The Making Of The First “Truly African” Digital Lending Platform On Apple’s iOS App Store

By  |  February 18, 2020

On Tuesday, February 4, Carbon, one of the leading digital financial services company in Nigeria, unveiled an iOS app, making it the first digital lender in Africa to be able to initiate and complete an entire loan cycle via an iOS app.

In a history littered with many firsts, Carbon (formerly Paylater) pioneered instant lending in Nigeria and was the first mobile app that provided access to credit digitally and without requesting individuals to present the documents and collateral traditionally associated with accessing loans. 

And the new iOS app was yet another feather in the startup’s hat, as that development saw it become the first “truly African” digital platform to enable iOS users to access instant loans in minutes.

So, How Come No One Else Tried To Do This All This While?

Short Answer: iOS users in Africa are too few to make most digital lending platforms care.

In other words, most African digital lending platforms would rather not build apps for iOS because of the relatively small market size, Apple’s unshakeable stance on user data privacy, and the fact it’s hard to think of anyone in possession of such high-end devices as underbanked or unbanked.

Furthermore, Google is king in these parts. Apple is just the spoilt younger sibling who gets all the doting. As a matter of fact, Google’s Android is the leader in the mobile operating system market in Africa. 

As of December 2019, it accounted for almost 84 percent of the mobile Operating System (OS) market.

In Kenya, where there are up to 49 micro-lending platforms and where four out of the top ten free apps are fintech apps offering free loans — something that has seen digital loans become a sort of debt trap — Google/Android has over 84 percent market share

In Nigeria, where digital lending platforms are sort of metastasizing at the moment, its market share is nearly 80 percent. Looking at these numbers, anyone can do the math with regards to why no one had tried to build for Apple devices before now.

Until now, Carbon, just like many other micro-lending fintechs, had provided its services via only an Android app, which seems like the wise move given that most popular African lending platforms tend to build apps exclusively for Android due to the dominance of Google’s Android in these parts and in order to sell their products to a certain target demographic that some would describe as “best-suited”.

Why Carbon Has Chosen A Path No One Else Is Willing To Take

With the data highlighted above already suggesting that there isn’t much merit in building an iOS lending app targeted at Africans in Africa, it’s somewhat curious that Carbon spent most of the last six months of 2019 developing an iOS app in-house.

Obviously, it’s a move that aligns with the startup’s broader goal of enabling financial inclusion on all corners, given that well over half the continent’s population is still unbanked and, by extension, locked out from financial services that could better their lives. 

But the curious bit is tied to the idea of possibly selling micro-loans to the “few” people who possibly already have high-end devices in their hands and are probably more enabled than others.

However, the folks at Carbon see it differently. Speaking to WeeTracker, Chijioke Dozie, CEO and co-founder of Carbon, argued that iOS users cannot be neglected just because they make up a tiny fraction of the African smartphone market.

“It is true that iOS represents a relatively small proportion of the mobile market across Africa. However, the issues of financial inclusion that affect individuals on other ecosystems affect iOS users as well,” Chijioke reiterated. 

“iOS users also need access to instant loans, simple payment solutions and other services delivered via fintech apps, and it is important to ensure that the drive for greater financial inclusion includes them as well.”

The CEO also hinted at what could be described as incentives that also come with the new iOS app — offers which he claims are best-in-market.

“We are also planning to roll out our high-yield investment service on iOS very soon. With inflation in Nigeria at 12 percent and alternative investment options in the market going as low as 3-5 percent, our yields of up to 16.5 percent are comfortably above inflation and finally give investors with Apple devices a channel where they can really grow wealth.”

The Making Of Carbon’s iOS App

According to Chijioke who co-founded the startup with his brother, Ngozi Dozie, back in 2014, the new iOS app has been built with flexibility in mind, making it easier for customers in different markets to access the financial services they require.

In Nigeria, for example, users can perform transactions or get loans at all 3 KYC tiers (low, medium and high value) provided by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). This means more people (both banked and unbanked) at every level of the market can access Carbon’s market-leading services.

The CEO also revealed that the iOS app was built entirely in-house and the project took the better part of the second half of last year, though the startup’s strict adherence to global best practices meant that it had one less thing to worry about while building an app that would be suitable for the “quite-picky” iOS platform.

Chijioke said: “We’ve always operated at the highest possible standard so we didn’t have to make drastic changes to the app to make it iOS-suitable. What we did, however, is channel a lot of the learnings and user insights from the last four years on the Android app into the new iOS app.”

In terms of challenges faced during the process, the Carbon CEO remarked that they had to figure out how to incorporate learnings on user behaviour and preferences from the Android app to deliver the best possible user experience on the new app. 

“We also wanted to create an app that anyone (whether banked or unbanked) could transact with. This required an end-to-end implementation of the KYC policy,” he added.

Carbon, which expanded into Africa’s mobile money capital, Kenya, in December 2019 has made no secret of its aspirations of becoming a Pan-African digital bank. And this new addition appears to be another step on that journey. 

As the CEO put it, “Improved financial inclusion will help to improve lives and livelihoods across the continent, and we believe that this new app, as well as other innovations that we are working on, will contribute towards achieving this goal.”

Earlier today, the fintech startup added to its growing collection of firsts when it announced a USD 100 K fund for specifically “non-fintech” solutions in several African countries, effectively becoming an African startup investing in other African startups, and that’s in addition to its blossoming fintech business.

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