South African fintech startup Wala is using its digital financial platform to deliver zero-fee access to products offered by financial institutions, and is turning to the blockchain to speed its growth.
Founded in 2015, Wala provides access to transactional banking, remittances, loans and insurance, working with specialist providers to offer a full suite of financial services.
Its mission is to bridge the gap between consumers and the financial system to increase financial inclusion.
“We partner with banks and other providers to offer access to accounts, lending, peer-to-peer payments, and transactional services at extremely low cost. In addition to affordable access, our consumers receive a community-oriented experience that focuses on engagement and financial growth,” Tricia Martinez, the founder of Wala, told Disrupt Africa.
The startup has already grown its financial services community to one million consumers in over 100 countries, and recently secured equity investment from Newtown Partners, the venture capital firm founded by Llew Claasen and Vinny Lingham, to expand its operations.
A major part of these expansion plans is an initial coin offering (ICO). Wala is set to launch a new utility crypto-token, Dala, which will support the operationalisation and further development of scalable, blockchain-enabled financial platforms for emerging markets around a common unit of account and micro-economic incentive structure to create strong network effects.
The Dala Token will power the Wala platform.
“It will allow users to transfer value to other users that might cover data, airtime and other value added services,” Martinez said.
The sale will look to crowdfund US$30 million and issue participants with their share of 300 million Dala utility tokens. Registration and Pre-sale are currently open until November 28, with the public sale starting on December 1.
One billion tokens will be issued at the completion of the token sale, with 30 per cent being made available through the token sale, 30 per cent for company tokens, and 40 per cent for rewards on the platform.
“The Wala Financial Platform will be the first wallet to enable the use of the Dala token. Through this platform, users will be able to save, apply for loans, send remittances, redeem tokens for value-added services, transact, and connect with friends and family. Together, the Dala token and the Wala Financial Platform can remove all barriers for emerging market consumers and finally enable free, accessible financial services,” said Martinez.
“The Wala rewards model has been proven to incentivise and influence financial behavior. We will use Dala Tokens to jump start our rewards programme immediately after completion of the token sale.”
Martinez has been involved in the financial inclusion space for a number of years.
“While working on digital payments for subsistence farmers in Uganda, I noticed that farmers were not securely storing their money. They were withdrawing all funds and storing them in a local cash box,” she said.
“These farmers didn’t have access to basic banking because existing models either hadn’t reached them or were too expensive, making them inaccessible. I started to build a community of these unbanked and underbanked consumers and quickly became aware of the scale of the problem.”
This is where the idea for Wala, the world’s first borderless, rewards driven, zero-fee financial platform, came from, with Martinez co-founding the business with chief product officer Samer Saab.
“The gap that we have identified is the financial inclusion gap, which is hard to miss. More specifically, we have found an important segment called the underbanked. These are the consumers who actually have access to financial services, whether by geography, education, or financial means, but still opt for cash because of the financial service experience and expenses,” Martinez said.
“These are people who should, by all measures, be engaged in the financial system, but aren’t. This is especially important in the grand scheme of the financial inclusion gap because if these consumers aren’t being adequately serviced, then we are less likely to adequately service the unbanked as well.”
Wala faces heavy competition in this space, with mobile network operators (MNOs) delivering large payment networks and a variety of startups developing payment and lending solutions.
“Ultimately, the biggest competitor we face is cash since the majority of emerging market consumers still prefer it,” said Martinez.
Wala has raised funding from a number of investors, and also took part in the the Impact Engine programme and the Barclays Techstars accelerator in London. Much of its success has been down to the fact that prior to launching any sort of product Martinez and Saab had already built a community of over one million consumers.
“These consumers have joined for advice, guidance, and to gain access to the financial system through a low cost financial solution,” she said.
“We recently launched the financial platform to a limited base in Uganda and will be slowly rolling out to more and more customers over the next several months.”
The co-founders are, in fact, relocating to Uganda as it is their short-term focus as they perfect the product and experience.
“There are several markets that we are looking to expand to as soon as we are ready,” said Martinez.
Wala earns money through revenue sharing agreements with the financial institutions that offer services to customers on its platform.
“As consumers engage with these providers, both sides benefit and Wala does as well. This ensures we are all aligned and can build healthy long-term partnerships,” Martinez said.