We don’t innovate for the sake of it, says Sandy Rheeder. Instead, Mukuru listens to its customers and develops solutions for the challenges they face. Image: Supplied
Mukuru, one of the largest remittance companies in Africa and a leading next-generation financial services platform that has facilitated more than 50 million financial transactions, started 17 years ago as a solution to a problem two Zimbabwean immigrants faced in London.
To this day, every new innovation is the result of listening to the real-world problems of its customers and then finding solutions.
Born out of necessity, Mukuru has grown from a remittances platform into an international fintech company. In 2004, Mukuru’s founders couldn’t find an affordable, easy and secure way of sending money and goods to their families in Zimbabwe.
“In many instances, people had to rely on informal means to remit money to family back home,” says Mukuru chief information officer Sandy Rheeder. The founders identified a niche in millions of people who did not have a basic bank account but needed to do an international banking transaction involving foreign currency.
The formal banking system is largely inaccessible for migrants, many of whom have difficulty providing formal proof of earnings, an address or even acceptable identity documents. It’s also very expensive.
“It can cost up to R600 for a single transaction to transfer money internationally through the banking sector, and can take several days,” says Rheeder.
To find a solution to this, Mukuru’s founders built mobile and web-based technologies to enable migrants and immigrants working in the UK and EU countries, as well as SADC (Southern African Development Community) countries, to send money to family in their home country across Africa, in a convenient, safe and affordable way and with communication in their own language.
Capturing the intra-African cross-border flows and adding products such as groceries, airtime, DStv and electricity purchases, as well as the Mukuru Card, has seen Mukuru develop into a fully-fledged international fintech company.
“Other companies have not managed to capture this segment of the market as a pan-African player,” says Rheeder.
Giving an identity to the unbanked
The company’s vision lies in providing an ecosystem that empowers users on an incremental and progressive journey to financial inclusion so that everyone is empowered to reach their potential.
And so Mukuru found a solution to reach the unbanked. It championed a new way to capture proof of identity and address. Working very closely with the South African Reserve Bank, a process was approved where Mukuru agents capture and verify documents (such as passports and asylum papers) at a customer’s place of residence, eliminating the need for customers to travel long distances to send money home.
“Instead of being an obstacle, compliance becomes an enabler,” says Rheeder.
“Another trend that developed over time is that money is no longer only flowing one way, say from SA to neighbouring countries like Zimbabwe and Malawi. We see it going both ways.
“Two-way trade is growing, whether it be to buy consumer goods in another country or to pay for the import of farming machinery, seeds and fertiliser,” she adds.
Mukuru has more than 320 000 pay-in and pay-out partners including banks, retailers and cellular providers in all the African countries it services. In SA, these include the likes of Shoprite subsidiaries, Pick n Pay, and Pep stores.
These partnerships further provide access and choice to customers, in a world where they have previously been excluded from any formal financial opportunities. Mukuru aims to be present where its customers are.
The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the uptake of online financial services and new technology – sometimes because it is the only option available.
Rheeder says Mukuru currently facilitates millions of transactions each year. These include remittances of cash, salary payments onto the Mukuru Card, and even the distribution of financial aid on behalf of various organisations.
There are millions of people seeking temporary or permanent work and residence in foreign countries and there is a pressing need to provide financial services to them.
“We do not innovate and launch new technologies purely for the sake of innovation or to create something new, but to make a difference in the lives of people. We listen to our customers and find solutions to their unique problems,” Rheeder says.
Mukuru’s next step is growing its offering into East and West Africa as well as expanding flows from Africa to Asia. The company’s growth activities, including strategic global partnerships with leaders in their respective fields, are all aimed at providing an ecosystem of relevant solutions for customers.
Meaningful financial inclusion is about providing the tools for the unbanked to embark on a progressive journey of more financial products and services, says Rheeder. Examples of these include the Mukuru Card and how it has opened the world of e-commerce to many more people in South Africa who were previously excluded from purchasing goods and services online, access to affordable funeral cover as well as a groceries offering.
“As we continue to grow our footprint and partner base, we have one objective, and that’s to provide value that has a tangible impact in the lives of our customers where they need it and when they need it,” she says.
Brought to you by Mukuru.