Empowering Women Through Finance: The MoneyMart Journey with Dr. Ethel Mupambwa

Interview with Dr. Ethel Mupambwa, Founder and Group CEO of MoneyMart Finance

Could you provide some background information on MoneyMart Finance?

My name is Ethel Mupambwa, and I am the Founder and Group CEO of MoneyMart Finance, a microfinance institution that began its journey in 2013. We officially commenced operations in 2014 after obtaining our inaugural license from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe. Since then, MoneyMart Finance has rapidly evolved into one of Zimbabwe’s premier digital microfinance institutions, boasting a network of 35 branches presently, with plans to expand to 48 branches by the close of 2024. We pride ourselves on being financial agitators, serving as custodians of the bottom of the pyramid within the informal sector of Zimbabwe.

Our decision to focus on the informal sector stems from the compelling statistics revealing that approximately 60% of Zimbabwe’s GDP is derived from this sector. Within this sphere, micro, small, and medium enterprises (MSMEs) reign supreme, with women constituting a staggering 60% of MSME participants. Hence, our dedication to championing women’s empowerment is a cornerstone of our mission.

As an institution, we are deeply committed to advancing the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), particularly SDGs 1, 3, 5, and 7. Our approach to SDG 1, combating poverty, revolves around extending opportunities to the bottom of the pyramid, acknowledging the vital role played by micro-entrepreneurs, often supported by small-scale businesses, in driving economic growth. We recognize the sacrifices made by our mothers, whose entrepreneurial endeavors enabled our education and subsequent success. Thus, we tailor our services to address their unique challenges with flexibility and empathy, understanding that there is no one-size-fits-all solution.

Central to our mission is promoting financial literacy. However, we understand that effective engagement requires a strategic approach. Rather than imposing financial education, we initiate conversations around topics of interest, such as access to non-collateralized credit. By advocating for alternative credit assessment methods that focus on assessing individuals based on their business potential rather than traditional collateral requirements, we aim to level the playing field for women who often lack access to conventional forms of collateral, which are frequently held in male relatives’ names.

Our commitment to women’s empowerment is deeply personal, rooted in experiences like my own upbringing in remote area of Nembudziya Gokwe, where patriarchal norms perpetuated economic disparities. By investing in the financial education of women and girls, we seek to break these cycles of poverty and marginalization, fostering economic resilience within communities.

In conclusion, our dedication to financial education is integral to fostering stability and resilience within our economy, particularly for the bottom of the pyramid. By equipping individuals with the tools and knowledge to navigate financial challenges, we aim to create a more inclusive and prosperous society. Our vision extends beyond Zimbabwe; we aspire to lead the charge in promoting financial inclusion throughout Africa, recognizing that true progress begins at home.

Does your focus primarily revolve around women with your products and services, or do you cater to men as well? Could you elaborate on the range of products and services MoneyMart Finance offers?

At MoneyMart Finance, approximately 70% of our clientele are women. However, this does not mean we exclude men from our services. As long as they operate small businesses and require assistance, we extend our support to them. Our approach is agile, understanding that a one-size-fits-all solution rarely suffices. Hence, we take the time to comprehend the unique story behind each business and tailor specific products accordingly.

Regarding our product offerings, while credit remains a primary focus, we have expanded our portfolio to include initiatives such as solar loans, aligning with SDG number seven. Recognizing that our target market often grapples with issues like power outages and resides in off-grid areas, we aim to make solar energy solutions accessible and affordable. We break down the costs to ensure affordability for our clients.

Additionally, we provide micro-insurance, particularly funeral cash plans. Understanding the financial constraints faced by our clients, who often survive on minimal daily incomes, we devised a funeral cash plan that offers a lump sum payout at an affordable premium, ensuring they can give their loved ones a dignified farewell.

Moreover, we recognize the technological needs of productive SMEs, such as manufacturers, who often lack access to essential equipment due to financial constraints. We offer financing solutions, leveraging the equipment itself as collateral, thereby empowering businesses to thrive.

Understanding the cash flow challenges of our clients, particularly those in businesses like roadside fruit vending, we offer flexible repayment options tailored to their income cycles. Whether it is daily, weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly payments, we strive to ensure affordability and ease of repayment.

