A cheaper way to send and receive money in Uganda

What is "Wave Mobile Money"?

Feb 1, 2022 - 00:58
Oct 22, 2023 - 13:02
A cheaper way to send and receive money in Uganda

Uganda is one of the most friendly countries when it comes to Mobile Money regulations. So it is not surprising that the race to win the market has attracted two new competitors in SafeBoda and Wave Mobile Money. But what is "wave mobile money" for those asking?

Wave Mobile Money was started around 2018 in Senegal by Drew Durbin and Lincoln Quirk. These two started Sendwave as well in 2014, which was a remittance service. With Sendwave, anyone in Africa could receive money from North America and some European countries. 

Sendwave was acquired by WorldRemit in a deal that was valued at $500m in 2020. But before this, Durbin and Quirk had been working on a product that eventually became Wave Mobile Money and piloted it in Senegal in 2018. After the acquisition of Sendwave, they turned their focus on Wave. 

Since then, Wave has grown leaps and bounds, especially in Senegal. It has between 4-5M users in Senegal making it the biggest mobile money service in the country, bigger than Orange Money: a service by Orange Telecom which is the biggest telecom company there. 

But Wave caused Africa-wide shockwaves in September last year when it raised $200m in the largest Series A ever on the continent according to TechCrunch. The list of backers was even more impressive: Founders Fund, Sequoia Heritage, Stripe, Partech Partners and Ribbit Capital among others. This came at a valuation of $1.7bn making it one of the few African startups to achieve unicorn status and the first in Francophone Africa. 

When Wave raised this money, it had already expanded to Ivory Coast looking to replicate this success in Senegal. Uganda was considered a priority as well. The real mobile money battle is in East Africa. 

Of the 562m Mobile money accounts in Africa, 293m are in East Africa. Of the 161m active users, 94m are in East Africa. Powerhouse, M-Pesa has 50m users alone, which is almost 10% of all African mobile money users. Uganda has 28m Mobile money users, and the majority of these belong to MTN and Airtel money services.

 But Wave understood its assignment. They were able to lure cashless superstar Nicholas Kamanzi as their country launcher. Kamanzi is sort of like a godfather in Ugandan tech. He was a co-founder of Yoza back in 2015, pivoting to Yoza Pay in 2016. He was also the Fintech lead at Safeboda, presumably leading the development of the early Safeboda wallet and fintech capabilities. 

Apart from personnel, they do have interesting features as well. They are app-based, and not USSD-based like the incumbents. For users that don't have a smartphone, they provide a free QR card to transact with an agent. 

The users can also make free deposits and withdrawals and charge a 1% fee for sending money which is 70% cheaper than current Mobile Money services. 

It will be a marathon for Wave and an almost impossible task to even uproot the incumbents, but for the users: We are glad competition is here. The mobile money fees are insane.

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