SOUTH AFRICA – Standard Bank Group has launched a new platform called Unayo that takes direct aim at Kenya’s M-Pesa, MTN Mobile Money and others as it takes a big bet on the future of mobile payments in Africa.

The banking group announced at a press conference that it’s launching Unayo in a range of markets across Africa including Kenya, where M-Pesa, developed by Vodacom Group affiliate Safaricom dominates.

Unayo will also be launched in South Africa in 2022 and comes as social media companies like Facebook, which owns WhatsApp, increasingly see mobile money as a big growth opportunity in emerging markets.

“Unayo is aimed at bridging the worlds of the banked and the unbanked, the digital platform combines the simplicity of mobile money with the sophistication of a bank account, aiming to connect Africa’s informal market to financial services in an easily accessible manner”, it said.

The JSE-listed banking group says Unayo is mostly free to use until users cash out their money and even then, the bank said fees are “nominal” to attract a mass-market (and largely unbanked) audience.

The platform does not require a smartphone and “holds the potential to unlock much-needed economic transactional activity and prosperity on the continent”, the bank said.

“African communities are often underserved when it comes to catering to their financial needs. Much of that is linked to barriers associated with income, access to branch services and technology, as well as the cost of transactions.”

“Unayo overcomes these hurdles by enabling fully KYC (know your customer)-compliant onboarding and activating mechanisms for external funding (via donors and producers) to be injected into the ecosystem, allowing people from anywhere and all walks of life to participate,” the bank said.

The platform has already been launched in Botswana, Malawi, Lesotho and eSwatini (Swaziland).

It said it expects it will be successful because its platform is not tied to a mobile operator’s network or the type of handset used by the consumer as it’s primarily supported by USSD.

Those with smartphones can download the Unayo app for iPhone and Android (on Google Play or Huawei AppGallery), through which they can access “more enhanced features of the banking system.”

Wally Fisher, head of Unayo said that Standard Bank is entering an already competitive space and one that is set to become even more competitive but said it has a number of advantages and one of these is that Unayo offers the “simplicity of mobile money but with the sophistication of banking rails” and in effect, it “brings the informal market together with the formal market”.

Also, it’s not limited to a particular geography and works in donor and refugee environments, too and also provide a stepping stone for people to join the formal financial environment and is not a “closed-loop” created by a mobile operator.



It is also working with mobile operators in key markets to zero-rate access to the platform.

“We are not trying to pass the cost onto the consumer but rather it’s about maximizing transaction volumes,” it said.

Standard Bank will service four key payment “ecosystems” through the Unayo platform: salaried individuals, cross-border payments, traders and donor organizations.

“Unayo also holds the potential to initiate a richer savings and investing culture in these ecosystems, as the receivers and holders of funds are able to create society and shared savings schemes,” the bank said.

“Unayo also allows for the management of funds and the participants of the collective funding in one place, from one profile, in a simple and understandable manner and without data restrictions.”

Whether users want to access Unayo via USSD or the smartphone app, they will not be required to visit a physical banking branch.

“There are no geographical restrictions and no need to present documentation or undergo a paper-bound KYC process,” said Fisher.

“On registration, users can also opt for additional identification features such as facial recognition. This has immense potential impact, particularly in an informal market.”

He said the regulatory challenges have been immense, but Standard Bank has worked with regulators to take them along with it “on our journey”.

Ultimately, however, “we are a bank and we have to comply” with the relevant regulations,” he said.

The service will be launched in a range of other countries in the coming months, including Zambia, Zimbabwe and Tanzania. Ghana, South Africa, Nigeria, Angola and Mozambique will follow.


Fees differ from country to country, depending on the “local environment and regulations” but there is no cost for account origination, keeping a store of value and moving money between users in the platform.

“The moment you exit the platform, for a cash-out or where you send money to someone abroad, then there is a fee. But it’s very competitive. We are trying to keep it really low-cost for everybody,” Fisher said.


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