San Francisco-based Branch International or Branch.co, which offers digital financial services to mobile phone users in Sub-Saharan Africa, through a free-to-download Android app, is a kind of “branchless bank for the next generation,” according to founder and CEO Matt Flannery.
Unlike traditional banks that would ask potential users for a credit history before issuing a credit card, the new app works by asking users permission to access and analyze data stored in their phones, such as how much they spend each month on a mobile plan, or who they call most often. From this data, Branch.co learns and predicts who is likely to be a good borrower, and can give users a credit line from $2.50 to $500 in about 10 seconds, which they repay within a few days of a few weeks.
Branch.co employs a team of six data scientists and engineers in San Francisco, with a larger team of 30 employees in Nairobi, Kenya. Its app is gaining popularity with people who are sole proprietors and entrepreneurs, especially farmers, drivers and merchants.
“Our service is already reaching the middle class in Kenya,” Flannery said, “But I’m building this with the intention that it will serve everyone much the way that Twitter started out as a thing that people used at South by Southwest, but ended up playing a big role in the Arab Spring.”
In contrast to much of the developed world where use of smartphones for making bank payment has still to catch on, the majority of people who have mobile phones in Sub-Saharan Africa make payments with them as a going concern, especially via remittance platforms like M-Pesa.
In addition, smartphone uptake is on a meteoric rise in the region. Industry analysts estimate that sub-Saharan Africa will add more than 400 million new smartphone connections by 2020, bringing the installed base to more than half a billion at that point.