Citi Mobile Challenge participants can disrupt low income market


Participants in the Citi Mobile Challenge, which is offering US$100,000 in cash rewards to successful apps in Nairobi, Kenya, have the opportunity to innovate in the low income market and improve the lives of poorer individuals, according to Julie Zollman, project manager of the Kenya Financial Diaries.

Disrupt Africa reported last month international bank Citi had announced the launch of its Mobile Challenge, inviting developers from around the world to build innovative solutions based on Citi’s digital platform.

Zollman is project manager on the Kenya Financial Diaries, put together by researchers at Digital Divide Data and Bankable Frontier Associates, and funded by Financial Sector Deepening (FSD) of Kenya and the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. The project tracked the cashflow of 350 low-income Kenyan families, providing details on how poorer people manage their money.

Speaking at a mock pitching day for the 50 participants in the Citi Mobile Challenge held at the Nairobi Garage on Friday, Zollman said the apps being created during the competition would help low income people in achieving their dreams.

“Low income people’s lives are really unpredictable. There is so much risk, there is so little scope to fulfill their dreams,” she said.

“Why aren’t people saving money? Why aren’t people making investments? The fact is there is not enough money to do all of that. People are trying to find a balance between saving money and investing in the future. Every shilling has to be worth it, every shilling matters, every shilling has to be busy.”

Zollman said social networks are very important to the low income market, with the Kenya Financial Diaries estimating – in a market where monthly income can fluctuate 54 per cent month-to-month and 80 per cent of a person’s monthly budget is already accounted for by essentials – loans from a person’s social network could potentially make up 500 per cent of a person’s income.

“But we see a lot of areas where social networks are falling short and we see a lot of opportunities for innovation,” Zollman said.

During the event last week, the participants engaged in a “mock pitch” session after studying several test cases. At the final event next month, solutions will be evaluated by a panel of industry experts and financial technology leaders, with finalists competing for the opportunity to take their technologies into production with Citi’s support.

They will also win a share of US$100,000 in cash rewards and a suite of services from Citi Mobile Challenge sponsors.

“From credit cards to ATMs, Citi has a history of maximising the benefits of new technologies to transform how it serves clients. Now is the right time for the banking industry to focus its efforts on redefining itself amid rapid advancements in technology. One of the ways Citi is doing this is by tapping the creativity and expertise of top innovation hubs around the world and here in the region including our centres in Tel Aviv and Dublin,” said Jim Cowles, chief executive officer (CEO) of Citi for the Europe, the Middle East and Africa (EMEA) region.

“We anticipate that the Citi Mobile Challenge will help us to create a truly distinguished experience for our clients while uncovering fresh approaches for broader financial inclusion.”


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Passionate about the vibrant tech startups scene in Africa, Tom can usually be found sniffing out the continent's most exciting new companies and entrepreneurs, funding rounds and any other developments within the growing ecosystem.

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