?
To me, Financial Inclusion means having access to the basic financial services like savings, credit, and insurance to enable individuals to grow their businesses and communities to live above the poverty line of 2.50 US dollar per day.