Simplifying Remittance Payments with a Mobile Application Developed at 42
A former refugee from Ethiopia, an urban planner from Manhattan, and a former computational math major from the Bronx are all part of a team of students at 42 who created Kafali Pay. Kafali Pay is a mobile application that helps people compare money transfer options. This makes it possible for people to send money to relatives who might not have access to a bank account. Basically, Kafali Pay is the “kayak” of remittance payments. You can compare money transfer options so friends and family sending cash can make the best decision.
As explained by team member Lexi Quint, “Remittance income is vital for many people living in developing nations. The money received from their family working abroad helps pay for daily needs.” Kafali Pay wants to give their users a way to easily compare their money transfer options. Especially since a lot of these developing markets rely on payment kiosks in lieu of a formal banking system. Companies that most people in the U.S. may be more familiar with, such as Western Union, Ria, and MoneyGram, are usually only found in the biggest cities. Before Kafali Pay, there was no way to access the best provider of these services from your mobile device. Thus, having a central place to do that is literally life-changing. There are a huge number of providers that charge a lot of money because they know that people aren’t aware of their competitors or other rates.
Creating Impact: The Inspiration Behind Kafali Pay
Obsaa Abdalhalim, founder of Kafali Pay, is from Ethiopia where remittance payments make up 5% of the country’s GDP and where around 65% of the population do not have a bank account. Obsaa shared how his motivation behind this project came from personally dealing with the problems and issues arising from receiving money from the developing world while his family were refugees in Kenya, “When I was 5 years old my family had to seek asylum to Nairobi, Kenya. When we were in Kenya we were waiting for our papers and didn’t have a source of income. Our relatives in Canada and in the U.S. sent us money and petitioned for us to come to the U.S. Without those remittance payments from our relatives, we wouldn’t be alive. Being able to get money helped us to survive during that time of limbo.”
According to Obsaa, these transfers usually take place through a physical location at a kiosk. For people in East Africa, the primary mode of business is through a kiosk at a grocery store. There are agents of different payment providers. The smaller kiosks, if you put them all together, have a wider reach. MoneyGram or Western Union are usually only available in a larger city.
The Migration Policy Institute prepared an analysis in 2014 that revealed that the U.S. is the top source of remittances to Ethiopia and that in 2012 Ethiopians living in the U.S. transferred $181 million to people still living in Ethiopia. The total worldwide value of remittances to Ethiopia alone was valued at $815 million through the formal system, with some estimates being as high as 3.5 billion in a 600 billion dollar global market. The goal of Kafali Pay is to make the remittance payment process more user-friendly, more transparent, more affordable, and more accessible.
What is the purpose of your project?
Obsaa: We are building a platform to give a 21st-century banking experience to people who don’t have a bank account. This is for the unbanking population of the world. We are building a mobile application for iOS and Android that has that full native experience. I hope to one day live in a world where it costs nothing to send money. I want to bring money in the fastest way possible to the people that need it most.
Lexi: It’s about helping families send money to each other with lower fees and in a more convenient way.
How does Kafali Pay work?
Obsaa: We are the aggregator of the service providers (agents) for now. But if we wanted to actually be involved with processing the payments we would need to become a money transfer agent (which we are not). Our mobile app is connecting people to transfer agents, but we aren’t the actual transfer agents. I know the market in East Africa, which is why we will be starting our services to countries there.
Lexi: We are an application layer on top of the existing money transfer services. We are launching initially in the U.S. and you can select the service provider you want to use to transfer money. Currently, the way people transfer money involves going to a physical kiosk location to send the money. We will allow you to view all your options at once, select the best method and be fully engaged in the entire transfer process. We will also be reducing the kiosk fees by being a mobile app. Our initial launch will be for U.S. families to send money to East Africa. But we hope to expand that so all countries will be involved.
We built our app using React Native, which lets us build the app for the iOS and Android marketplace, without having to build two sets of apps. In addition, we used Node.js for our backend. We worked with a 3rd-party banking API, Dwolla, to securely access and transfer funds. Our next phase is to integrate with the money transfer companies.
Brandon: We are making it easier for both parties to be aware of where they are at in the money transfer process, which they don’t easily have access to now…at this time most people need to make a phone call to their transfer agents.
