LUSAKA, ZAMBIA – A software company co-founder and financier is set to tackle the various barriers to trade and finance for goods and services in Africa with a software application called MX, designed to allow for mobile and Internet payments.
Launching later this year, the software was written on a Microsoft platform and will allow payments to be made through the purchase of pre-paid scratch cards, whose serial number the purchaser then uses to make payments for transactions with multiple merchants, said Herman Chinery-Hesse said, co-founder of software developer SoftTribe and chair of BSL, a financial services company.
“What will it achieve? Any low-income person will suddenly have a way to sell remotely using the MX platform as it will remove the barriers to trade,” said Chinery-Hesse.
The MX platform will serve poor people in rural areas who currently have no access to facilities to send or receive remote payments, Chinery-Hesse said. He explained that users did not necessarily need to own a mobile phone to use the MX Platform, as one could also borrow a phone to use the payment system. The MX payment platform does not require a partnership with any mobile service providers, he said.
The MX application uses a new trading model, conceived and designed by Chinery-Hesse, to coordinate purchase and delivery of goods in and from environments where comprehensive physical and financial services have been unavailable to the masses.
“This new trading protocol driven by the MX payment platform has been named the Nii-Tettay Global Trading Model,” Chinery-Hesse said.
SoftTribe is a separate entity from BSL, a financial services company, though both are based in Ghana and have strong ties, since Chinery-Hesse is an executive at both. SoftTribe will provide technical support for the MX platform for BSL, the owner of MX. Chinery-Hesse said the MX payment platform is designed to enhance trade and enable efficient mobile phone and Internet payments for African goods, even by people without bank accounts.
“This platform and the trading model, among other many other applications will work very well for the micro-finance industry and any other industry faced with the challenge of collecting low-value payments from cash-based economies. The platform payment has already been tested,” Chinery-Hesse said.
Chinery-Hesse said more details about the product would be shared after the product’s launch.
SoftTribe has used Microsoft Dynamics Navision (NAV) product as the foundation for several financial products. Microsoft Dynamics is a suite of business software for midmarket companies. It has a development environment built into the system, enabling software developers to add layers of functionality on top of the Microsoft Dynamic NAV code, Chinery-Hesse said.
“Our partnership with SoftTribe is a perfect example of how the Microsoft ecosystem can foster local innovation, grow new businesses and help knowledge economies to flourish,” said Michael Rawding, vice president of the Microsoft Unlimited Potential Group.
Chinery-Hesse added that apart from challenges of hiring staff, SoftTribe has also had problems breaking into the African public sector market because local software companies are usually not recognized by their governments until they partner with larger firms like Microsoft.
“Many contracts in Africa are financed by donor agencies that encourage governments to buy foreign products, which may not be as good or suitable for the local environment as the local products. This is the problem with aid as it destroys the local market,” said Chinery-Hesse.
Chinery-Hesse explained that the partnership with Microsoft has allowed SoftTribe to focus more on product customization to meet its customer’s needs and spend less time building and testing each new product.
“It’s like prefab construction, quicker, more reliable and our clients are happier. The resulting product has the Microsoft name on it, so our customers get the international credibility, and it has the SoftTribe name on it, which provides the local credibility,” said Chinery-Hesse.
For example, the SoftTribe microfinance product, E-Susu, is designed to enable small-scale lending to promote grassroots enterprises, and uses the Microsoft Dynamics platform. SoftTribe licenses the underlying software from Microsoft, and retains the remaining revenue from product sales.
Based in Ghana, SoftTribe serves 10 African countries and has 200 customers, according to Chinery-Hesse. It is a private company and does not reveal its revenue.