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Meet Clayton Hayward, Serial Entrepreneur Leveraging Ukheshe to Reach Financially Underserved Market

Ukheshe, the South African fintech startup, is on topflight mode. It keeps innovating and expanding its services to the financially underserved using South Africa as its launchpad. Techawk had an exclusive and elaborate interview with CEO/Co-founder of Ukheshe, Clayton Hayward. He tells us about the fintech startup, how it fared during coronavirus, and more. Excerpts

Can you tell us about Ukheshe? 

Ukheshe Technologies is a global, digital-first financial services enabler; we provide the platforms and technology that support 9 issuers, 16 banks and fintechs, 3 telcos, 3000 Billers, over 300,000 merchants, 18 m wallets and over 2 million apps combined with the processing of millions of transactions every month. Our business is growing exponentially with expansion of the business across the globe, we expect to continue growing at least 100% per year for the foreseeable future.

Ukheshe has developed Eclipse API (application programming interface) integration – a framework that is a ready-to-use set of digital services that can be deployed within four to 12 weeks. Ukheshe’s Eclipse API is one of the best examples of our ongoing evolution and enthusiasm for solutions that drive economic growth for the payments industry.

Created to simplify payments, Eclipse provides access to payment technology, products and services – all from one place. The goal of the platform is to provide a single API that encapsulates everything from customer and organisation management to delivering digital wallets, payment gateways, card issuing, card acceptance, bank integration, authentication, Know Your Customer (KYC), QR Code acceptance/payments and numerous other capabilities required by most Fintech propositions.

The role of innovative platform technology solutions became obvious when Ukheshe identified the importance of being able to grow and scale into different markets. At the same time, the value of forming strategic partnerships and acquisitions became very clear. Last year saw us acquire Oltio from Mastercard which developed Mastercard’s Masterpass QR payments service. As the year progresses our B2B approach will continue to inform key decisions around the growth and development of payment services and our role as a leading digital fintech platform provider.

What prompted you to establish your startup?  

Ukheshe was launched in 2018 as a SMME focused digital banking platform that was established to improve and address financial inclusion within the country. Financial inclusion is one of the key drivers behind fintech innovation. Billions of people are under served in the developing markets, making it the perfect storm to find technologies and solutions that leapfrog the status quo and turn business models upside down.

Latin America, Africa, and Southeast Asia will continue to grow and drive innovation into the fintech sector simply due to the scale of the opportunities in these markets. It became clear that Ukheshe could make a bigger and more substantial impact as a digital-first fintech enabler through our unique Eclipse API. Through our technology, and by partnering with banks, telcos, financial services providers, we enable them to pursue financial inclusion for their customers with tailor-made payment solutions. 

Tell us about the moment you decided to become an entrepreneur? What did you have to do to be where you are today.

Innovating and making a difference in business is a great feeling. I get an adrenaline rush when building, growing and seeing our brands succeed.  I am a serial entrepreneur and have started 25 different businesses over the past 20 years. Always delving into technology, most of the businesses either offered or centred on technology. I am always looking for opportunities and have to say that launching Ukheshe almost three years ago has been the most exciting entrepreneurial journey to date. We have evolved the business into a key enablement provider in the digital payments space and are growing a global business, assisting key banks and telcos to address financial inclusion and offer customers digital payment solutions.

The South African fintech space is very competitive. There are so many players. How does Ukheshe stand out from others?

Africa is seen as the last frontier, we have a huge underserved market and I think this is where the growth will come. Delivering access through digital channels. Africa is able to leapfrog these kinds of spaces – this will happen in financial services. We are now able to provide new payment solutions and we can deliver something new and exciting. Ukheshe is excited to be at the forefront of the rapid shift towards innovative digital-first solutions, especially in markets that are ripe for disruption.

Ukheshe also created Eclipse which is a truly unique solution: As an innovative orchestration framework layer, Eclipse enables single API integration to access multiple payment solutions with the inclusion of third-party products, allowing Ukheshe partners a variety of customisable payment products. The Eclipse API offers user authentication and KYC, virtual and prepaid cards, digital wallets, loan management, messaging, fraud detection, payments, eCommerce, Mastercard acquiring, issuing, all in one integrated credible payment solution.

Ukheshe recently partnered with Infobip to launch South Africa’s first WhatsApp Gateway payment. Tell about this partnership, the performance of the gateway payment and its reception by South Africans.

Telkom Pay, launched in late 2020 is a digital wallet that allows users to pay others and get paid themselves using their mobile phone and WhatsApp.

