SA’s Stokfella is taking savings groups mobile

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There are more than 8.5 million South Africans that are members of stokvels, savings and investment societies to which members regularly contribute an agreed amount and from which they receive a lump sum payment.

That is quite a market, especially once you take into account savings held within stokvels total at least ZAR25 billion (US$1.8 billion). It is a market local startup Stokfella is attempting to modernise using mobile technology.

Individual savers and investors are provided with mobile access to a local directory of local stokvels, as well as the terms for joining them, the dates of their meetups, and details of members. Users can also start and manage their own stokvels using the app, track funds, and submit claims for withdrawals.

“We remove all administrative obstacles faced by stokvels that hinder their growth by providing a tool that organises, manages and communicates all transactions and connects all stokvel members on one platform,” Stokfella co-founder Tshepo Moloi tells Disrupt Africa.

Moloi is a member of skokvels himself, and launched Stokfella having realised there must be a better way of organising so many people and so much money.

“It became apparent that the biggest challenge limiting stokvels from reaching their full potential was administration constraints,” he said.

The aim of the Stokfella app is to reduce these administrative burdens, revolutionising a 19th century practice into a modern, tech savvy sector that allows everyday South Africans to participate in the economy.

“With smartphone penetration in South Africa on a steady rise, and with more affordable smartphones entering the market, we believe it is only a matter of time before all stokvel members own a smartphone,” Moloi says.

“This informed our decision to target stokvel members with smartphones; particularly the administrators who are currently carrying the burden of managing and communicating the stokvel activities.”

Stokvels themselves clearly agree there is a need to modernise. Stokfella is less than six months old, yet already services more than 4,000 stokvel members.

In fact, so great has been the interest that Stokfella has had trouble meeting demand.

“When you a startup that has a solution that the market has been long waiting for, the difficulties lie in meeting that demand in a very short space of time,” Moloi says.

“We believe we are a step closer to multiplying these numbers at an exponential speed when we land our upgraded solution early next year.”

This upgrade will see a number of new features added to Stokfella’s bouquet of products and services, including a marketplace where users will be able to transact on the platform amongst one another, as well as with retailers and service providers.

To do this, the startup is raising a Series A funding round of up to ZAR5 million (US$360,000), having been bootstrapped thus far. Moloi says he has not sought funding until this point as he felt the need to show his model was working before approaching investors.

“I believe an entrepreneur who has shown that they willing to take the risk themselves stands a better chance at finance than the one who hasn’t even started,” he says.

The company charges a monthly subscription fee to stokvels to use the app, after a four-month free trial. Moloi is also investigating newer revenue models customised to add value to stokvel groups and members.

The concept of stokvels concept is not unique to South Africa, and is a common practice around Africa and other parts of the world. Though Moloi is currently focused on the South African market, he feels Stokfella is a scalable solution.

“Its complexity on how stokvels behave, as well as the infrastructure, present an opportunity to create a tool that can be replicated internationally with minor modifications,” he says.

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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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