Describe the work you did on the project:
Obsaa: I did front end for the most part for the mobile app and our website, and I had the idea for the project and wanted to do it for a long time. 42’s project incubator gave me an opportunity to pursue it.
Lexi: I did front end working mainly in React Native. I also contributed a lot to the UI design and information architecture design. I took on a kind of product manager role and tried to help us organize our sprint timelines.
Brandon: Starting with the front end I set up the React Native app and did research on which packages for us to use. Redux took a while for us to learn but it made state management easy afterward. Config was also great allowing for different environments. On the backend, we explored many options but settled on Node.js. Using the Express framework Feathersjs it made developing our restful API very easy! Integrating Dwolla’s API was also pretty simple after learning the basics of feathers. Once features were working I also made sure our front-end was talking properly to our backend and also made sure that my team knew what was being received by using Flow.
What was the most difficult part?
Obsaa: The most difficult part hasn’t started yet, but it will be the business side. We need to see how much revenue we will be getting to look into additional costs.
Lexi: We are all beginner/new programmers, learning new technologies, understanding architecture: how you structure your applications, what technology you want to use, how you want users to interact with the app.
Brandon: In the beginning it was basically the same thing, learning a new language, learning how that works, learning a whole bunch of things, languages and frameworks.
What did you enjoy most about your project?
Obsaa: We are all trying to solve a problem for people who have problems with paying exorbitant fees, so we enjoy bringing this specific service to people. According to the UN Refugee Agency, there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people worldwide. By making remittance payment options more accessible we are hoping this will drive down the cost to help the most vulnerable populations who depend on receiving money from relatives.
Lexi: Seeing our team grow, learning the many things we didn’t know, and rapidly seeing our ideas getting better and better as we got deeper. There is still so much more work to do.
Brandon: What is most exciting about our project is that we are all working on the same things, and have to use our problem-solving skills to figure out why things aren’t working.
What did you learn from this project?
Obsaa: React Native. The reason we became good app developers is because we have a strong use case for a market we are trying to meet; we are not building just a to-do list. You need to think about these small micro-decisions to make the user experience easier. You have to care about your end user to build a great product.
Lexi: How to make a mobile app, and how to build a product for real people, and we are still learning. We are building for people with a unique need.
Brandon: I learned a lot, I learned React Native, Node.js and Express. Working on a team is important, you have to learn to work with people, getting everyone on the same page. With the standup meetings, we had to vocalize what we did the previous day which was important.
What future do you see for Kafali Pay?
Obsaa: The app was developed as a convenience for people in the US sending money to East Africa. Instead of going to a store they can send it in an app and have that constant communication. Our end goal for the mobile application is to add a mobile wallet feature someday. It will hold your balance until you need it and provide some of the normal banking services like microcredits.
Lexi: We are bringing on providers right now. We are bootstrapping the project right now while looking for funding. Also if you are a money transfer service provider let us know! This is a company built by an Ethiopian, my partner Obsaa, for the Ethiopian community. He understands the challenges because he has experienced them on both sides. Working on a product that will make money transfer easier, more convenient, and long- term will make it cheaper, is part of our mission to have a positive impact on those who use money transfer services.
Meet the Team Behind Kafali Pay
Name: Obsaa Abdalhalim, Founder / Front-end Mobile Developer
Hometown: Gelemso, Ethiopia. I moved to Columbus, Ohio when I was 7 years old.
Interests: Biking, I learned to like hiking here in the Bay Area, reading, history, meeting new people, and coffee.
Dream job or long-term career goals: I want to build products that people like and want to use.
Name: Brandon Montoya, Full-stack / Mobile Engineer
Hometown: Bronx, New York
Interests: Playing video games, I used to be into dancing (Argentine tango, a lot of ballroom and I also did contra and fusion).
Dream job or long-term career goals: I’ve always wanted to do something where I can help people in some way, I have done a lot of volunteering in the past.
Name: Lexi Quint, Mobile Developer / Urban Planner
Hometown: Manhattan, New York
Interests: Urban planning, civic issues, art, museums, and disco music ( I have a collection of disco records). I started rock climbing when I moved here.
Dream job or long-term career goals: I got into coding through the civic tech world. Some cities are now even hiring CTOs. This role involves working and dealing with tech industries, and how cities and governments interact with tech.
published by Stacey Faucett – July 10, 2018