As an institution, we approach these challenges with a unique perspective, aiming to improve the lives of individuals surviving on minimal incomes. We bring banking services directly to our clients, meeting them at their businesses or market stalls, understanding their needs firsthand, and communicating in a language they understand. We simplify financial concepts, breaking them down into relatable terms, and prioritize serving our clients in their comfort zones.

In essence, our mission is to bridge the gap between traditional banking services and the everyday realities of small-scale entrepreneurs. We believe in empowering individuals to achieve financial stability and success on their terms.

With numerous microfinance institutions offering similar products, what distinguishes MoneyMart Finance from the competition?

What sets MoneyMart Finance apart in Zimbabwe, positioning us as one of the fastest-growing institutions, is our innovative digital approach. We have transitioned from being solely a microfinance entity to embracing a FinTech model. This transformation has revolutionized how we interact with our clientele. Recognizing the prevalence of platforms like WhatsApp among our target market, we have streamlined our application process, allowing clients to apply and receive approvals within minutes, all through WhatsApp chats.

You might wonder how individuals with feature phones access WhatsApp. Well, we have anticipated this challenge and provided smartphones on credit, specifically enhanced for communication purposes. If repayment is delayed, we have the capability to remotely deactivate the phones, prompting clients to fulfill their payment obligations. By empowering them with smartphones, we are not just providing a means of communication but also opening doors to digital marketing opportunities on platforms like Facebook, Twitter, and TikTok.

Furthermore, for those who prefer traditional feature phones, we have implemented a USSD code (*791#) for seamless communication. With over 35 branches across Zimbabwe, we are strategically positioned to respond promptly to client inquiries, understanding that adaptability to change may pose a challenge for some.

Recognizing that many of our clients lack formal identification documents, we have implemented biometric identification systems. Clients can now use their fingerprints for verification, eliminating the need for traditional identification documents. Our focus is on serving clients efficiently, irrespective of their documentation status.

Additionally, we have innovated in the realm of credit assessment, considering alternative indicators such as remittances from relatives abroad. This broader perspective allows us to better understand our clients’ financial situations and tailor solutions accordingly.

In essence, our approach is centered on meeting clients where they are, utilizing technology to bridge gaps and provide accessible financial services. We are committed to continuous innovation, ensuring that our services remain relevant and beneficial to our clients’ needs.

What are some of the challenges you are facing, and what future opportunities do you foresee for growth with your clientele?

Our primary challenge lies in securing patient funding or patient capital for our business. We require capital that not only understands our market but also allows us the flexibility to experiment and innovate. However, accessing funding, particularly from international markets, has been hindered by Zimbabwe’s economic challenges, including sanctions. While local funding is available, it often comes at a higher cost, impacting our service pricing for the target market.

We are actively seeking investors who grasp the Zimbabwean market’s potential and are willing to support our mission. Despite prevailing narratives about Zimbabwe, we are making a significant positive impact and inviting impact investors to join us in driving sustainable development goals, ensuring inclusivity even in emerging markets like ours.

Another hurdle we face is acquiring affordable, suitable systems for our digital transformation. While we recognize the importance of technologies like artificial intelligence, finding local developers who understand our market and can provide tailored solutions has proven challenging. We are currently seeking partnerships to integrate AI into our operations, with a focus on reducing costs for our clients, particularly those at the bottom of the pyramid.

Despite these challenges, we see immense opportunities for growth. Serving as gatekeepers for the bottom of the pyramid, we start with micro-enterprises, offering small loans as low as $100. Through our empowerment initiatives, we have witnessed remarkable progress, with clients advancing from small loans to larger sums, even purchasing assets like cars.

For example, we assist women in horticulture who face high transportation costs. By facilitating collective transport arrangements, we enable them to reduce expenses and increase profitability. These opportunities extend beyond individual businesses; they contribute to formalizing and scaling up the informal sector in Zimbabwe.

We believe in the transformative power of small and medium enterprises, as evident in developed economies. Our vision extends beyond Zimbabwe; we envision similar growth and development across Sub-Saharan Africa and the continent as a whole. Through strategic partnerships and innovative solutions, we aim to realize these opportunities and drive positive change in our society.

So, is financial literacy a part of your corporate social responsibility (CSR)? Do you have specific programs dedicated to empowering women with financial literacy, or is it integrated into your business model?

