South African savings or investment societies known as stokvels are a cultural norm in many local communities.
An app called Yethu, developed by team of young entrepreneurs from Cape Town, hopes to address fraud, corruption and other challenges faced by 11 million South Africans in the stokvel market.
"Stokvels have been created out of necessity because the majority of South Africans are excluded from the traditional banking system," says Yethu co-founder Sebastian Daniels. "Stokvels are completely based on trust and this creates loopholes for fraud and theft."
Daniels, who was also the 2016 president of the UCT Entrepreneurs Society, says Yethu aims to tackle inequities in the country and encourage saving. It gives stokvel members the security, transparency and accountability that have previously not existed as well as provide stokvel leaders with a management tool that allows them to be more accurate, reach a higher tier of interest and increase their trust.
The app was first introduced in mid-June 2015 as "Stokvella", but it was renamed "Yethu" in November last year because many people confused it for being an actual stokvel. "People wanted to join our 'Stokvella' instead of using our stokvel management system," says Daniels.
"We currently have roughly 400 users and are incubated by the Far Ventures Accelerator. We also supported by the LifeCo network which helps to ensure our impact is kept strong. Our goal for 2017 is to continue to build trust in South African communities and to get on board a few thousand users by the end of the year."
The next step for Yethu is to be able to hold funds and is adding a financial backend onto the system.
"We want to be able to hold the funds so that we can give stokvels the same returns that your Sandton businessman receives. We feel that if we can achieve these returns, we will start to see a much more equal South Africa. We hope to get our financial backend up and running in the next three months and hope to achieve at least 7% returns for our users," explains Daniels.
It took 18 months to get the app fully operational, following a long process of researching, building prototypes and testing, says Daniels.
"All the funds we used to build the business were through crowdfunding and winning competitions," he says. "Due to our limited budget, we have built everything we have today with one full-time developer and two part-time developers."
Yethu has won the Student Category of the Western Cape Premier's Entrepreneurial Recognition Awards (PERA), the SAB Seed Funding Competition and Get in the Ring South Africa.
Yethu is free to any smart or feature phone user in South Africa who wants to open or join a stokvel, or interact with stokvel leaders around the country.
It is available from the Google Play store.