Unity Finance is not only helping to change the face of Zambian banking. Equally, the company is upholding impactful initiatives to benefit customer and community alike
Writer: Jonathan Dyble | Project Manager: Sam Love
To build a career that one can define as successful, it’s important to take any opportunity you can to increase your awareness about the world of work and your place in it.
“I was always good with numbers and liked to solve problems that involved them. It was a career and industry I felt would offer a fast-paced environment and always be challenging to me.
“As time went by, I began to realise that solving numerical problems could also impact my surroundings in a wider sense, offering solutions that may be missing in a market, or making changes for good. I was also lucky to surround myself with the right people, the believers, and thinkers, and creators who inspired me to take risks and push myself even when I didn’t see it.”
Emil Paul has led an enviable career in the financial industry during the past decade.
From his first job at accounting firm Moore Rowland Chartered Accountants in Lusaka, Zambia to the auditing department of EY in Abu Dhabi, he has held a multitude of different roles in different contexts, now standing front and centre of the sector as the CEO of Unity Finance.
“The financial industry is experiencing a revolution with an influx of new technologies and big data disruptions,” Paul continues. “The services we can offer today are not the same as those which were available to consumers 15 years ago.
“Financial corporations are changing the way the world works. And right now, I can safely say that the shifts we have seen in recent times are as slow as they will ever be, with changes expected to be rapid in the coming year.”
Indeed, the progressions that Paul eludes to are expected to have the greatest impact in Africa.
The continent is ripe for fintech disruption, its largely unbanked population primed to benefit both socially and economically from the technological leapfrogging expected to be brought about by mobile money and other emerging financial tools.
And Unity Finance itself is one company helping to facilitate this transition in Zambia.
Driven by a mission of making people’s lives easier with simple, smart microfinance solutions, the firm that was founded in 2006 truly epitomises modern financial agility.
“Our main product is salary advances for formally employed persons in the government and private sectors,” Paul explains. “We believe our advances offer financial aid when our clients need it most – in a medical emergency, for example – and we are committed to conducting responsible lending.
“At the moment we process around 35,000 loans per month, more than any other financial institution in Zambia, including banks.”
A company that has risen rapidly to become a national stalwart in merely 13 years, much of Unity Finance’s success can be derived from its emphasis on technology.
Leveraging modern solutions to enhance both efficiency and customer experience, the firm continues to position itself ahead of the curve at every opportunity, most recently showcased by the launch of its latest product, Uniapp.
“Uniapp is an application that allows clients to transact across all major mobile networks,” Paul explains. “It makes it easier for our clients to access our services and saves them time, because they don’t have to queue at one of our branches to, for example, make their loan repayments.”
Handset financing also provides evidence of the organisation’s emphasis on innovation. Working closely with one of its many esteemed partners, it has been able to bring credit to people who have never had access to finance before.
“A ground-breaking feature of the service is the fact that we utilise our partner’s technology to lock a device that goes into default,” Paul explains. “So, instead of charging a client that fails to pay late fees or higher interest rates, the phone is simply locked.
“This service is a first of its kind in the Zambian market and allows people to start building a good credit history, thereby unlocking access to finance.”
Without question, technology is the cornerstone of the company’s vision of providing universal financial solutions. Yet, at the same time, maintaining a genial, humanised approach is of paramount importance to its overall offering.
“In this digitally driven day and age, we are committed to never losing our personal touch,” Paul adds, pointing to the company’s client interaction as a core differentiator.
“When our clients walk into any of our 20 Zambian branches, they receive warm, friendly service, a free cold drink, and are treated with dignity and respect, no matter who they are. We take time to listen to our clients and look for ways to add value to their lives.”
In recent times, the company has upped the ante with this open-arm approach.
It now provides a 25-kilogram bag of maize meal to each and every new customer, helping to dampen the effects associated with skyrocketing price of the Zambian dietary staple, and has written off over 300,000 kwacha ($22,700) in loans via its Excuse My Loan radio competition.
Clients are not the only individuals to benefit from Unity Finance’s responsible efforts, however.
In the way of its staffing practices, the business is an admirable champion of empowerment, providing an unrivalled platform for employee development.
“We are committed to uncovering the tremendous talent Zambia has to offer and to nurturing this talent into leadership positions,” Paul affirms. “Female employment and empowerment have always been very important to us. Of our 170 staff members, 150 are women.”
Further, the company spearheads a number of community-based corporate social responsibility initiatives, engaging with people on the ground in order to understand what they desire and how it can make a meaningful impact at any given moment.
To this end, it has delivered on everything from helping to upgrade various school buildings and donating books to school children to offering blankets and bedsheets to the University Teaching Hospital in Lusaka.
“Because we operate so closely to communities across the country, we recognise the role we can play in changing people’s lives,” Paul states.
“It has simply become good practice to acknowledge the impact one has on the world around you, and people want to do business with companies that share this value. For Unity Finance in particular, corporate social responsibility is an opportunity to put our promise of making life easy into action.”
Indeed, as Unity Finance continues to grow at an unprecedented pace, so too will the firm’s ability to partake in a greater number of impactful projects for clients, communities and employees alike moving forward.
This forms the basis of much of the company’s current ambition.
“We will be enlarging our geographic footprint by opening more branches across the country, as well as rolling out a project that will allow our clients to make their loan repayments at even greater ease. Given Unity Finance’s success, we see our solutions not only touching lives in Zambia, but also elsewhere in Africa. We are part of a larger group, Unifi, which operates in South Africa and Tanzania, with plans to expand further. Our ambition is to be making life easy for one million people in Africa by 2025,” he explains.
And it seems that the conditions for such strides are forecast to improve, the Chief Exec acknowledging the challenges and citing optimism about the current economic and financial landscape within which Unity Finance continues to operate.
He concludes, buoyantly: “The financial sector in Zambia, though not quite yet on par with the first-world developments in terms of technological changes, is moving in the right direction, taking smaller steps to achieve the goal of providing the best possible service towards consumers.
“The current economic climate in the country is volatile, as seen with inflation rising as well as a weakening kwacha over the past years.
“However, the mood is bullish and companies in this sector are adamant that things will improve. I firmly believe instead of worrying about what you cannot control, shift your energy to what you can and identify what can be done to make things better. Unity has weathered many different types of storms in the past. Our brand has never been stronger or more relevant. Our development of new products and cutting-edge innovation has never been more important. Our long-term commitment to providing an experience with Unity is resolute towards our clients. Our growth plans for the future of our company will not be impacted by the turmoil of the markets and the primary reason for our current and future success; a great team will ensure Unity gives the best solutions in the Zambian market.”