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IFC Partnership with South Africa’s WIZZIT Supports Innovative Banking for the Poor


In Johannesburg:
Houtan Bassiri

Phone: +27 11 731 3179

E-mail:
HBassiri@ifc.org


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 South Africans.”


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.

About IFC

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.

In Johannesburg:
Brian Richardson
Charles Rowlinson
Phone: +27 11 523 5600 / +27 83 675 0171
E-mail: BrianR@wizzit.co.za