Founded in 2018, Wallets Africa makes it easy for users to transact across Africa with an app and a card. According to founder and CEO, John Oke, the startup wants to be Africa’s foremost borderless digital financial platform.
The idea for Wallets Africa first crossed the founder’s mind in 2016 when he was a software engineer at SureGifts, a gift voucher company. While integrating the company’s core backend with Kenya’s mobile money service, M-Pesa, he noticed one could make use of a SureGifts voucher to pay at an M-Pesa till at a mall or to get tickets at an IMAX cinema in Nairobi.
Personally, Oke also noticed how difficult it was for platforms like Quickteller to handle reversals when his transfers or bill payments failed. According to him, when a transaction went wrong, he’d have to visit his bank after spending hours on the phone with the platform’s customer care representative.
Over the next 18 months, Oke started working and consulting for banks and fintech companies like Interswitch, gaining some experience in how things work in the financial space.
In January 2018, Wallets Africa released its beta. With the platform, users could pay bills, buy airtime, and make money transfers. It also began issuing prepaid virtual dollar cards to people who wanted to make payments on platforms like Amazon or Netflix.
In March 2019, along with six African startups, Wallets Africa made it into Y Combinator (YC). They soon discovered that the platform could be useful for startups and small businesses.
African startup founders at the accelerator began using the platform for employee payroll, customer payouts, and Airbnb bookings, as well as Uber trips.
In December 2019, the startup rolled out international transfers to mobile money wallets and agents in Ghana. It did this because Nigerians traveled to the neighboring country for the Afro Nation and Year of Return celebrations.
Since then, the startup has rolled out its services to Kenya and now operates in three African countries namely; Ghana, Kenya, and Nigeria. The plan is to include up to ten destinations by the end of every year.
How it Works
USD Visa Cards
The company issues physical USD visa cards to individuals and businesses that they can use to make payments anywhere. It’s a compelling promise for users in Nigeria where restrictions on online foreign payments get more ridiculous every day.
This tough spot has made USD cards necessary, but it doesn’t mean they’re easy to get from Nigerian banks. When you open a domiciliary account in Nigeria, the odds are that you will need to buy USD from the black market to fund said account.
You can use the Wallets Africa platform as a consumer to send money to local bank accounts in Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya. Additionally, you can use Wallets Africa to pay bills such as airtime, and data to cable TV. Wallet Africa allows you to have a virtual dollar card in Nigeria, Ghana, and Kenya.
It is common for cards from banks in Africa to be rejected by international merchants. The startup solves this problem. Its dollar card is accepted on Amazon, Netflix, Spotify, Airbnb, Uber, Facebook ads, Google ads, etc.
Additionally, with the growing interest and adoption of Bitcoin on the continent, Wallets Africa allows users to easily convert Bitcoin into fiat currency.
Small business owners in Africa can sign up for a business account. The account allows you to create virtual expense cards. With the card, you can instantly make business payments online.
The startup has introduced an overdraft feature for businesses to allow small businesses to make some small transactions without necessarily funding their account. The free overdraft is based on your transaction volumes from the previous month.
The startup allows developers and businesses to offer financial services to their existing customers through REST APIs.
Developers’ service offers the following: payouts API to transfer money to a bank account in Nigeria and mobile money accounts in Ghana and Kenya, wallets API to credit and debit user accounts, identity API to identify customers with their Bank Verification Number (BVN) (an 11 digit number used as a universal ID in all commercial banks in Nigeria), and airtime API to top up airtime in all mobile networks in Nigeria. Websites owners can integrate Wallets Africa for their users.
Wallets for Developers are accessed from the platform’s dashboard through the ‘developer keys’ option in the settings menu.
Opening an Account
To open an account with Wallets Africa, you should be at least 16 years old.
You can open an account on the Wallets Africa website using your browser or by using the Wallets Africa app for Android or iOS. All you need is a valid phone number and an email address.
For business accounts, your business must be registered in Nigeria because you will need to have a business name registered with the Corporate Affairs Commission and an RC number.
It is free to sign up for the service and to deposit money into your wallet using a bank transfer. However, if you deposit money into your wallet using your card, there will be Wallet Africa charges of 1% of the amount you fund with.
The fee will never exceed 2,000 nairas or the local equivalent (Ghana and Kenya). For Bitcoin funding, there is a 5% charge on the total amount you deposited. Wallets to Wallets transfers are free. But sending money to a bank account number attracts a fee of 25 Naira.
Wallets Africa offers a Visa dollar card. You will be charged a one-time charge of $5 to create a dollar card.
Note that the minimum amount you can fund your dollar card with is $10, and for every dollar card transaction done with a merchant outside the US, you will be charged a 1 USD fee.
At the moment, it is free to open and use Wallets for Business.
John Oke is the Founder & CEO of Wallets Africa.
He attended the University of Ilorin in 2010.
Joseph Benson-Aruna was the Co-Founder, and COO of Wallets Africa.
He attended the Y Combinator in 2019.
Investors & Funding Rounds
Samurai Incubate, Mozilla, Michael Seibel, Saviu Ventures
Wallets Africa has raised an undisclosed round of investment.
After investing $150,000 in the fintech startup in exchange for 7.5% equity, Y Combinator participated in this fresh round. Other participants include Mozilla Corporation, 9Yards Capital, Samurai Incubate, and Michael Seibel, Y Combinator CEO.
With the funding, Wallets Africa will ramp up its efforts to acquire customers since it had already launched its Internet banking solution for businesses and the funding will allow it to gain market share in the space.
Wallets Africa will also be helping businesses and developers issue wallets the way most of them issue cards these days.
As with most Nigerian fintech startups, Wallets Africa is working towards becoming a digital bank and is bracing itself for competition.
PayMe: It enables banks & acquirers to launch a “one-stop shop” payments platform with their brand.
PayDunya: One only API to accept payments anywhere in the world from all African mobile money wallets and credit/debit cards.
Transpaygo: This is an online service that allows people around the world to send mobile phone credit to prepaid phones.