CEO Fridays; Finserve’s Jack Ngare on mKey as the future of digital banking

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Finserve Africa Limited was Kenya’s first mobile virtual network operator in Kenya with Equitel. Other than Equitel, other products that they have launched include the Jenga Payment Gateway and mKey. Jenga helps businesses process all payments made through cards, mobile wallets and other fintech players. mKey on the other hand is a digital banking service that combines social, financial and lifestyle aspects.

We sat down with the Finserve CEO Jack Ngare to understand more about Finserve’s activities.

Finserve was recently spun off as an independent company. How does this change how the company operates?

Yes, in late August Finserve was launched as a commercially independent company. What this means is that we now have a wider mandate of solving everyday problems by using the latest in innovation. To begin with remember that Finserve was originally formed to bring digital capabilities to Equity Group and with the success of Equitel, Kenya’s first MVNO and now the largest of its kind in Africa, the Board felt that this innovation can be offered to customers across the continent and not just our parent company.

You are still a part of the Equity Bank Group. How will partnership with the other subsidiaries look like?

Yes we are and Equity Bank Group still remains our biggest customer. We will treat other subsidiaries the same way we will treat other companies that are not part of the Group. What Finserve has to offer to companies outside the Group does not differ from what it has to offer other subsidiaries; the best of our innovation and hard work. That is how we can ensure that our products are suitable for the market.

You are well known as the company that developed Equitel. What other products have you developed?

We have the Jenga suite of products that comprise of the Jenga Payment Gateway and the Jenga API. The Jenga Payment Gateway acts as a one stop shop for accepting payments. To better understand what a payment gateway is and how it can help your business, let’s look at a typical enterprise.

Imagine a supermarket, fuel station or restaurant. Today you have to have a PDQ machine to accept card payments, Paybill numbers for mobile money payments and in some cases services such as PayPal. A business has to invest in all these platforms which is not only tedious but costly. Today a business has to go to different banks and mobile money services providers and then to integrate all these payment options. Imagine further how complex it would be if you accept payments from regional and international customers.

Finserve realized that this was a challenge for businesses and therefore come up with a payment gateway which we dubbed the Jenga Payment Gateway. Finserve now approaches a business that has an online presence, and asks how their customers prefer to pay be it via EazzyPay, M-Pesa, Airtel, and Tigo or if their customers are MasterCard, Visa, and UnionPay or American Express branded card users. All a business then has to do is tick off the options that are preferred by their customers and we will do the rest, enabling you concentrate on your business.

Imagine having a clear view of how payments are coming in through one easily acceptable platform. The convenience and transparency is priceless. This is Jenga Payment Gateway.

We also have the Jenga API. API are a set of tools that allow businesses to send money, buy, pay, manage their accounts, manage credit, withdraw and conduct KYC, CRB and AML querying. We have by far the widest API for in the market. Today if you want to build your own money lending platform, mobile wallet, KYC function you can use our tools. As a developer, coder or businesses you  get access to the safest and most secure tools backed by a reputable institution while we at Finserve benefit from a mutually agreed upon revenue sharing formula with you.

What inspired mKey and how does it tie into Finserve Africa’s long term plans?

mKey is Africa’s first keyboard app which is available on the Google Play Store with an IOS version in the works. Africans are social, we love to share, laugh and collaborate. So we thought…how can we bring out this? One of the social aspects of mKey is Yetumojis. Our very own unique and stylish emojis, stickers and GIFs.

You will notice that most apps have Western-based emojis, which is fine, but these emojis do not bring out the Africans in us. Snow, ice skates etc. are not very African so we decided to make emojis that are localized. We thought wouldn’t it be great to have an emoji that says “Hapo Sawa” “Cha Muhimu ni Uhai” and similar localized phrases. I would like to add that we are constantly adding new emojis to ensure freshness and relevance to the market.

But we went ahead and said that everything now is done on your phone. From shopping to banking. It was not enough to have the social aspect on the app but also the financial and the lifestyle. That is why you can pay bills, send money as well as access loans via mKey.

mKey is definitely part of our Africa strategy beginning with the markets where we operate. We definitely want to see Xhosa and Yoruba Gifs, stickers and emojis.

Why did mKey choose the keyboard route instead of just being another digital banking app?

We realized that more and more the lines between your lifestyle and your finances are becoming blurred. We communicate all the time and are established on WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger etc. Instead of creating another whole communication channel, we asked ourselves what follows us everywhere on these channels: the keyboard! So why stop mid-communication and switch apps to yet another banking app to perform financial services that have become such a normal part of our lifestyle?

What does mKey hope to achieve in the digital banking sector in Kenya?

mKey wants to seamlessly blend your lifestyle with your finances, in a way that feels completely natural.  Imagine mKey to be your life partner, not just your financial partner. Also, the relationship between you and mKey should not be one-sided; it takes two to tango. This is why mKey has a reward structure where we will reward you with cashback offers, instant airtime and other goodies, based on how much you use the mKey app.

What do you see as the future of digital banking in Kenya 

The future of digital banking is where convenience meets seamlessness. With such an advanced mobile generation, Kenya is primed to adopt digital banking that gives them less hurdles to jump over. mKey is the first step towards that level of convenience; built with the user in mind and constantly improving on customer experience based on feedback.

What other kinds of innovation should be expect from Finserve going forward? 

Well as the innovative team we are, there is a lot to expect, but to say something would be to say too much.

In terms of expansion to other markets, what are your immediate plans?

The Jenga suite of products are already in the Eastern African market and the Democratic Republic of Congo. We plan to then introduce mKey to these markets.

What would you say is your biggest challenge at the moment?

Our biggest challenge has been letting people know we have exactly what they are looking for. That said, tell a friend to tell a friend about Finserve and what they have to offer.

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