It appears as if the current trend in the local fintech space is digital banks. We say this as there have been a handful of high-profile launches over the past year, with the likes of Discovery Bank, TymeBank and Hello Paisa all entering the fray.

We were on hand when the latter made its official debut in March this year, launching with the help of Sasfin at the time, and with a lot of unanswered questions, the most pressing of which is whether there will be a sustained appetite for such an offering, and how Hello Paisa aimed to differentiate itself in a fledgling, but already competitive space.

At the time, managing director Ahmed Cassim, did not have all the answers, especially with Hello Paisa’s banking platform still in its infancy. Regardless of its short time on the market though, Hello Paisa was recently able to claim a place among the inaugural Inclusive Fintech 50 list, which recognised organisations addressing financial inclusion across the globe.

Now that Hello Paisa has four months under its belt, we got the chance to speak with Cassim once again, and find out how things are going for the MD and his platform.

Hypertext: We’re at four months since the Hello Paisa banking solution was launched. It’s still very early in the process, but what has the reaction from the market been like?

Ahmed Cassim: Whilst we announced the launch back in March 2019, Hello Paisa in effect began on-boarding customers in June 2019.

As you can imagine, Hello Paisa has a loyal and captive customer base, and as such we have approached selected customers first. The customers we have on-boarded have responded extremely positively to this service. In some cases, we have been told that it is even life-changing.

Why do we say so? These customers are no longer forced to live in the cash world. Their money can now be safely stored in a bank account and not under a mattress, in a fridge or another unsafe area, which is hugely important.

We have provided accessibility and functionality to allow these customers to enter the digital financial world. They can now transfer money to their friends and family, and employers can pay salaries to their employees who are now banked.

Ultimately, this is an empowering service.

Hypertext: What has the reaction been from traditional financial institutions, as well as your fellow fintech companies been like? Are you learning from them and vice versa?

AC: Thus far we have only received well wishes from industry peers and competitors alike. We believe that they are supportive of the innovation we have brought about.

Whilst the banking industry as a whole is fairly established, the advent of the new, digital-focused players has the opportunity to shape the industry. Whilst we can learn from competitors, the Hello way is to learn from our customers.

Through spending lots of time out in the field with our customers we get to learn what they like, need and want. This forms the foundation of our product development and execution.

Hypertext: Are you able to offer up any numbers in terms of previously unbanked South Africans that you’re now able to assist?

AC: This is extremely difficult to quantify.

According to a number of experts and report, South Africa is a fairly “banked” country – some estimates indicate that more than 80 percent of South Africans are banked. However, “access” could mean different things to different people.

It could refer to how close the nearest bank branch is to a customer, what they need to go through to open a bank account, where they can fund their account from.

Our key focus is bringing access to the people, whereby we come to you – wherever they are, we are there. We are not limited by branch networks as some other conventional institutions may be. Using this logic, we can essentially on-board any South African resident. To begin with, we have chosen to stick to our strengths and work with our niché communities as a starting point, however, the product construct is such that it could appeal to anyone.

Hypertext: In the first few months of the service’s rollout have you encountered any problems, and if so how have you been able to overcome them?

AC: We’ve been doing research and development for the best part of five years, where we worked very closely with our customers.  Whilst we have not experienced any material problems, we have been very quick to make required changes based on what we have learned and heard from our customers.

Hypertext: At the moment you offer a solid array of services, but are there any plans to deliver new services in the near future that you can mention?

AC: We have just launched a ground-breaking service called malaicha.com whereby our Zimbabwean customers can, in addition to cash, send much-needed grocery items to their loved ones. 

This is a further example of solving a problem, disrupting a market and once again changing lives. The financial services landscape is fairly wide, and we will continue to develop products that assimilate with our customers. As they need products Hello will be there to deliver them.

Hypertext: Congrats on the recent Fintech 50 recognition. What does such an achievement mean for the company, and does it serve as a potential springboard for larger plans? 

AC: What we are doing, how we are changing lives, how we are enhancing our customers’ lifestyle and giving them access to services is vitally important to us. 

Getting this recognition from leading industry experts and having beaten some very stiff opposition (there were over 400 entrants from countries all over the world) indicates to us that what we are doing is making a difference. 

It is truly an honour to be mentioned among such an important group of organisations. In terms of being a springboard for larger future plans – this recognition has taken us to another level.

We will definitely use the ethos that has been in place, the principles upon which this recognition has been derived, to scale faster and innovate further.

It gives us the support, motivation and drive to do and achieve more.

Hypertext: Are there any plans on the horizon you can talk about at the moment?

AC: Perhaps there are some goals that Hello Paisa has earmarked for the year’s end. 

Our key focus is to entrench our digital banking offering into our customer base. This is our sole focus for the next six months.

We are working tirelessly for the past five years to bring this product to the market. From this point, now that we have such a valuable offering, we are determined to make it count.  Our focus is on improving the product and scaling it through a highly targeted approach.