Special Reports

Going boldly where other banks have feared to tread

Johann Barnard

With their focus on returns and profitability, conventional financial institutions often exclude millions of people who need their services.

Wizzit has brought banking services to the poor and has also trained 8 500 agents previously unemployed

Runner-up: Business Award

Wizzit

Johann Barnard

This led to the creation of Wizzit, a globally recognised pioneer in driving financial inclusion through its mobile banking platform.

"My personal belief is that it's just not right — morally, ethically and any other way — that so many people are excluded simply by virtue of the fact that they are poor," says Brian Richardson, chief executive and co-founder of Wizzit. "Investment in social good is about patient capital with a social imperative and the belief that if you do enough of the right things for long enough, profitability and sustainability will emerge."

Building on this philosophy, the company has grown rapidly since it was established in 2005, providing basic banking services to hundreds of thousands of people previously excluded from the system in South Africa and more than four million in Africa.

In addition to traditional banking services it has also supported many small businesses through its loan business, thereby creating jobs. It has also trained 8 500 commission-earning agents who were previously unemployed.

The company has spread its wings beyond South Africa, with operations in Zambia, Tanzania, Namibia, Botswana, Rwanda and Romania. New operations are planned for Latin America and Central America, as well as other key African markets.

Wizzit has been featured at many high-level conferences and events around the world, including the Clinton Global Initiative and the Alliance for Financial Inclusion, for its innovative model of financial inclusion. It has also won awards such as the Netexplorateur award for innovation, was runner-up in the Financial Times and International Finance Corporation award for banking in emerging markets, runner-up in the Stockholm challenge for technology innovation and was listed as one of the top three most innovative banks in Africa by the African Journal of Banking.

Richardson believes that the company's success — and that of any social enterprise — is the result of passion and enthusiasm. "Without this, do not even start," he says. "Do not compromise your values and ethics and never forget the reason why you started. Everyone in the organisation has to buy into the vision and mission as well as the core values."

He says this attitude has enabled Wizzit to grow into a business that is admired in a highly competitive and regulated industry. It has ­demonstrated that it is possible to challenge traditional norms and "holy grails", thereby driving a wider adoption of mobile banking and mobile payments.

The Drivers of Change judges praised Wizzit for viewing low-income and unbanked communities not just as a target group to help through charitable projects, but as a valuable market for doing good business. "This is a great example of doing business for development, a positive example of inclusive business practices that are on the rise in the region," they said.

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