How Rwandan fintech startup Exuus is taking savings groups digital

Rwandan fintech startup Exuus is taking traditional savings groups online in a bid to smooth processes and help low income communities become more financially resilient.

Formed in 2016, Exuus has built SAVE, a digital platform that financially empowers saving groups – known as Village Savings and Loan Associations (VSLAs) – sustainably via a collective and decentralised ledger.

Founder Steve Shema said access to finance constituted the cornerstone for economic growth and poverty reduction.

“The lack of financial access for poor and vulnerable population limits their access to a range of services and opportunities and, therefore, exacerbates their vulnerability to, in turn, end up in cycles of poverty,” he told Disrupt Africa.

“To break this cycle, for decades now, low income people both in urban and rural areas create saving groups. The savings circulates among members through different ways and return to members in credit or savings with interest giving them access to affordable capital to grow their small businesses and become financially resilient.”

Exuus, which was one of the 10 startups selected to pitch at the Africa Startup Summit in Kigali back in February, developed SAVE to make this process smoother and more efficient. Members of savings groups signed up to the service are able to make cashless transactions via USSD, debiting and crediting the group’s digital wallet from their individual wallets seamlessly.

It also allows village agents to go paperless, using the SAVE Collector platform to create saving groups, set them up and add members on the go. On another level, NGOs and other practitioners are able to create a project, assign agents to specific areas of intervention, and receive real-time data from all their agents. SAVE, then, assists with all levels of management of these vital savings groups.

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Exuss, which raised US$75,000 in pre-seed funding last year and is currently raising a US$500,000 seed round, carried out a pilot with two international NGOs – World Vision Rwanda and Care International Rwanda – last year, during which it worked with 27 VSLAs with more than 800 members combined.

“The feedback from these VSLAs was positive, and we have some that have managed to save more than US$2,000 using our platform,” Shema said.

Based on that success, the startup is now scaling up, and has the ambitious target of hitting one million users by December 2019. Shema believes there is strong demand for products like SAVE.

“In rural Africa, banks are considered to be for the rich only – they look at rural Africa as both a risky and non-lucrative customer segment. We wanted to create a beneficial relationship between the marginalised and the broader financial market by achieving a broad financial inclusion approach from the bottom up, availing a convenient and cost-effective distribution channel across the value chain, and providing an alternative decentralised credit scoring model for both underserved and unserved,” he said.

At present, Exuus is only doing this in Rwanda, but Shema does hope to establish a presence in other East African countries in the next five years. The startup charges VSLAs subscriptions across a variety of different plans, paid for monthly per user, with Shema saying this year will be the year it becomes cash-flow positive.

“We’re tapping into a market of US$64 million in Rwanda and more than US$2 billion in annualised savings in East Africa,” he said.

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