Black Excellence: Benjamin Fernandes Remitting Back To Africa With An Offline Mobile App To Make Money Transfers Easier

by Duke Magazine

Often than not, one of the greatest challenges that Africans in the diaspora face is the inability to remit to their relatives through safe and cheaper means. Despite the existence of many banking solutions, Africans in the diaspora continue to face multiple challenges sending money home, particularly, irregular migrants.

However, a Tanzanian entrepreneur created a hassle-free, offline mobile money payment platform to enable sending money to Africa at cheaper cost.

 Benjamin Fernandes co-founded Nala following the frustrations of some Africans in the diaspora with mobile money payment services.

The app, which is live in Tanzania and other African countries including Uganda, has over 250,000 users. The app makes it easier for users to send money to anyone on any device. All one has to do is download the app to start transacting. 

In Tanzania, Uganda and other East African countries, internet penetration is low. Nala’s offline solution mode allows users to send money without data or internet services and at no extra cost.

Prior to starting Nala, Fernandes was a television host of youth talk shows and sports shows in Tanzania. He migrated to the U.S. for his first degree at the evangelical Christian University of Northwestern in St. Paul. At the university, the former TV host took interest in economics. He received a full scholarship to school at Stanford through the school’s Africa MBA Fellowship in 2014 and moved back to America.

“I took the two years at Stanford to learn everything I can about fintech,” Fernandes recalled. “In the summer I started working at the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and that’s where I met Sam Castle. He was a PhD student at Washington doing research in mobile payments in MENA and Sub-Saharan Africa.

After Fernandes’ studies, he returned home and started working on Nala while convincing Castle to come on board. Fernandes was a previous winner of the Seedstars Tanzania and the Ecobank Fintech Challenge.

Nala announced in January that it was planning to roll out its beta app targeting UK customers sending back remittances to Uganda and Kenya this year. 

Fernandes said Nala does not only make it easy for people to transact, but also provides users with insight into their accounts. “The offline application allows us to build trust, which is the backbone for any company in the financial services industry,” he said. “As we build that trust, we can enable and leverage other services to layer on top of what we’re already doing.”

With his goal to have a business operation in at least 30 countries,  the app has been launched in Tanzania and expanded to Uganda with a massive subscription. “I wish I could build 15 different fintech companies in Africa because there’s so much that needs to be done,” he said. “Most people think it’s easy, but it’s not. If it were easy, everyone would do it.”

Fernandes attributes the success of his business to building trust. “That means we always have to let users know what we’re doing and what security measures we’re taking with our application,” he said.

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