SmartMoney continues to thrive on learning and adaptation. Since the company’s founding in 2012 SmartMoney has evolved its business model and is today proudly pioneering a globally unique financial inclusion solution for rural African communities.
To date no organization has yet identified a sustainable model to deliver basic savings and payment services to remote rural communities. As such, there is no template for SmartMoney to follow. Instead, SmartMoney must discover, iterate and perfect methods for everything from recruiting and training a rural sales and servicing team to building trust and understanding among rural farmers, villagers and small business owners. SmartMoney must understand from their broad array of rural stakeholders what financial services are needed most and then discover how best to deliver these financial services at the lowest possible cost. SmartMoney must overcome barriers of culture and language, geography (vast low density areas with mountains, rivers, deserts), infrastructure (limited electricity and roads), anti-competitive telecom practices, regulatory ambiguity and a general lack of education and professional experience among available local recruits – not easy barriers to overcome. It is precisely because of this complex combination of seemingly insurmountable barriers that rural financial inclusion has remained to this day an intractable problem, despite the significant historical attention and funding of leading development institutions from the United Nations to the Gates Foundation. Indeed, the barriers to entry for rural financial inclusion are very high — but we believe that the rewards for overcoming these barriers are even higher.
At SmartMoney, our focus is on execution, execution, execution. As a fast growing and nimble innovator, every new idea is quickly evaluated and implemented in the field. Ideas that work are immediately incorporated into our model. Ideas that don’t work are iterated until they do or quickly discarded. Such experimentation requires purpose, persistence, patience and passion – qualities that our team prides itself on.
In 2012, SmartMoney launched in Tanzania with an exclusive focus on agricultural value chain payments. However, the team quickly recognized that agriculture companies can only introduce improved payment solutions if they not only benefit the agriculture company but, more importantly, provide direct benefit to the farmers themselves. Farmers always have a choice of which agriculture company or informal trader they will sell their crops to and therefore any viable payment solution must be demanded by the farmers themselves and not imposed on them by any single agriculture company. If a digital payment solution does not provide farmers direct benefits they will simply sell their crops for cash to a competitor or informal trader – this discovery led our team to understand from the farmers themselves what financial services solutions they needed most. To our surprise, and contrary to the hype surrounding conventional mobile money transfer services such as M-Pesa, we discovered that farmers are generally uninterested in using mobile phones for long-distance money transfer. Instead, farmers and other rural stakeholders demand secure, affordable and convenient solutions for saving their hard earned money plus solutions for reducing the costs to make low value payments to local merchants and institutions in their surrounding village community. Neither of these requirements are met by conventional mobile money services that charge prohibitively high fees for withdrawals and low value local payments.
In response to this discovery, SmartMoney pioneered several important mobile finance innovations that have expanded the company’s service offering from a basic payment solution for agriculture companies into a fully inclusive financial ecosystem for rural communities that we proudly call “E-Village.” E-Village addresses key savings and local payment needs of rural economic stakeholders including rural households, farmers, small rural businesses, rural merchants and large rural institutions (agriculture companies, schools, NGOs).
The underlying foundation of E-Village is a sales, training and servicing model that has been iterated and tested in the field for the past four years and is now ready to be scaled. Today, SmartMoney services more than 100,000 rural people and merchants and is opening an astonishing 750 new customer accounts per day in only 2 districts. Expansion to additional districts in Uganda is already underway. By the end of 2016 SmartMoney expects to be in at least 4 districts opening 2,000+ new customer accounts per day. Please read on to learn more about our exciting innovations and expansion plans.