A digital alternative to cash – that’s the idea behind GlobalTravelWallet, a startup that is supported by the Cambridge Social Ventures programme, part of the Cambridge Centre for Social Innovation at Cambridge Judge Business School.
Founder and CEO Segun Oni says he wanted to provide people and organisations in Africa with a safer and more compliant platform for travel and everyday payments. “Many countries in Africa are cash-centric economies where people carry large amounts of cash. Our platform gives them access to digital payments on the go.” GlobalTravelWallet offers a personal pre-paid card that offers more than a regular digital card. Users do not need to have a bank account and can load money to their card through their growing network of agents.
Segun says some financially challenged groups like refugees or students would greatly benefit from our platform: “If you’re a student in Africa, you are likely to need a bank account to get a card. Without a card you cannot purchase things online, access digital libraries and paid research websites from abroad which are important for your education.”
GlobalTravelWallet’s social mission is to offer more options to people who already have bank accounts (underserved) as well as those who don’t have bank accounts (financially excluded), giving everyone the opportunity to take control of their finances. From January 2019, the card is free for all customers, but attracts a minimum load amount. Segun is raising money from donors to reduce or eliminate the transaction cost for financially challenged customers.
Segun is based in London and the rest of his nine-person team of analysts and international development managers and marketing professionals work in Africa – mainly Ghana and Rwanda. The card has customers in 17 countries such as Zambia, Namibia, Botswana, Benin, Chad, Ethiopia and Cape Verde. The next step for the venture is to expand further in Africa before branching out to other continents.
Before GlobalTravelWallet was launched in 2015, Segun studied Electrical & Electronic Engineering at the University of Nottingham and worked for various banking, consultancy and information technology companies for about 15 years. But he had the desire to run his own business. Segun says he had the idea in his mind for a fintech venture for some time before it launched, but the timing was not right, or he didn’t have the right support. “Everything takes three times longer than expected and costs twice as much, therefore you need to be patient, persistent and stay the course.”
In 2017 he joined the Cambridge Social Ventures programme, looking for training and guidance on how to run a social enterprise. Segun says the programme helped his team “deliver sustainable processes that generate growing revenues as well as measurable social impact outcomes”.
The biggest challenges for the venture currently are hiring the right people and raising the money. Also, as the business continues to expand on the continent, it requires a lot of travelling which can be costly and time-consuming.
Despite some difficulties, Segun is proud the company now works with national governments, airlines, and smaller user groups and has over 20,000 customers. The team managed to secure a partnership with one of Africa’s fastest growing airlines – Rwandair offering GlobalTravelWallet Crew and Passengers. Segun says this partnership was the first of its kind in Africa offering a combined payment and loyalty card.
Yvonne Manzi Makolo, Chief Executive Officer of Rwandair said: “The GlobalTravelWallet platform is strategic to our business, facilitating crew payments and helping our loyalty members carry their Travel Money and earn airline loyalty points, whilst delivering a smooth user experience. The partnership allows us to support GlobalTravelWallet in driving financial inclusion in Africa and beyond. It’s a win-win and we are delighted to continue to work with the GlobalTravelWallet team.”
Segun’s team is also in talks with universities and non-profit organisations about possible future collaborations. For example, they’re in discussions with UNHCR, the United Nations Refugee Agency, to deliver a Disbursement Program for Refugees across Africa.
Karen Leigh Anderson, Business Advisor at Cambridge Social Ventures, commented: “Segun has an innovative fintech product that has gained traction in Africa. Cambridge Social Ventures are particularly interested in how he has been so clear about using the GlobalTravelWallet to support students, women entrepreneurs and refugees. He has strategically planned the business growth taking into account supporting these groups.”