Financial literacy is indeed a core aspect of our CSR efforts at MoneyMart Finance. We recognize that to succeed in our business model, we must first establish the necessary infrastructure, which includes providing financial education free of charge. Many individuals, especially women, may not currently have the resources or time to invest in financial education. By offering it for free, we aim to empower them with essential financial knowledge.

A financially literate person is better equipped to manage their finances, plan effectively, and understand the importance of debt management. However, providing financial literacy does not come without costs. We incur expenses in training professionals to conduct these sessions, including implementing “Train the Trainer” programs. It is a significant budget item for us.

This is why we are reaching out to impact investors who can support us in enhancing our technical and tactical skills as an institution. Whether it is through training our staff to better serve our clients or directly funding our financial literacy initiatives, their contributions play a crucial role in ensuring the success of our business model.

Can you share any recent developments or projects currently underway at MoneyMart Finance? Anything new you are working on at the moment?

One of the latest initiatives we are focusing on involves integrating artificial intelligence into our operations. We are exploring innovative ways to utilize AI to better understand and serve the unique market we operate in, making our services more efficient and accessible.

Additionally, we are excited to announce the upcoming launch of our own digital wallet. This wallet will serve as a comprehensive tool for individuals and small businesses, particularly those in the bottom of the pyramid segment. Users will be able to track their financial activities, receive remittances, manage expenses, and even save money. By consolidating financial data in one place, we aim to gain a deeper understanding of our clients’ financial statuses.

You might wonder why we are introducing a new wallet when similar services already exist in Zimbabwe. The key issue we are addressing is data fragmentation. Currently, transferring financial data between different institutions can be cumbersome and time-consuming. Our goal is to break down these data silos and create a unified ecosystem where individuals can seamlessly access financial services. This will ultimately enhance the user experience and allow us to better serve as the gatekeepers of the bottom of the pyramid.

Could you provide more details about the wallet and how individuals can access it?

Our wallet can be accessed through a dedicated mobile application, a USSD code, or even through WhatsApp. It functions similarly to other mobile wallets, but with a key difference: the data collected through the wallet is utilized by MoneyMart Finance to enhance our services. This data enables us to conduct alternative credit assessments, allowing us to serve clients who may not have access to traditional financial services due to lack of information.

Looking ahead, what do you envision for MoneyMart Finance in the next five years, considering all the current changes and developments?

The future of MoneyMart Finance lies in the launch of the Bank of the Bottom of the Pyramid, marking it as the institution to watch. We understand that traditional banking may not be necessary for everyone, but banking services are essential. Our goal is to provide these services in the simplest, friendliest, and most affordable manner possible to the bottom of the pyramid in Africa, not just limited to Zimbabwe. We aim to expand our reach across the continent, addressing the pain points of underserved communities and ensuring that banking services are readily available at their fingertips. This includes rural areas where accessing a bank often requires long journeys. Our mission is to eliminate these exclusions and be recognized as the Bank of the Bottom of the Pyramid, serving as their dedicated gatekeepers.

Could you elaborate on your personal journey and the driving force behind your dedication to women’s empowerment?

My passion is deeply rooted in my personal experiences. I hail from the rural streets of Nembudziya Gokwe in Zimbabwe, where I witnessed firsthand the disparities in wealth distribution between genders. Despite my mother’s hard work, financial decisions were solely controlled by my father and male siblings. This disparity fueled my desire to empower women in my community. I recognized that financial independence could significantly impact women’s lives and contribute to healthier societies. After studying finance at the National University of Science & Technology in Bulawayo, I felt compelled to return to my roots and address these issues.

Statistics show that a significant percentage of African women lack collateral, making financial inclusion a challenge. Women are inherently trustworthy and often prioritize their families’ well-being. Harnessing this innate quality, I embarked on my journey, founding my first microfinance venture, which, unfortunately, did not thrive. However, armed with valuable lessons from this setback, I launched MoneyMart Finance. Today, it stands as a testament to resilience and success, employing over 160 individuals, our hiring practices reflect our commitment to empowerment. We prioritize individuals from our client base, recognizing the transformative impact of supporting those raised by entrepreneurial women. By investing in human resource growth, we aim to foster a culture of empowerment and support within our organization and beyond.

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