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How a smartphone app can move Africa forward
Community Coordinator

According to the World Bank, access to and use of financial services are essential to inclusive growth and poverty reduction. So, how does South Africa move forward if more than two-thirds of the adult population is regarded as unbanked? The answer lies in the ever-evolving technology of smartphones.


In 2013, Standard Bank, in partnership with tech start-up FirePay, debuted SnapScan, a cashless, cardless payment app that can be used both in-store and online. According to Kobus Ehlers, CEO of FirePay, SnapScan was invented to give the under- and unbanked access to financial services.


In a nutshell, the smartphone-based application works by removing the need for customers to carry cash or bank cards, allowing them to make payments using only their phones. Anyone from any bank can download SnapScan for free, and then provide their credit or cheque card number, which is securely stored using advanced encryption techniques.










A boon for merchants, particularly informal traders, is the fact SnapScan totally removes the need for expensive and cumbersome point-of-sale equipment. Retailers aren’t even required to have a bank account; instead they can choose to receive their payments in the form of a Standard Bank Instant Money voucher, which can be redeemed at numerous SPAR supermarkets and ATMs around the country.


The SnapScan app started small. It was first tentatively launched in small coffee shops in the university town of Stellenbosch, before moving on to a few retailers. After FirePay gathered user feedback that improved the product, SnapScan won an award for best application in South Africa. Using some of the prize money, a collaboration with the non-profit Big Issue organisation was formed to help improve sales of its eponymous magazine. Ehlers says this partnership was a good fit; the magazine sellers could accept more than just cash and the app gained exposure.

To date, SnapScan has partnered with 25 000 businesses in South Africa, proving that the country is ready and willing to embrace uniquely African solutions to our everyday challenges.