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Meet Africa’s Blockchain Startups: SureRemit

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SureRemit

International remittances have played an important role in the growth of Africa’s emerging economies. Diaspora Africans have been using traditional money transfer services such as Western Union and MoneyGram to send money to relatives back home. However, the high fees involved are making them an unattractive option for customers, who are now opting for blockchain startups like SureRemit that enable cheap international remittances.

Offering Non-Cash Remittances Powered by Blockchain Technology

SureRemit is a Nigeria-based startup that provides Remit (RMT) tokens for diaspora users to buy instant shopping vouchers and pay utility bills for family and friends across Africa. The company leverages its merchant network in Kenya, Rwanda, and Nigeria together with international partners, to allow immigrants to send e-vouchers that are redeemable for goods and services at any of the pre-approved merchants. Users can also pay bills on behalf of their loved ones anywhere in the world.

Users can download the SureRemit app available for Android and iOS, and present tokens as payment for services such as utilities, online shopping, student tuition, just to name a few. The company will use blockchain partner Stellar’s platform to host the tokens.

SureRemit aims to make money from businesses who pay a fraction of each token transaction and ultimately redeem the tokens – minus the fees – for cash from the company. For users, this means there will be no purchase or transfer fees for tokens above face value.

Low Fees, Instant Transfers

According to SureRemit co-founder Samuel-Biyi, the company’s RMT tokens are more suitable for remittances than bitcoin due to zero fees and faster transaction times. Presently, bitcoin is less viable for payments and individual money transfers brought about by scalability issues in the bitcoin network. With numerous people sending and receiving the cryptocurrency, it is taking longer to confirm transactions and fees have become more costly. The fact that Remit token transfer fees are passed down to the businesses will make it an attractive option for users.

Speaking to Techcrunch, Samuel-Biyi asserts that SureRemit’s merchant network view the fees as the cost of accessing a new group of customers. He states,

“We’re a big channel to connecting them to the multi-billion dollar market of remittance inflows, [….] so our model is transferring costs of remittances to the merchant side away from the sender side.”

The World Bank estimates that Sub-Saharan Africa pays roughly 10 percent per every $200, making it the most expensive region in terms of remittance fees. Marvin Liao, a partner in 500 Startups, which is among SureRemit’s backers, believes there is potential for the company’s blockchain-based approach in Africa,

“The fees are horrible, and Western Union is ripping off people who can least afford it. It’s a huge market…and a lot of these basic financial and commerce needs that people have are still not being addressed effectively,” he says.

SureRemit’s blockchain token has less risk of being used for money laundering when compared to cryptocurrencies like bitcoin. Since you cannot redeem it for cash and it is tied to particular merchants, it is unsuitable for money laundering and thus regulators should have no problem giving it the green light.

The company plans to launch operations in the Middle East and India during the second quarter of 2018. For now, the startup seeks to grow its African presence by using its predecessor SureGifts’ merchant network to roll out its new blockchain-based remittance platform.

Blockchain Technology

IBM and Twiga Foods Partner to Offer a Blockchain-Enabled Microcredit Solution

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Blockchain-enabled Microcredit

IBM Research in partnership with Twiga Foods announced a new microcredit solution that is now ready for rollout following an eight-week pilot. The pilot saw the two companies utilise the blockchain-based financing system to process 220 loans to recipients with the average lending amount of approximately $30 per recipient. The loans were for four to eight days with a one and two percent interest rate respectively.

The solution came about when Twiga Foods – a mobile-based supply platform for Africa’s retail outlets, kiosks, and market stalls – was looking to expand its logistics services into a total market ecosystem by adding financial services for its customers.

Grant Brooke, Twiga Foods Co-Founder said, “Previously, we were focused on helping farmers distribute bananas, tomatoes, onions and potatoes to 2,600 kiosks across Kenya, but we soon realized that we could help them sell even more produce with access to working capital. It’s simple, if the food vendors can sell more, we can distribute more, growing both of our businesses.”

Twiga Foods begun working with IBM Research in Nairobi late last year to establish a blockchain-enabled finance lending platform that could foretell a vendor’s credit score. Isaac Markus, a researcher on the inclusive financial services group at IBM Research in Kenya, said: “We analysed purchase records from a mobile device and then apply machine learning algorithms to predict creditworthiness, in turn giving lenders the confidence they need to provide microloans to small businesses. Once the credit score is determined, we used a blockchain, based on the Hyperledger Fabric, to manage the entire lending process from application to receiving offers to accepting the terms to repayment.”

