How this startup is digitising informal savings unions in SA

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South African startup United African Stokvel is digitising the processes of traditional informal savings unions in South Africa, encouraging its members to save money and reward them for doing so.

In South Africa, informal credit unions in which members contribute a fixed amount of money to a common pool weekly, fortnightly or monthly are called stokvels. Similar informal financial associations are found across the world – in East Africa, for example, they are chamas, and in West Africa they are named susus.

Formed in March 2019, United African Stokvel is taking the processes of such unions fully online, and chairman Darren Langbein claims it is unique.

“We offer privacy in the individual’s savings, choice on the amount and timeframe of their savings cycle, how their savings and rewards are spent once received, and digital platforms to interact with us, receive information and assistance,” he said.  

“We encourage all our members to like our Facebook page so that they can keep up to date with our exciting developments. We have no joining or membership fees. Members are not required to recruit members.”

Self-funded by Langbein thus far, United African Stokvel already has over 2,000 active saving members. Anyone with a South African bank account can save using the service, and the startup has users countrywide.

The startup makes money through investments, with Langbein saying savings are invested in two areas – property and mobile communications. So far, United African Stokvel is growing steadily, which Langbein is encouraged by.

“There is a definite want and need in the market to save money. We are offering a “fourth industrial revolution” way of approaching saving,” he said.

“When members start saving with us, it is  bit of a “grudge” decision, but by the third or fourth month of saving, and communications with us, it becomes a fun and exciting habit, and our members inform us that their spending habits and decisions change as they are looking after their money more carefully.”

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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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