While access to affordable financial services plays a vital role in enabling refugees cope with negative shocks, reduce exposure to risk and stimulate economic activity, it is still a luxury to many.
This is partly because of a mismatch between the financial products available on the market and the cost and financial needs of refugees.
To help serve refugees better, however, Trustfinity; an Information Technology startup in Uganda is seeking to rewrite the story.
Established in 2015 by George Opuch, the IT firm is developing a savings and credit solution that will see more refugees and their host communities have increased access to financial services that will enable them transform their lives. The VSLA (Village Savings and Loans Association groups) mobile app is targeting the thousands of unbanked refugees.
According to Opuch – the founder and team leader at Trustfinity, accessing savings and credit products will enable these people start small businesses to diversify their incomes.
Trustfinity has experts in both Mobile and Web Application development. It won an award in the 2017 MTN APP challenge in the entertainment category with its Kanamo app. It has since then ventured into providing an ‘Edtech’ solution ‘Darasini’ that tries to bridge the gap between rural and urban schools. It has also built several mobile apps over the years including The One dating app.
Opuch said the savings and loans product would be out in a few months, noting that they are still exploring options of partnering with a bank or other financial service providers before rolling out the product.
“Uganda is a hub for a number of refugees and these are usually resettled in different regions and having to start over for them is not so easy. They have resorted to joining small savings groups and they use these small savings to rebuild their lives. With the VSLA App, when they feel the need to go back home, they will be able to access their funds through their mobile phones without having to go through a lot of paperwork processes from wherever they will choose to resettle” Opuch explained.
Opuch further said that together with Trustfinity’s co-founder Ambrose Mwaka, they were motivated by childhood experiences of how people in northern Uganda used to suffer because they could not access financial services.
“We come from northern Uganda and we were affected by the prolonged rebel war in that area. I have also seen the challenges refugees go through; it is similar. Access to financial products is a big challenge,” he said.
He added: “Uganda has a lot of refugees, estimated at over 1.4 million in the different internally displaced people’s camps across the country. The refugees and other people affected by the war need to do business. They need capital, borrowing and savings products. They need an organised way of collecting and disbursement of their earnings.”
The product will be accessed using both a smart and feature handset, using an Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD).
“We know very well these are people in remote areas; it would be unfair to innovate a smartphone app because we know that they don’t have smart phones. That is why our lending and savings product for these people will be USSD based.
Trustfinity is hopeful that latest technologies such as Mojaloop Open Source Software will enhance financial inclusion because they address integration and interoperability issues.
“Mojaloop speeds up go to market by eliminating the need to integrate with MNOs and banks and allows us to focus only on our core products and innovations.”
The HiPipo COO (chief operating officer) Nicholas Kalungi applauded Trustfinity, saying that their product will help enhance refugees’ access to credit and savings products. This, he added, will enable them manage their scarce funds better and also enable them venture into small businesses to generate extra income.
“These are young Ugandan developers with great works already in areas education and entertainment. It is nice to know that they are now working on a saving and lending product for our brothers and sisters in IDP camps,” he said.
He added: “Uganda’s history with refugees is well known. Our country is one of the most welcoming places for brothers and sisters in unstable areas.”
Kalungi added that with the right finance partner, Trustfinity would change thousands of life.
“Trustfinity definitely needs Mojaloop. It is an open source software improving banking, mobile money and merchants’ payments. HiPipo will engage Trustfinity further in their development journey for their lending and saving product,” Kalungi said.
Trustfinity is one of the Financial Technology Companies (FinTechs) participating in the 40-days-40-FinTechs initiatives, organised by HiPipo in partnership with Crosslake Tech, ModusBox and Mojaloop Foundation.
The initiative seeks to enable FinTechs to innovate solutions that facilitate cross-network financial transactions at minimal risks to enhance access to financial services.
Running for 40 days, the project will see the participating 40 FinTechs acquire interoperable development skills to improve access to financial services, using the Mojaloop open source software.