Benefits of the Blockchain-based Microlending Platform

With the blockchain, the lending process is transparent to all parties involved. Blockchains are immutable which helps in reducing fraud since no one person can add to the blockchain without agreement from the entire network. Also, blockchains can make use of smart contracts that are executable in real-time, therefore, reducing the time it takes for loans to be manually processed and issued. The technology will also help address the financial woes that informal and small businesses encounter when looking for cash to re-invest in their businesses.

The eight-week pilot saw the loan order size increase by 30 percent with each retailer having an average of a six percent increase in their profit. All 220 loans were executed through mobile phones and deposited directly towards the businesses’ working capital. If a retailer had an order delivered, they would then get an SMS with loan options that they could use to finance the order. The retailer would then respond to the SMS confirming the loan option they wanted.

“We had several iterations of the platform based on feedback from the retailers. The SMS-based solution provided an effective channel for a diverse set of users, some with limited IT literacy, to access financing for their orders,” stated Andrew Kinai, the lead software engineer on the project at IBM Research.

Following the successful pilot phase, the platform will first be rolled out to traders in Nairobi and then target SMEs across Africa by the end of 2018 with expansion into new sectors.

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Blockchain Technology

IBITx Launches New African Brand to Focus on Blockchain Incubation

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IBITx

IBITX Software Inc., a cryptocurrency exchange service and crowdsale software provider, has launched its new African brand called AFRIBITx.com. The company aims to position itself as an incubator for the development of blockchain concepts and companies in Africa.

A New Blockchain Incubator for Africa

IBITx is a digital currency exchange that matches investors with token sales on a single platform for ‘offerings’ as well as a free market trading system for all aftermarket cryptocurrency purchases and sales.

In a company press release, IBITx CEO Rose Marie D. Araos said:

“Our intention is to launch in partnership with a financial service provider a regulated environment in at least 2-8 African countries to start ideally by June 2018. The system’s skeletal structure is available for testing, however, we are still endeavouring to negotiate with regulated brokers and regulatory organisations as to which country will house the first African blockchain incubator, exchange, and crowdsale system.”

The new brand, AFRIBITx aims to become the exchange, crowdsale, and blockchain incubator brand for Africa. IBITx Software will harness its talent pool of blockchain developers in Philippines, India and South Africa with the objective of developing cryptocurrencies and decentralised technologies across the African continent.

The company also plans to put in place revenue sharing partnerships with local brokers, which will see them handle management and custody of the various local markets.

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Blockchain Technology

South African Startup Vio Digital Launches Blockchain-Powered Money Transfer App

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Vio Digital

Vio Digital, a South African fintech startup, is launching an Ethereum blockchain-powered money transfer app that will go live in May 2018.

Vio Digital is offering a new form of international money transfer that enables people to transfer money from anywhere in the world with zero transfer and exchange fees. Moreover, Vio Digital has not set a foreign exchange markup, which translates to affordable money transfers for users. Vio Digital, therefore, eliminates the price barrier that Africans in the diaspora face when sending money back home.

“For people sending money home to their families, additional processing and admin costs can be crippling. Our app uses technology to give people safer and more convenient ways to move their money. Technology like the blockchain means we can take cost out of the system to give people cheaper ways to move their money,” Praga Govender, CEO and founder of Vio Digital, stated.

Vio Digital held its initial coin offering from February 19 to 2 March 2, 2018, where the startup managed to raise approximately $1.2 million in ETH.

How Does the App Work?

The startup’s app is currently available in the Google Play Store and will initially be available in Kenya, Ghana, Nigeria, and Cameroon. To use the app all you need to do is download it and register your account by completing the KYC process. You will then receive a Vio wallet address, which you will use to make money transfers.

The next step is topping up your wallet by buying Vio tokens using Visa or Mastercard. Once you have done that, you can send or receive money. To cash out, convert the Vio tokens into your local currency and then transfer the amount to your linked Visa Debit card through Visa Direct. The Vio app also features a transaction history to keep track of your transfers, exchanges, and top-ups.

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