ASPIRA: How a Kenyan Start-up Is Changing The Way Consumers Shop

Yoeal Haile , MD ASPIRA

Aspira MD Yoeal Haile discusses how the lender is financing lifestyles through a revolutionary point of sale fintech solution

Various researchers have identified that access to the Internet would be critical in the development of Kenya and a key driver for innovation. With the country’s increased broadband penetration driven by improved infrastructure, mobile penetration now covers almost 90 per cent of the population. Simultaneously, as disposable incomes of Kenyans increased, so did the appetite for these consumers to spend on products that improve their lifestyles.

Household income has been growing by 5% yearly within the last few years, driving greater demand for middle class goods and credit to finance them.

This revolution has created an ideal environment for the development of innovative financing solutions like Aspira.

Founded in 2018, the product-financing platform enables clients to make purchases from selected retail stores across the country and pay later in monthly instalments.

“We conducted extensive market research and realized that there is a huge gap in the credit market that was not being addressed by any other financial institutions. Many consumers cannot afford to purchase essential commodities like smart phones, TVs or furniture because of their limited financial capabilities,” says Yoeal Haile, Managing Director of Aspira.

Some of Aspira’s staff members at their Westlands office in Nairobi

He believes that his firm can transform and uplift the lives and livelihoods of many Kenyans by enabling them to acquire items they need to complement their lifestyles. “There’s a need for responsible and affordable access to financing. There is no escaping the fact that this market was clearly underserved compared to other similar economies globally,” he says.

“We fill the gap left by traditional and mainstream financial players, in that we provide purchasing power to consumers in a wide range of low and middle income brackets. We provide a convenient source of medium term credit for small and rapidly growing enterprises which cannot qualify for any sources of capital. Lastly, we also provide a market for retailers who would have otherwise struggled to sell their wares through other credit models,” says Yoeal.

The Aspira team spent a year designing their tech platforms, understanding Kenyan consumer purchasing behaviours and the challenges faced by retailers, before they became operational and lent to their first customer. The Aspira product was developed using Agile principles and will continue to evolve through analysis of customer data and feedback.

He further says that Aspira’s decision to venture into the credit industry was motivated by the challenges that continue to dog the important sector.

“A lot of Kenyans increasingly have the desire to acquire goods and services that can complement their lifestyles. However, a lot of micro lenders are only focused on lending smaller amounts that are repaid within a period of one or two months. This is quite limiting because there is bigger need for access to longer duration loans to allow consumers to finance product acquisitions, education loans, and housing construction materials among other products,” he explains.

Aspira is committed to building an innovative technology-driven ecosystem not only around its products but in its operations as a whole. This approach to their business model allows them to have a wide reach in terms of customer base while maintaining affordable interest rates as they’ve been able to limit their overheads. They provide credit of anywhere from 10,000 to 500,000 KES to customers that can be used at any of their 55 retail partners in Nairobi and Mombasa.

“We understand that part of the key elements that define standard of living in developing markets is the price of common commodities. Once we finance individuals to acquire these commodities we have answered a pressing need and helped in uplifting their standards of living.”

A year after they launched, their services have been well received in the market, demonstrating that the sector needed such an intervention.

“A client can download Aspira App on android and iOS devices and apply for a product he wants. He will then follow prompts and fill a response form, after which he will be notified whether he qualifies for the item or not. If he does, then he will take the product home. He then pays the amount in monthly installments, which are determined by his income,” explains the executive.

Implementing fair lending practices is a big responsibility, he says. “We only lend within your limits to avoid putting a strain on your finances.”

After downloading the app, the firm looks at varied data points to score a client accordingly.

“We are commoditizing data as means of guiding financial decisions. When you look at Credit Reference Bureaus, you realise the immense data in their custody which help analyze spending patterns of our customers, their risks and score them accordingly,” he explains.

Mobile phones, television sets and furniture are some of the leading products purchased by the firm’s clients. Besides these items, the firm also finances travel, building material, and recently began financing motorcycles through a partnership with Car & General.

“Many people are looking to build homes but they often fall short of finances. That is why we introduced financing for construction materials to enable individuals to build their dream homes. We are also looking to finance education among other products in the near future,” explains the young executive.

Unique credit model

•We did a lot of research to build a product that is meant to address the pressing needs of the market. We piloted the program for a year before we fully launched and the reception was incredible.

•We are very clear and direct with our customers in terms of the loan terms. We value transparency and there are no hidden costs.

•Our interest rates are competitively priced, charged on a monthly basis.

•We leverage AI to drive our customers to repurchase from us, leading to over 90% of our customers making repurchases within 3 months of completing their previous loan obligation

Impacts

As a young CEO, Yoeal has interacted with many retailers and customers to understand their plight. Other than providing customers with a means to acquire goods they need, Aspira has enabled retailers with a new avenue to increase their sales.

Aspira agents

“We have done major sales for many retailers compared to other models of financing in their stores. In just our first few months of operation, we were able to do more credit sales at some of our large retail partners than banks were able to achieve over the past several years at the same partners” he says.

“We built a product focused on things that mass market consumers care about and weren’t being addressed by other solutions in the market: price, product selection, convenience, affordability.” he adds.

Aspira recently ventured into financing motorcycles, which is one of the most sought after items that consumers are seeking to purchase on finance. “Through our partnership with Car & General, we are essentially enabling individuals with the working capital to start their own microbusinesses. Many of these consumers rent motorcycles for use as taxis, often referred to as bodabodas locally. Through Aspira, these drivers are able to pay similar daily installments to own the motorcycles after a year as opposed to continuing to rent over time.”

The use of technology has enabled the firm to automate its processes and get access to many clients beside its physical touch points. The use of data analytics has also guided them to make responsible financial decisions and confidence to lend.

“We are able to minimize fraud, operate cost-effectively and extend the same benefits to clients in terms of competitive interest rates. Our cashless and paperless business model allows us to approve customers within 2 minutes and scale up our loan book without growing our team significantly” says Yoeal.

The startup, which has grown tenfold over the past year, is looking to automate most of its back office operations and enhance the quality and speed of its services.

Aspira has recently set up a presence in Mombasa and aims to continue to grow its retail base beyond the 55 retailers currently onboard, in order to be able to reach a wider customer base.

Traditional credit institutions must embrace technology in order to survive. Yoeal says that Aspira is agile and dynamic to market needs. “Many companies are now investing in emerging trends like the use of AI to better understand their clients and guide credit decisioning.”

Other than embracing technology, Aspira believes in building people and helping them to deliver their best.  At their Westlands offices, most of their staff is young, radiating with enthusiasm and passion. “You can only grow as an organization with a great team and by creating an innovative working culture where every member of the team strives to ensure each and every one of our clients has a great experience using our services” says Yoeal.

Of Eritrean descent, the son of refugees who migrated to the United States in the 80’s, Haile grew up in a lower middle income environment in New York where he observed that, for his family, financing was crucial in gaining access to amenities such as furniture and household appliances.

An engineer by training, he says he ventured into the industry out of passion. Now at the helm of the fledgling firm, he’s optimistic that the company will continue to innovate to make a difference in the society.

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