How SA’s abela provides a secure payment platform to the informal economy


South African startup abela is supporting the informal economy with the same autonomy and security that banks offer to the formal economy via a QR code-enabled system.

Launched in August 2020, abela started as a QR code-enabled payment platform offering users without a bank account the ability to receive tips and payments digitally. Since then, it has broadened its approach to include the entire informal economy.

The abela solution offers underserved communities the ability to earn, spend and save their money how and when they like at cost effective rates and with a platform which is easy to use. The aim is to provide customers with a fully inclusive digital banking solution and first time access to digital financial products and services. 

“We live in an economy that is going cashless, and people are losing out because of it. The global pandemic has only accelerated this movement,” Thomas David, abela’s co-founder and chief executive officer (CEO), told Disrupt Africa.

“Today, 10.4 million South Africans have seen their monthly income decrease by up to 75 per cent due to this digital transformation. abela seeks to address this concern and provide customers, especially those who have been underserved within the informal sector and diaspora, with the financial autonomy and security they deserve. Traditional banking solutions have often overlooked this part of the population and we aim to bridge that gap.”

The startup has received funding grants from the Bertha Centre and the SAB Foundation, and is now looking for seed funding to help it accelerate already impressive growth. abela is already serving tens of thousands of customers, has seen thousands of organic money transfers, and has integrated all relevant South African payment methods, over 370 value added services, and several money remittances services. 

Anyone in South Africa with a cell phone is able to utilise the abela platform, but David said it has wider continental ambitions. 

“In terms of expansion, we see a lot of opportunity for growth across the continent, specifically in Sub-Saharan Africa, in particular, our neighbouring countries of Malawi, Botswana and Namibia,” he said.

The startup’s business model is transactional, allowing it varying margins on each transaction, and scale will be crucial as its competitors – including telecoms and banks – are often big companies with millions of established customers. 

“Therefore, it can be difficult to get the right advice and guidance when the competition is so vast and established as well as there being strict regulatory conditions,” David said.

So far, so good, however, and now abela is looking to make the next steps.


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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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