Well-known South African businessman and founder of Gunguluza Enterprises and Media Group (New GEM Group), Lebo Gunguluza, has launched the country's first 100% black-owned digital bank. The New GEM Group is a black-owned integrated media, technology, communications and hospitality group.
Azar, which was introduced yesterday as part of the fintech division of New GEM Group, is a neo-banking and global mobile payments platform that directly charges the user's mobile phone balance, wallet, or bank account.
Gunguluza says moving into the fintech space was a no-brainer for the company: "There are over 15 million smartphone users between the ages of 16 and 34 in South Africa alone, and that is our primary target market. We intend creating a borderless, paperless and branchless bank in Africa to serve Africa, where all services are carried out through a mobile device in real-time. Azar's ability to bank through iOS and any other Android smartphone will allow its users to open a bank account and start transacting immediately."
According to co-founder and fintech entrepreneur, Thabang Kekana, the platform will utilise an AzarNexus NFC (near field communication) enabled sticker or an Azar Halo Ring to transact. The ring and sticker will include customers' account information and is attached to the back of the mobile device, which will then allow and process smart payments.
"Azar has multifactor authentication security. Most importantly, only you possess your SIM in your phone and only you can authorise a transaction using your four-digit PIN or Azar biometric authentication. Even if someone takes your phone, you're the only one with the PIN or fingerprint.
"The platform will make retail banking highly accessible to the youth and the unbanked African countries by using technology, mobile and artificial intelligence that is targeted at the millennials," says Kekana.
Kekana adds the aim is to have the platform function locally and internationally.
For now, users can deposit money into their mobile accounts through EFT, direct deposit at any Barclays (Absa) ATM, peer-to-peer, e-top-ups and wallet top-ups at mobile wallet agents.
Gunguluza is not the first entrepreneur to dabble in the digital banking space. In September, Commonwealth Bank SA's TymeDigital announced it had been issued a banking operating licence by the SA Reserve Bank to operate a digital bank. TymeDigital is backed by South African billionaire Patrice Motsepe, though African Rainbow Capital.
Azar is expected to go live in the second quarter of 2018.