The startup Naa Sika Micro Bank and its lead Ralph Menz are on a journey of creating innovative and trendy ways to manage money effectively. We had the honour to accompany them on their way. What moved Ralph Menz to start a micro bank? A story about an upcoming FinTech startup, the will to make things better and an innovation ecosystem that made a new start possible.
The FinTech startup Naa Sika is growing. Today, the micro bank has eight employees in Ghana. Soon, there might be more. With the support of the World Bank, they are working on replicating and implementing their FinTech solution in four other African countries. A perfect example for upscaling. How did Ralph Menz and his team succeed?
A farsighted mother and early ambition
Everyone handles their money differently. Each person is subject to circumstances and brings different prerequisites with them. But often, the upbringing one has enjoyed plays a big role. That is how it was for Ralph Menz. His mother showed him how to handle money independently and opened a savings account for him when he was 13. The perfect incentive for him to earn his own money to put it onto his account.
Until now, this experience continues to shape him. With the savings in his first bank account, he started his first business and ventured on into the FinTech sector.
The challenge: informal banking systems
But not all Africans can rely on their savings. 80% of the African population depends on traditional informal banking systems: Members of a group make a standard contribution to a common fund once per some time period. Every group will have their own way of using or distributing the funds but in most cases the lumpsum is disbursed to members in a rotational manner – such that each member is eventually a recipient. But these systems have their challenges. They are unregulated in most countries, hence the risk of people losing their money continues to exist since the unbanked (who are disproportionately poor and female) continue to be marginalized by the established financial institutions.
Naa Sika takes up the challenge
Ralph Menz wanted to create innovative and trendy ways to manage money effectively. No sooner said than done. His solution: a digital platform that considers people’s unique ways of earning and spending money and a simplified system to help them manage it. In other words, a micro bank, that provides the same but stripped-down simplified products which are also offered by the commercial banks: savings, payments, investment, microinsurance, pensions, and access to credit.
A first crash and an uplifting innovation ecosystem
Now, the business is flourishing. But that was not always the case. When Ralph Menz started Naa Sika, he thought he could do it just like running any business until he crashed. He then availed himself of innovation hubs and accelerator programmes, which helped him realize that as a tech company, he needed to do things differently.
We support him on his way: Naa Sika participated in our Smart Cities Innovation Programme (SCIP). SCIP is a close collaboration with the Rwandan Ministry for ICT and Innovation, Invest for Jobs and the Digital Transformation Center Kigali (both GIZ projects) as well as several private sector partners such as Volkswagen, Siemens, German Sparkassenstiftung, and Amazon Web Services. The 6-month accelerator fosters the growth of 31 promising startups with a focus on social and environmental impact from 13 African countries. Together, we aim to support local innovations within communities and promote African innovation for smart cities.
The opportunity to get into the East African market and collaborating with other SCIP members was just what Ralph Menz needed for his business to grow. Especially, meeting other participants in person at the SCIP Bootcamp in Kigali (Rwanda) in November 2021 created new collaborations. He told us: “Plans are already in motion.” And we are just as excited as he is about where the journey leads Naa Sika next.
The story of Naa Sika shows: Starting a digital business requires a vision and a unique idea – and an environment that promotes innovation. If this is given, innovative ideas can create a lot of impact – locally and scaled.