Equity Bank invests in an East and Central African payment platform

A general view shows the Equity Bank headquarters in the Upper Hill district of Kenya's capital Nairobi. (File Photo)

Kenyan bank Equity Group’s fintech business Finserve is betting on a new payment platform for customers and businesses across East and Central Africa to tap into the region’s e-commerce and remittances markets.

Finserve plans to work with financial services providers and businesses to merge payment options in East and Central Africa on to one payment platform, accessible via mobile apps and online sites, Finserve managing director Jack Ngare said.

“If you are a businessman doing business in, let’s say, Tanzania and you want to move to Uganda, then you can … use our platform as soon as you land in Uganda to accept payments,” he said in an interview.

Ngare said this would mean people would not have to sign up for all the telecoms companies and banks services just to allow customers to pay into their business.

The new service will be available in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, the Democratic Republic of Congo and South Sudan.

Finserve is also targeting the remittances business, where people living outside their home country regularly send money back. Billions of dollars annually are sent to Africa by the continent’s diaspora. The World Bank, for example, estimated remittances to sub-Saharan Africa at $38 billion in 2017.

Finserve is also teaming up with an unnamed fintech firm and six Ethiopian banks to make its remittances platform available in the country.

The government of Ethiopia opened a diaspora fund bank account last month. It is asking Ethiopians abroad to contribute as part of efforts to help end a forex shortage.

Ngare said this was an opportunity for Finserve.

“Ethiopia is seeking influx of forex, so things such as cross-border remittance (platforms), are very handy to them,” he said.

Equity Group, Kenya’s biggest bank by customer numbers, this week launched Finserve as an independent company. Equity Group said Finserve had been behind innovations such as Equitel, the bank’s mobile virtual network operator.

Finserve has already integrated on its platform payment providers that include Alipay, established by Alibaba, Tencent’s WeChat, MasterCard and Visa.

Ngare said the company was targeting online businesses that want to sell in East and Central Africa.

“One of my customers, who does a lot of Sino-Africa trade and he used to carry cash all the way to China to purchase goods, but now … he is able now to push money back and forth.”

Ngare said the company has ambitions to expand beyond East and Central Africa into other African countries such as Nigeria and South Africa.

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