Cellulant: ‘Card Is Not King’ in Africa, Where Most Consumers, Merchants Prefer Alternatives

Like many technology businesses that have been in operation for several years, Kenya-based payments firm Cellulant has had to adapt its business model and strategy over the years as customer needs and technology use evolved.

After starting out as a content business selling ringtones, the firm then shifted to providing mobile banking and mobile payments technology to banks before emerging as a fully-fledged payments firm — digitizing payments for not only banks and their customers, but also for merchants and their customers.

“One thing that we’ve been consistent with all along, across all these phases, has been an affinity and bias towards mobile. We always believed this before smartphones and internet-enabled phones became universal,” Faizal Mirza, Cellulant’s chief product officer, told PYMNTS in an interview.

Mirza said that evolution led the firm into mobile banking services, helping users to move money from their bank accounts into their mobile money wallets by interconnecting banks with relevant payment services in the country and across the continent.

“We interconnected that and provided [a way to] interconnect between banks and wallets, and that really contributed to driving adoption and usage of mobile payments across Kenya, East Africa and the wider sub-Saharan Africa [region],” he added.

Today, the pan-African firm serves close to 211 banks across the continent, helping to open up the same payments infrastructure that has been serving payments with banks and the telecommunications company (telco) wallets in order to digitize payments for merchants.

The company embarked on this by first rolling out its eCommerce solution for the airline sector and, based on its success, moved to expand the same network of payment methods — telco wallets, non-telco wallets, bank account transfers — to other sectors across the region.

Mirza said that while users in other regions tend to use cards, consumers in Africa have a high preference for alternative payment methods: “We’ve seen that the payment methods that we’ve connected over the last seven years are becoming the most relevant methods of payments for businesses and their customers.”

Read also: Kenyan B2B Distribution Firm MarketForce Expands to Nigeria

Driving Small Business Growth

To further boost digital payments in the region, Cellulant has partnered with one of the leading pan-African banks, United Bank for Africa (UBA). Through this deal, the firm’s payments platform — Tingg — has evolved into a comprehensive payment gateway for businesses in the region, from multinational corporations to small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), Mirza explained.

Following the release of its in-store proximity payment solution to offline businesses and stores across six markets — Nigeria, Ghana, Zambia, Tanzania, Kenya and Uganda — the Nairobi-based payments provider has also launched the Tingg Proximity Pay solution for offline merchants, leveraging the access it has gained to UBA’s 50,000 to 100,000 merchant base.

In the absence of the physical infrastructure required to traditionally accept payments, Tingg Proximity Pay enables customers to make payments using a mobile money wallet or a bank account at a merchant that doesn’t have a point of sale (POS) device.

Cellulant has also extended its partnership with some of the newer marketplace businesses, such as business-to-business (B2B) retail and financial services platform MarketForce, enabling the company to provide its payment services and infrastructure to the SMBs it serves.

Read more: African B2B Commerce Platform MarketForce Raises $40M in Series A

Accelerating Regional Digital Transformation

Keeping abreast with the latest trends that are shaping the future of commercial digital payments on the continent is a key focus area for Cellulant, Mirza said — particularly as the business continues to expand across a region that is witnessing a boom in SMB growth and accelerating digital transformation.

One of the trends he highlighted is the increase in payment methods, especially the growth of digital wallets and alternative payment methods, which will require strengthening the infrastructure to drive business growth.

“We’ve seen that we’re going into an era of non-telco wallets, which started happening in the last one to two years,” he added. “All these really require robust infrastructure to digitize payments in the most seamless way.”

Moving forward, the business will be expanding its service offerings and rolling out a new full stack payments platform to other markets across Africa — Egypt, South Africa, Senegal, Côte d’Ivoire, Cameroon and Ethiopia — where its solutions are already powering transactions across 35 countries.


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