Johannesburg, November 21, 2007
— IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, has signed an agreement to
take a 10 percent equity stake in WIZZIT, trading as WIZZIT Bank, a division
of South African Bank of Athens Limited, that enables users to operate
bank accounts using mobile telephones. WIZZIT will use the funds to expand
banking services for the poor and people in rural areas, first in South
Africa and eventually in other countries. By providing access to financial
infrastructure, it will help more people participate actively in the economy.
“WIZZIT is a small bank with large ambitions,” said Charles Rowlinson,
WIZZIT’s Chairman. “We are proud that IFC recognizes our potential to
reach the unbanked, promoting greater access to financial services and
offering the poor greater opportunities.”
Access to financial services is costly and limited in Africa, particularly
in rural areas. Much of the population operates on a cash-only basis and
outside of the formal banking system, even in a country like South Africa,
which has a relatively sophisticated financial sector. It is estimated
that 40 percent of South Africa’s 47 million people have little or no
access to formal banking.
Nearly 60 percent of South Africans do have mobile phones, however. The
proliferation of cellular services has created an opportunity to provide
social and financial services over mobile networks. WIZZIT capitalizes
on this opportunity, employing nearly 2,000 previously unemployed people—known
as WIZZkids—who have the good local knowledge and contacts the company
needs to market services directly to potential clients in neighborhoods
across the country.
“Helping the financial sector become more inclusive by extending bank
services to the poor is an important part of IFC’s strategy to strengthen
Africa’s private sector,” said IFC Executive Vice President and
CEO Lars Thunell. “WIZZIT’s innovative technology and marketing strategy
are already having a strong impact by helping create opportunity for more
IFC will help WIZZIT expand operations, determine new markets for its services,
and develop penetration strategies, including identifying local partners.
A video on WIZZIT is available at: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2SKhCYoF0Lg.
IFC, a member of the World Bank Group, fosters sustainable economic growth
in developing countries by financing private sector investment, mobilizing
private capital in local and international financial markets, and providing
advisory and risk mitigation services to businesses and governments. IFC’s
vision is that poor people have the opportunity to escape poverty and improve
their lives. In FY07, IFC committed $8.2 billion and mobilized an additional
$3.9 billion through loan participations and structured finance for 299
investments in 69 developing countries. IFC also provided advisory services
in 97 countries. For more information, visit www.ifc.org.