Duo brings free cross-border mobile cash transfer to Kenya

Mobile money account owners in five African countries will this month transact money free and instantly through a San-Francisco-based payments platform called Chipper.

Through the mobile application and web platform, users can send and receive money for free within and across borders as well as via local mobile money operators.

Chipper will connect users in Kenya, Uganda, Ghana, Tanzania and Rwanda. In each of these countries, more than 30 per cent of adults own a mobile money account, with Kenya leading at 73 per cent according to the 2017 Global Findex database.

In Kenya, the application will be available to M-Pesa’s 23.6 million and Airtel Money’s 3.4 million active customers. To send money through Chipper, users connect their mobile accounts to their wallets, load money and then send to the intended recipients. Recipients do not require a Chipper account to access the money.

The platform automatically uses live foreign exchange rates for its cross border mobile money transactions. Chipper says they will not add a markup on the same.

“We are very excited to see the enablement of money movements that were previously not viable. We have built a platform which is the first in Africa to facilitate completely free and instantaneous peer to peer payments, both within a country as well as from one country to another,” says Ugandan-born Ham Serunjogi, CEO and co-founder of Chipper Cash.

Chipper can also function as a middleman for transactions between the same individual’s mobile money accounts.

Mr Serunjogi and the other co-founder, Maijid Moujaled from Ghana, graduated from Grinnell College in the US. Mr Serunjogi has since worked for Facebook in Dublin and New York.

For the past two weeks, the app has been available in Uganda for Airtel, MTN and Africel customers as well as for Tanzania’s Vodafone, Airtel and Tigo users.

The launch of Chipper in Kenya this month will coincide with its launch in Ghana where the service will be available for customers on MTN, Airtel, Vodafone, Expresso, Glo and Tigo. The application will be available in Rwanda for MTN and Tigo customers at the end of August.

According to the Communications Authority of Kenya, person to person mobile money transactions for Airtel Money and M-Pesa amounted to Sh1.8 billion in the third quarter of the 2017/2018 financial year ended March.

Mr Serunjogi said that their operations are backed by investors.

“We do not pass any costs incurred on to our users. We subsidise these costs and our business model takes this into account as an operational cost on our part,” said Mr Serunjogi.

He could not disclose the company’s long-term plans for monetisation but said they would add new products and features onto the platform in coming months.

Other platforms using this model have relied on advertisements and investments in funds stored as balance.

Venmo, a US based payments platform that allows users to connect their bank cards and send, receive and request money, makes money from charging payments made via credit cards.

Paypal, another payments platform which reaches over 200 countries, makes money from transaction charges as well as merchants who use the platform to sell their goods online.

The platform supports about 100 currencies.

The Chipper Cash team is based in the US, Ghana and Kenya and plans to expand to a total of 20 members by the end of this year. Chipper Cash does not have a special partnership with Safaricom or Airtel but the companies’ APIs allow the public to develop services on top of their products.

“We look at ourselves as an extension of what Airtel and Safaricom provide. Safaricom and Airtel will always be in charge but you can now do things with your money that you could not do before,” says Mr Serunjogi.

Chipper Cash plans to expand to other markets in Southern Africa, U.K. and North-Eastern U.S. over the next 6 months.

In total, there are 277 million registered mobile money account owners in Africa, according to a 2017 report. These comprise 140 mobile money schemes across 39 countries.