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Super apps are the future of mobile-first Africa

Super apps are a defining feature of the modern economy in China and Southeast Asia, disrupting the traditional finance industry and providing a template for vibrant mobile economies in the Global South. But what do African super apps look like? And what can the trajectory of super apps in Asia tell us about how super apps will evolve in a different, African context?

We spoke to Divine Muragijimana, Group Head of Global Marketing and Communication at African Fintech powerhouse Cellulant, to find out how super apps are meeting the needs of consumers on the continent.

What is a super app?

For the unfamiliar, super apps act as a single point of entry for multiple consumer functions. As we’ve mentioned, the model emerged in Asia, and allows a user to access a range of services — banking, ride-hailing, communication, hiring tradespeople — all from within the one app. While the options of additional services can differ, payments are the defining feature of the super app — the payment functionality is what ties the rest of the offerings together.

In Asia, Alipay, WeChat, and PayTM use ‘applets’ or mini-apps inside the main app to expand what is offered by the app and allowing third-parties to serve their customers. In the main app, the additional functions of the super app are provided by the super app company — which means super app developers can end up with a very diversified business.

Why do super apps emerge?

There are a few different factors that make super apps a good market fit. Firstly, geopolitical causes can be a large reason - in China, there’s no Google Play store, so consumers miss out on the offering of Google Play Services (and consequently features such Firebase etc), which allows a seamless UX for app developers in the West. For this reason, having one app perform multiple functions, or having applets inside the super app, allows this seamless experience — since data cannot be passed between apps easily and rich functions cannot easily be served to the user via push notifications or similar, you get around this by instead never leaving the app.

There’s also the issue that without the Play Store or an equivalent, users are less likely to install apps since app discovery is difficult — as is an easy installation from trusted sources. This means that there is a benefit to providing an ‘App Store’ like experience for users. In fact, it can often provide a superb user experience. In many restaurants or situations in Asia, you merely scan a QR code that immediately opens the correct function within the super app, allowing you to pay or interact with an almost native experience.

It is this payment functionality that is the defining feature of super apps. Without much banking penetration and without widespread use of credit cards, there are no legacy payment systems due to underbanking. Super apps provide a convenient alternative to cash payments. The adoption of super apps facilitates rapid economic development, allowing these economies to jump over a phase, from underbanked to mobile-first immediately. By providing a way for users to transact within the walled garden of the super app, via an app credit or currency, it enables commerce while also providing the platform for the wider region to commercialize.

Super apps in Africa

A factor that is particular to MENA and Africa is a device limitation. Often phones can only store a few apps, so users want those apps to have as many functions as possible. Combined with systemic underbanking, this makes Africa a prime location for emergent super apps.

Divine Muragijimana, Group Head of Global Marketing and Communication at Fintech firm Cellulant, has been at the top of Africa’s vibrant fintech industry for several years. Divine is passionate about Cellulant’s digital payments infrastructure, which is laying down the rails for economic growth across the continent — with teams across 18 countries in the region.

Divine Muragijimana

Group Head of Global Marketing and Communication, Cellulant

This is realized through their Tingg Digital Payments Platform, which offers an Omni Channel App that is marketed as ‘Africa’s first super app’.

Tingg is an all-in-one payment platform that makes it easier to do business across Africa.  The platform hosts more than 170 payment options, local and international merchants — and is connected to 220M consumers across 34 countries.

“Tingg is used by merchants and banks to collect, pay, or engage their customers- enabling them to  enjoy digital experiences and pay via an omni-channel service with multiple payment options across multiple countries.” Divine says.

“Available via mobile app, USSD, web, merchant shops, or an agent, consumers can access improved payment services on Tingg — from lending, paying bills, investing, getting paid, sending and receiving money or easily shopping online,” Divine says.

“Whether it’s at a shop in the city in the village or online, users can connect to Tingg for easy, quick, and safe payments and financial services.”

Meeting a need

Divine believes that the super app model is one that makes sense for the African context.

“The model makes economic sense for both the businesses and their consumers —  especially in a fast consumer growing and mobile-first market like Africa & Asia,” Divine explains. “It’s the ultimate tool in an app-fatigued, consumer-centric, and mobile money-driven digital economy that Africa is quickly becoming.”

Africa, with a population of 1.2 billion people, is one of the fastest-growing consumer markets in the world with consumer expenditure growing at a compound annual rate of 3.9 percent since 2010 — to reach $1.4 trillion in 2015. This figure is expected to reach $2.1 trillion by 2025 according to a report by the Brookings Institute.

“Statistics indicate that roughly 62 percent of sub-Saharan Africans are unbanked,” Divine says. “Even those of us who are able to open bank accounts often face challenges such as high transaction costs, fragmented markets and inconvenient payment options. If done well, super apps can remove the barriers to accessing financial services, preventing fragmentation by providing a place where payments can be accessed seamlessly. Super apps also promise a greatly improved user experience for African consumers.”

The future of apps in Africa

Research from Adjust found that emerging markets are seeing a huge surge in finance apps, with the COVID-19 situation expediting the switch towards a mobile future in countries like Brazil, Turkey and Ukraine. Divine believes this factor is also at play in Africa.

“Yes, I think [COVID is a factor here also]. Africa has been a cash-based society for way too long. COVID-19 with all its negativities has seen a sudden upsurge in the usage and adoption of non-touch payment modes lately,” Divine says. “It's only normal to keep toeing that line and upscaling to maximize the opportunities as we have seen happen in Turkey and Brazil.  Africa has the population, growing businesses, and the skill — all that is needed is the technology to provide a single platform that provides the rails for commerce to happen seamlessly and that is where we as Cellulant step in.”

The takeaways

In addition to the unique benefits they provide to consumers, super apps provide a number of advantages over traditional banking or legacy payments companies for marketers. While traditional banks can sometimes have data silos, super apps race ahead with unparalleled insight into the customer’s journey to conversion and the ability to use data to tailor customer experiences. By avoiding silos, super apps have a unique ability to target customers and ensure conversion. It’s difficult for legacy banks to have this level of precision in their targeting. However, by investing in measurement and ensuring data is at the heart of all decision-making, super apps can ensure they are making the best possible decisions — and giving less opportunity for super apps to overtake them.

In terms of those who are interested in investing in Africa specifically, Divine has the following advice: “The good news is that there are tremendous opportunities for anyone looking to provide their services to consumers in Africa. The “African consumer” is looking for a better, faster, and easier way to live their life. However, to really do well in Africa — and scale across the continent — the best way to do so is by partnering with companies that already have the expertise and the know-how around things like payments — because these are as diverse as the continent itself.”

To find out more about finance app trends worldwide, make sure to read our Mobile Finance Report 2020.

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