Leading Payment Ecosystem for the Increasingly Mobile Africa
Writer: Emily Jarvis
Project Manager: Donovan Smith
After 13 years of connecting consumers in Africa to digital mobile payment services, Cellulant has been able to unlock unprecedented growth and continues to shape the business in pursuit of its goal to connect more than 100 million consumers in Africa, while building a $1 billion Pan-African Company.
Formed as a result of blue-sky thinking between two likeminded individuals, Ken Njoroge and Bolaji Akinboro, Cellulant has a history full of award-winning industry firsts, known for its intuitive mobile content applications and services across Africa since the launch of its first platform in 2004.
“Cellulant’s original business model was drawn up on a table napkin. Right from the beginning, we knew that we wanted to build a Company that provides services at the intersection of government, financial services, consumers, mobile telephone companies and content providers, creating real technological solutions for African consumers and businesses,” recalls Njoroge, the Company’s Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
After testing mobile banking platforms in focus regions across Africa, in 2009, Cellulant deployed the first mobile banking solution using US currency for one of the first multinational banks; becoming the third Company globally to deploy this solution. From here, the Company’s success began to manifest itself in mobile payment and financial inclusion solutions to create a seamless experience for operators and the consumer across mobile commerce.
“Cellulant’s digital payment solutions have been the catalyst for the penetration of mobile commerce across the countries in which we operate our mobile banking and mobile payment solutions. By digitising the value chain across various industry sectors, we are transforming economies and people’s lives,” adds Faizal Mirza, Cellulant’s Chief Technological Officer.
Njoroge continues: “We have created a converged ecosystem that better connects banks, merchants and mobile networks with the customer. Partnering with leading banking institutions and merchants across the continent not only requires a holistic approach, but a local focus that engages the consumer and improves our overall value chain; this is something we excel at.”
The Growth Enhancement Support (GES) Scheme in Nigeria is just one of the local solutions Cellulant has provided in recent years. Using a digital e-wallet system, Cellulant has simplified the disbursement of fertiliser subsidies to smallholder farmers – those who needed government subsidies the most - while increasing their average income.
Having obtained a license from the Central Bank of Nigeria to operate a mobile payments’ scheme, Cellulant took to market one of the largest-scale uses of mobile commerce to drive transformation in the agricultural sector. GES has since powered $1 billion in subsidy payments to more than 10 million farmers.
Co-Founder and CEO of Cellulant Nigeria, Akinboro explains: “There was a time when agriculture contributed 60 percent of the GDP in Nigeria. For a population of 170 million people, this was significant. However, by 2013, agriculture contributed only 20 percent of the GDP. With 84 million hectares of arable land, there was a definite problem to address. This is where Cellulant came in.
“Farmers began getting the fertiliser they needed, empowering the agricultural industry to contribute a much larger amount to the GDP.”
Between March 2012 and 2014, more than $30 billion was contributed to Nigeria’s GDP, with food imports dropping by 75 percent. Additionally, the project almost tripled the average farmer’s income, from $700 to $1,800, opening $600 million worth of opportunities in lending and microfinance.
As a consequence of the success of the Scheme, Cellulant is amplifying its local impact in a new partnership with the Nigeria Agriculture Payments Initiative (NAPI).
Akinboro highlights: “This is the next step for us that will create further opportunities for the Nigerian farmer and the country as a whole by increasing their financial independence and turning the agricultural industry on its head to drive economic growth in Nigeria once more.”
He summarises: “Our ‘make possible’ spirit has driven us to great heights; changing lives of Nigerians for years to come. It became our strong belief that if we could make any solution work in Nigeria, it would be one that could be adopted and scaled throughout Africa.”
Make Possible Academy
Since its inception, Cellulant has been able to achieve extraordinary results under challenging economic circumstances; showcasing the same ‘make possible’ spirit through its incredibly talented staff to drive the business forward. This spirit is closely intertwined with the Company’s training initiatives, dedicated to continuous improvement for the betterment of the business.
Njoroge says: “The Make Possible Academy is Cellulant’s internal talent learning and development programme that aims to provide staff with different training opportunities at various stages of their employment. In some cases, we leverage our wider market reach to expose staff to different opportunities and ensure we have strong management teams with a full understanding of our Company’s mission and goals across Africa.”
Furthermore, the Group has a vested interest in youth development and training, mentoring individuals at high school and undergraduate students who embody the Cellulant ‘Make Possible’ spirit. Recently, the Company partnered with the African Leadership University (ALU) to sponsor students who will get a chance to intern at the company during their schooling and eventually have the opportunity to work at Cellulant at the end of their education. “This goes hand-in-hand with our continued pursuit to grow the workforce in Africa, investing in young people who exemplify the ‘make possible’ and can-do attitude in pursuing excellence. Our partnership with ALU ensures that these students get the best possible education,” he adds.
Replicating its success
With the aim of more than doubling its market presence in the next three years, Cellulant will continue to invest in its payment ecosystem; with a concerted focus on innovation, growth and advancement in order to provide the most relevant services to the consumer, subsequently providing a competitive advantage to banks, multinational companies and merchants.
“Using the GES model, we will continue to extend our payment gateway and scale it for other sectors, enabling us to continue to tackle some of the continent’s biggest challenges; providing solutions across sectors including travel and hospitality, education, water and power,” comments Mirza.
Njoroge concludes: “By 2018, we expect to be present in 23 countries, serving approximately 150 banks comprising around 600 customers across the continent. In line with this expansion, we will continue to upscale our applications including the e-wallet; replicating and amplifying the successes we have seen in Nigeria to continue on our path to become the leading mobile payments ecosystem in Africa.
“Above all, our services are comparable to none. We aim to connect 100 million consumers with our world-class yet localised one-stop digital payments ecosystem that remains relevant to their everyday usage.”