The solution, powered by Ukheshe in collaboration with Infobip forms part of Ukheshe’s objective of expanding its international reach as a solution-driven B2B provider of digital-first payment solutions that enable banks, telcos and fintechs to provide banking and payment services to their customers through a solution called ‘Chat Banking’. Infobip’s deployment of a WhatsApp Business API solution leveraged by Ukheshe’s cutting-edge Eclipse API integration is a first of its kind. The unique solution allows mobile operator customers to send money to anyone with a mobile number quickly and securely with no need for another app or any additional software.

The chat banking solution empowers end customers by giving them access to the Internet, an efficient and secure digital wallet, while meeting Know your Customer (KYC) requirements. The digital wallet will also be able to link to other cards, add virtual cards, pay or get paid with a QR code, send money, make cash withdrawals or pay for goods. The service offering of the digital wallet platform will be extended to accommodate the issuing of virtual cards, which coupled with chat banking, underpins Ukheshe’s drive to support digital-first e-commerce adoption.

Can you tell us about Ukheshe’s value proposition and how you make money?

As mentioned above, Ukheshe’s value proposition is that we are a market leading fintech enablement partner. Rather than compete with major institutions, traditional banks and teclos who may not have the time and resources to build their own fully integrated SaaS platforms, Ukheshe has responded by with a fully integrated solution in Eclipse API that fast tracks financial inclusion for them.

Ukheshe’s aptitude for bringing innovative payment technologies to traditional issuers and acquirers and enabling major organisations to solve a number of legacy payment challenges speaks for itself as we continue to expand our operations in various new markets across the globe. We charge a store of value cost and per transaction cost on all our tenants. Tenants pay an account fee that is volume-driven with a minimum transaction cost. This is charged per month

How did Ukheshe fare during this coronavirus era?

We witnessed a dramatic shift during the Covid-19 pandemic as consumers pivoted towards digital payments. Aside from the convenience of a digital-first approach, consumers now prefer to make contactless payments and there is no end in sight in terms of this preference. Ukheshe has seen immense growth during the pandemic as a result of these factors and has taken enormous strides forward as a key digital fintech enablement provider.

We were very fortunate to have grown immensely during the Pandemic. This did bring its own set of challenges as we onboarded so many new people while all working remotely, but we have put several mechanisms and programmes in place to ensure that the team feels part of Ukheshe and we are all working towards the same goal. The last few months have been an exciting chapter in Ukheshe’s growth and development.

Our team continues to expand with the brightest talent in our industry who bring with them the extensive skills, knowledge and experience to drive our regional and international ambitions. We are thrilled to have recently welcomed new members to our sales, support, and development teams. With our growing team, we are even more well-placed to meet the demands of our banking, telco, and fintech clients as we play a pivotal role at the forefront of innovative digital-first solutions. The inclusion of more skilled staff in our ranks also ensures we are able to develop and finely tune Ukheshe’s multitude of offerings in the future.

We also recently announced the details of our global expansion plans, wherein apart from our regional African reach, we will focus on expanding into new geographies and establishing significant long-term partnerships in strategic locations within the Asia Pacific region, Europe, and the Middle East.

Capital and funds are key to starting a business? How did you go about funding Ukheshe?

Ukheshe was founded in 2018 by Jason Penton and Clayton Hayward. In 2019 Ukheshe raised $500 000 in seed funding on a valuation of R100-million, from FiTech Ventures and Ocean on 76. 

In 2020 Ukheshe received funding from Khulisa which enabled us to grow the company and extend our digital-first service offering. Ukheshe will be engaging in Series A funding in Q4 of this year. 

Many startups fail in their first five years. What measures are enshrining to ensure that Ukheshe is here in the next five, 10 and 20 years? 

Ukheshe continues to build on a solid reputation as a trusted enablement partner, having established relationships with financial service players including Mastercard, as well as a number of high-profile telecommunications providers, and other organisations throughout Africa and in other key global locations. We have made strategic acquisitions which has ensured we have brought in the right skills, knowledge and talent to continue our growth path. On a fundamental level Ukheshe assists our partners in solving real-world challenges. It is an exciting and dynamic environment which makes it easy for me as the CEO to have a passion for Ukheshe as a business and all that we are striving to achieve. 

What are the challenges of running your startup? What are your future plans? 

Aside from engaging in Series A funding and pursuing our goal of becoming the next African unicorn, both of which are momentous challenges that are well worth the effort, Ukheshe will continue to grow through strategic partnerships, select acquisitions and expansion into locations where our technology can make an impact.  

What advice do you have for budding entrepreneurs? 

You can’t be an entrepreneur if you are fearful, you need to be brave, be confident and take real risks daily. You need perseverance by the bucket load, an enquiring mind, and a drive to change or improve a sector. A ‘can-do’ attitude also always helps!

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Musa Suleiman
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