Benjamin Fernandes is an award-winning speaker, national television personality, and founder of NALA Money – a simplified mobile money application that allows you to make faster, smarter and safer transactions without an internet connection.
Having worked in the television industry, he and his team was heavily involved in building one of the first TV integrations for mobile money payments where viewers could pay for their TV subscriptions through mobile money. It was through that experience Benjamin became curios about digital financial services and deepening financial inclusion in Africa.
Upon graduating from Stanford Graduate School of Business in 2017, Fernandes returned to his home country with the goal of building the next layer of inclusive finance in Africa. He set up NALA using the $20,000 Frances & Arjay Miller Prize he received during his final year at the school, and NALA till today has attracted more than 250,000+ downloads without a single launch event.
Asides his entrepreneurial breakthroughs, Benjamin Fernandes’ career profile as an individual is simply ‘outstanding.’ He is the first Tanzanian to attend the Stanford Graduate School of Business as an Africa MBA Fellow and the youngest African to ever be accepted to the Stanford Graduate School of Business. In 2017, Fernandes also became the first Tanzanian in history to attend both Stanford Graduate School of Business and Harvard John F. Kennedy School of Government for an executive education program. This is just a few of his personal achievements.
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Q: Please tell us about yourself?
A: I love Jesus. I like food, I like software and believe technology can change the world.
Q: How did you discover your vision? How did you also get started- business plan, capital sourcing, prior experience, mentorships, etc.?
A: My faith is fundamental to anything I decide to work on or commit my time in building or supporting. Getting started was all about user interviews. I personally don’t believe in business plans but rather believe in building something people need.
Q: Kindly describe your company -the name, services/ products, other information you would like to provide.
A: At NALA, we’re on a mission to build a bank Africa loves to use. We are always keen to hear from capable, creative engineers who want to help us accomplish that goal. We currently have an application that enables you to make payments, pay friends, and purchase airtime, internet-free in Africa. Today, NALA is the #1 Top Free Finance App in Tanzania and #3 Top Free Finance app in Uganda. NALA is an interface layer or skin for USSD transactions. We also provide a rich transaction history tool to enable people to make smarter decisions on how they spend their money.
Q: What are some of the most effective ways in which your business is currently promoting financial inclusion in Africa?
A: According to GSMA, your average African owns 1.96 sim cards and if your sim card is tied to your bank account, this means multiple accounts. Additionally, data is expensive and even though there is a growth in smartphones across the continent, not everyone has access to an active data connection. Finally, 95% of Africans cannot tell you how much they spent the previous week. By using NALA, you can access multiple sim cards in one app based interface, NALA also works offline (internet-free), and finally, NALA gives you your transaction history for free so you can make better decisions about how to spend your money.
Q: What does the term “financial inclusion” mean to you?
A: Financial inclusion means access. It means giving people power back into their hands so they can make better and smarter decisions themselves.
Q: What do you think is the most single effective solution for boosting financial inclusion levels in Africa?
A: Infrastructure. From national identity that will be the backbone for KYC and technical infrastructure that enables other services to be built on top.
Q: What do you consider to be the most significant difference between commercial banks and FinTech companies?
A: Commercial banks are limited by a tight framework of regulation they must keep standards up to. This slows down how creative they could get and how fast they could move especially with legal implications that go across the whole organization vs one specific product. Fintech companies are unique in that they allow people to focus on building one piece of a commercial bank extremely well.
Q: What needs to change now so that there is greater diversity in the FinTech sector in the next 5-10 years?
A: API’s need to be open. Bank / mobile money API’s are only as good as they are open…
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NOTE: This interview with Fernanders was conducted by Victor Oluwole.