Up&Ap: Patrick Kihara on moving people from cash to cashless lifestyles through Okapi

He spent over 20 years in the banking industry, in the process learning and getting thoroughly acquainted with the products and services that it had on offer for customers. He then left banking, but not the financial services industry, 2 years ago, and joined Okapi East Africa as its country manager in charge of Kenya operations. Here is the story of Patrick Kihara (pictured above) as he continues on his next career journey which involves making people move away from cash-based to cashless transactions, and by extension, lifestyles…  

QUESTION: Who is Patrick Kihara? Tell us briefly about yourself

Patrick Kihara: My name is Patrick Kihara, Country Manager, Okapi East Africa. I’m a Banker and Specialist in Card Payments and Cashless Solutions. I have worked with Barclays Bank of Kenya at its BarclayCard where I served in various Managerial Positions; then later at NIC Bank and Equatorial Bank where I served as Head of Card Business before joining Okapi East Africa.

Q: From your professional profile, you worked in NIC’s Card Risk department for almost 9 years. When did you decide to make the switch fintech and why did you make the transition?

PK: I have been working in the Banking Industry for the last 27 years, and most of it has been in the development and provision Cashless Solutions – I have spent most of my time getting people to move away from cash transactions and have always desired to work with Fintechs as I believe they have great solutions which will impact the industry much more. That is why when I left the Banking Industry in 2016 and had interractions with the CEO of Okapi Finance, I immediately fell for the Okapi products and my decision was made to switch to Fintech.

Q: How does Okapi Finance platform work or what does a new user need to know before they can use the platform for any transactions?

PK: Okapi Platform is a fintech money transfer Platform – it is a card to card payment platform; internet-based and not telco-based; not connected to any device or platform, meaning that it can connect to any system or platform available in the market today. Once you have registered as an Okapi customer, something which you can do online or at an Agent, you are ready to start transacting with it. The registration is absolutely free and you only need your ID and can take a selfie since your photo must be on the account for identification.

Q: As a follow-up to the above question, what are the unique features of the Okapi platform that makes it superior (or unique) to other existing payment systems?

PK: The Interoperability aspect as you can send money to another Okapi user; send from your wallet to a Visa card and vice versa; from one Visa card to another Visa card and also an Okapi agent can also fund the float of another agent and also fund their float from their bank accounts. The Okapi customer can also send funds to a person who is not on the Okapi platform as long as he has their phone number.

(Okapi Finance Country Manager, Patrick Kihara – left – showing Julius Ochieng how to use the Okapi Finance platform to transact. Julius was one of the seven beneficiaries who received Bodabodas from Okapi Finance in July this year. Looking on at the right is Edwin Otieno of Diptop Agencies in Kibera)

Okapi users can also pay their TV subscriptions, utilities, apply for loans, buy insurance, make insurance claims, repay their loans, pay or buy government services or even send and receive money from abroad. All of this in real time (with the average duration per transaction being 3 seconds). The Okapi end user (or client) gets various benefits including a real time report (statement of transactions), is able to send up to Kshs 20,000 per transaction 5 times a day for free. An Okapi customer is also able to pay salaries to their staff through the platform and make disbursements and save up to 80% of their administration costs. Another big advantage is that Okapi users, whenever they travel out of their home countries, can still do the same operations as if they were at home without extra charges. All they need is an internet connection on their device.

Q: Okapi Finance states that its mission is to “bank the unbanked by providing financial inclusion, increasing access to financial services and minimising transaction charges.” Are the three areas mentioned there – banking the unbanked, increasing access to financial services and minimising transaction costs – already being addressed by existing providers?

PK: While this is happening, 80% of the population of Africa and 50% worldwide, is still unbanked. Many people are still financially excluded and the key for us is working with various players in the Financial sector and collaborate with them in ensuring these goals are achieved. And that’s why Okapi focusses on Interoperability and through working with Banks, Insurance Companies, other service providers other than fintechs or payment companies to also reduce the cash transactions that have dominated the market. We also found that cost in the market is still very prohibitive for many, making access to many financial services beyond people at the bottom of the pyramid. These three areas are all interrelated, making one to have a consequence in the other. Because most services Okapi provides to the end users are totally free, this alone increase access to financial services and reduces the number of the unbanked.

Q: Okapi Finance has announced a number of projects where it has partnered with various groups to offer loans and asset financing. Do you work with any bank(s) to rollout such schemes? If so, which ones?

PK: Due to interoperability mentioned earlier, Okapi’s platform also works with Banks in these projects. Today, we have partnered in Kenya with GTBank and Ecobank. For instance, the Okapi Agents are approved by Central Bank of Kenya as Bank Agents. We also work with Partner Banks who also use the Okapi products as value adds to their clients. We intend to increase our partnership to many institutions as we believe that financial inclusion can only be achieved when different institutions work with each other. Besides that, Okapi also uses its own resources to provide loans and asset financing to these groups, thereby helping them improve their businesses and their members.

Q: Does the Okapi Finance platform currently allow for cross-platform transfers – say Okapi to MPESA or Airtel Money?

PK: We are currently finalizing with transfers from Okapi to Mpesa and vice versa. We shall release a statement on this as soon as we go live.

Q: How many agents do you currently have? Does Okapi have agents in most major urban centres of Kenya?

PK: We are rolling out our Agents and have close to 1,000 and when we roll out the Partnership as mentioned above, then our Clients will have access to over 100,000 Agents across the country.

Q: Apart from agents, what’s the total number of clients – both Individual and Corporate – are currently signed onto the Okapi platform as users? 

PK: We currently have over 100,000 customers and waiting to onboard close to 1 million others as we roll out various Projects with our Partners.

Q: Since you expanded your services to Kenya in late 2017, what major milestones – in terms of partnerships and user numbers – can you point out and highlight to us?

PK: We have partnered with various organizations and umbrella bodies such as MSEL, Tisuka Federation and DOREP but also APA insurance, Eclectics, MPESA and more are on the way. The number of partners are increasing daily as we also create value between our different partners. For example, if some of our partners need micro insurance products, we recommend them to our insurance service partners. As said financial inclusion can only be achieved by cooperation between different players, it is not all about taking but also giving.

Q: What are your targets and overall mission going forward, both in terms of user numbers as well as increasing access to financial services for the unbanked?

PK: Our Mission is to reach 145 million users in Africa in the next 10 years and 15 million customers in Kenya during the same period.

Q: What (or who) inspires you as a person and who do you look up to as a mentor in both your personal and professional life and why?

PK: Billy Graham and Selwyn Hughes have touched many lives all over the World through their preaching and writings and they were very dedicated in their work with highest level of Personal discipline, Integrity and morality.

Q: Your final comments?

PK: Join the Okapi family.

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