Across the continent, the majority of Africans remain unbanked. The problem for the commercial banks like Ecobank, UBA, has been that attempting to reach that majority who do not have access to financial services is commercially unviable.
But that has created an opportunity, and that opportunity has been seized by a Senegal-based pan-african company, Wari.
Wari has developed the technology to provide ‘last mile’ connectivity for commercial banks. Korédé ODJO-BELLA has been working for Wari as its chief marketing officer for a year and an half and has been recently promoted as Marketing and Retail Development Manager. ‘It’s really a great adventure, and a great challenge,’ she says. ‘When we wake in morning and go to bed each night, we are asking ourselves “how we can simplify the lives of everybody, of every African?”
‘That is what is so exciting. Our model has been very successful in Senegal, and we are now exporting that model across Africa. We are present now in more than 30 countries, and our transaction platform is really very simple to use. Our objective is to provide a variety of financial services for everyone, and for that to be successful, the service has to be simple as possible, and adapted to local realities.’
Anyone can connect to the Wari platform via various channels – through a desk top PC or a hand-held smart phone. Certain applications even work on a voice data mobile phone through encrypted SMS.
But the best and the easiest way to connect to the platform is through the extensive retailer network that Wari has been building. These ‘points of sale’ outlets use either GSM enabled or or General Packet Radio Service (GPRS) or Web. Either can be used, and the SMS is secure because whenever a number is not recognised, access to the Wari server is denied.
‘Cote d’ivoire is a really competitive market, and there are many investors interested in coming into the Cote d’Ivoire market,’ Odo-Bella says, ‘but we have been in Cote d’Ivoire since December 2012 and have a certain “first mover” advantage. We started small to build out our business with just a handful of staff, but since our official launch in 2014 we have now a network of managers and a dedicated sales force.’
Wari has a number of financial products, but one of its most important offerings, and perhaps what the brand is best known for, is Wari’s remittance service. In Senegal, it has become a market leader thanks to its simplicity – and because consumers know it is inexpensive.
Wari currently enjoys an 80 percent share of the money transfer business in Senegal. The company aims to replicate that kind of market share in Cote d’Ivoire. There are five basic products in the Wari portfolio. These are an invoice payment service: to pay for amenities such as water, electricity or a television subscription account; to purchase mobile phone airtime from telecom operators; to receive salaries, allowances and pensions; to provide a simple yet secure way to make payments on-line for web-based goods and services; and money transfer services.
These kinds of services are not unique to Wari –it is just that Wari is unique in providing all these products on one mobile financial transaction platform. And what is key to Wari’s philosophy is to make the services as simple, affordable and user-friendly as possible.
It is clear that Wari has made huge inroads in Cote d’Ivoire. It partners with 10 of the 20 commercial banks that operate in Cote d’Ivoire, and a network of about 5,000 point of sale outlets including fuel stations.
Odjo-Bella bullish of Wari’s operations. ‘By the end of the year, we will have 6,000 outlets, and just as in Senegal, within three years, we should have one Wari outlet for every 1,000 Ivorians, for example banks and fuel stations as well as retail shops.’
And also on the horizon is a new Wari card. It is not the same as a debit or credit card, although it can serve in exactly the same was as a financial instrument. But it will contain biometric information for all manner of uses – know your customer (KYC) purposes, health care, insurance products etc etc. ‘It is a multichannel platform in that we embed multiple services within one card that can be accessed through Wari,’ Odjo-Bella confirms.