The primary Zambian startup to get into YC is creating Africa’s first card-issuing API – TechCrunch


Greater than 40 African startups from a handful of nations have gone by YC over the previous decade. Zambia joins that record at present, and its entrant, Union54, is a worthy first entry.

Union54 (54 is a nod to the variety of African nations) is a fintech firm based by Perseus Mlambo and Alessandra Martini. The startup claims to be Africa’s first card-issuing API and solely simply launched this yr. However to color the image, Union54 didn’t come out of skinny air; it’s a mission from the couple’s earlier startup Zazu.

Zazu was launched in 2015 as a challenger financial institution in Zambia. As with all fintech on the continent, Zazu needed to create its personal debit playing cards that customers may connect with a pockets. Most occasions, Zazu must wait months for associate banks within the nation to difficulty these playing cards. Mlambo tells me that at one level they needed to anticipate 18 months.

All this whereas the founders started to work with banks across the area to begin issuing playing cards themselves. However the banks have been torpid of their approaches. “We simply realized that both the processor or the financial institution was not essentially properly outfitted to have the ability to reply our questions or to have the ability to give us the product that we’re in search of,” Mlambo stated to TechCrunch in an interview.

The startup determined to go for the bullseye and meet with Mastercard. I imply, why anticipate banks when you’ll be able to bag those that difficulty these playing cards within the first place, proper? In the end, the corporate received a Mastercard Precept membership, the primary fintech from Africa, it claims.

As a principal member, Zazu grew to become licensed to behave as an “issuing financial institution.” In different phrases, they’ll present debit playing cards and as “acquirers,” which implies they’ll present transaction processing providers.

Alongside the best way, the founders realized that to actually advance African fintech, it was crucial to make it simpler for any African nation’s fintech to difficulty digital or bodily debit playing cards. So the group spun out Union54 from Zazu. The platform now has a number of APIs that make it easy for any fintech to difficulty programmable debit playing cards.

“We’ve now used our membership to have the ability to assist different firms, any African fintech who desires to difficulty their very own playing cards. They’ll simply come to us, plug into our APIs, and transfer shortly, without having to spend a very long time negotiating,” Mlambo stated about offering the service for different African fintechs.

The CEO provides that the corporate targets fintechs that don’t need to spend tons of of 1000’s of {dollars} in setup charges to get digital or bodily playing cards. Union54 claims to difficulty playing cards in weeks through an API that does BIN sponsorship, program administration and settlement, amongst different options.

Having the ability to do that offers Union54 bragging rights as Africa’s first card-issuing API. Fintechs have hardly ever checked out this chance; most are centered on different segments from fee gateways to wallets. It’s an fascinating level to notice as a result of in some way, all the large gamers in these segments find yourself making an attempt to create digital and bodily playing cards for his or her prospects and face problems doing so. That’s the void Union54 desires to fill, and though it’s at present in beta, the corporate boasts of a formidable unnamed clientele signed up on its wait record and at present utilizing the platform.

“The fascinating factor about these firms is that they aren’t B or C gamers. They’re within the prime 5% of African fintech. And for me, I at all times inform individuals, we’re now within the golden technology of African fintech. So it’s actually the right time for a card-issuing product to have the ability to work with all of these guys thought of leaders of their house. It means we actually do have one thing that individuals need to use day by day,” the CEO added.

On the corporate’s website, there are eight use instances for its API: ledger-based, acquirers/gateways, purchase now, pay later, credit score union, supply firms, digital banking, bank card administration and company playing cards.

Fintechs utilizing Union54 are additionally allowed to design the playing cards and set the foreign money wherein they need the playing cards to be charged, and set an intensive catalog of who will use them, what they may be used for, when they may be used and the way they may be used.

Union54 prices fintechs on a pay-as-you-go foundation for each API name. If a fintech firm desires to create a bodily card, they are charged a flat payment between $7-9 and an undisclosed flat payment when a transaction is made.

Mlambo says moving into the summer time batch of YC 2021 has allowed the corporate to enroll its first set of consumers, as most of them have come from YC’s community. He calls YC a program that has been “price it from day one.”

“I’m actually excited and proud that Union54 has turn out to be the primary Zambian fintech to get accepted into Y Combinator. And the second in Southern Africa. As you’ll know, when international buyers have a look at Africa, they usually accomplish that from a West African perspective and our moving into Y Combinator validates a small a part of our broader speculation: it’s doable to service Africa from pleasant jurisdictions corresponding to Zambia.”


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