More than 600 startups from across the continent applied for this year’s Ecobank Fintech Challenge, with the 10 finalists including well-known and fast-growing startups such as South African companies uKheshe and Growth Factor.
But while those two businesses eventually came second and third when the winners of this year’s challenge were announced this week, the winner of the US$10,000 first prize was a relatively unknown Ghanaian fintech that hasn’t even launched yet.
And whereas previous winners of the challenge, Tanzania’s Nala and Nigeria’s IroFit, were already operating and building strong user bases, this year’s winner, Nokwary, does not have any customers using its flagship solutions just yet. So what is so exciting about this company?
Co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO) Dennis Asamoah Owusu told Disrupt Africa that Nokwary was founded to provide artificial intelligence (AI) and AI-enabled solutions in Ghana and Africa at large.
“Right now, we are focused on using AI to broaden access to digital financial services. To this end, we have developed what we call a WhatsApp PoS and banking solution. Our WhatsApp PoS solution allows your everyday merchant to collect electronic payments easily and without needing to purchase a PoS device or install another app,” he said.
“Our WhatsApp banking solution allows users to perform bank transactions over WhatsApp. True to our mission of broadening access to digital financial services, our system can interact in native languages, and not just English. We are yet to launch both products because we decided early on that we needed a banking partner to launch.”
Nokwary now expects to launch in the next couple of months with Ecobank as this banking partner, but the company has been busy since opening its doors in February 2019.
“Apart from the platform that we will launch soon, we have been providing WhatsApp bot development services for companies in Ghana. Companies from finance to insurance to food services are seeing the importance of using WhatsApp as a digital platform, and so we develop the needed bots for these companies,” Owusu said.
“What is unique to the bots we develop, owing to our in-house expertise in AI, is that they are intelligent and conversational. While others just try to port existing USSD apps to WhatsApp, we take advantage of WhatsApp as a multimedia platform and advances in AI to provide a better customer experience. We enable interaction in natural language, allow customers to upload images and extract information from them using computer vision techniques, enable use of voice notes for interaction among others.”
Owusu said not enough companies are seriously leveraging AI to improve customer experience, and Nokwary is aiming to fill that gap.
“Our main competition is alternative forms to the products we offer. For instance, instead of using our WhatsApp PoS or banking, a merchant or customer may use a PoS device, mobile USSD or custom mobile app. Similarly, our business clients may choose to develop a mobile USSD or custom mobile app instead of our AI-powered WhatsApp bots. We believe our offer is superior though, and businesses and customers alike are waking to that realisation,” he said.
Thus far, Nokwary has been funded by family and friends, but Owusu said the startup’s induction into the Ecobank Fellowship is a major landmark that will allow it to launch products targeting consumers and merchants that it expects will grow very quickly. Ghana is the company’s home base, but geographic expansion is an early goal.
“We hope to expand to other developing countries’ markets in Africa and Asia. In this regard, our partnership with Ecobank is a godsend,” Owusu said.