Spoon Money is helping South Africa’s female, informal traders transform their businesses

 

Catalyst Fund accelerates startups that excel on three fronts:

 

  • Impact: Catalyst Fund startups deliver (or, in the case of B2B firms, facilitate the delivery) of life-changing products and services to underserved populations. These can include financial services like loans, savings, insurance, and investment, but also access to productive inputs or essential services such as energy, sanitation, and water.
  • Innovation: Our startups are pioneering game-changers that are innovating new products and business models. They drive the sector forward by demonstration effect and via the learning that Catalyst Fund documents and shares. 
  • Growth potential: Catalyst Fund startups are distinctively investment worthy, developing businesses that are scalable, with high growth potential. Our startups are selected by an Investor Advisory Committee, who have deep experience in emerging markets and nominate high-potential startups, and then sponsor and mentor them through Catalyst Fund. As a result, our startups raise more funding than startups from other accelerators.

 

Spoon Money aims to help South Africa’s female, informal, subsistence traders transform their businesses into sustainable micro-enterprises via tailored financial services. Spoon offers these entrepreneurs savings products and affordable lending tools through informal savings groups, or stokvels. These women currently borrow from the informal market at excessive rates, and may not always have capital to buy sufficient inventory to satisfy their customers. 

With access to financial services offered by Spoon, these traders are better able to source more inventory and manage liquidity over time. The stokvel groups, together with financial services, create the opportunity for growth, resources for resilience, as well as networks for support.

 

Impact

The estimated total size of South Africa’s MSME market is 5.78 million, of which only 14% is formalized.  41% of these micro-enterprises in South Africa are owned by women. 

They employ a large portion of the population in Sub-Saharan Africa and contribute significantly to economic growth. In South Africa, they account for 50-60% of the country’s workforce, and contribute around 34% of GDP.

MSMEs lack access to affordable credit and other financial tools they need to grow their businesses. As a result, they often come together to create informal savings groups, or stokvels, and pool money and support each other. Today, over 800,000 stokvel groups represent over 11 million South Africans, collecting roughly R50 billion annually (Nasasa). 

However, being informal, these groups lack access to capital or more sophisticated financial products. Existing informal groups help, but they don’t go far enough to enable traders build up reserves to cover unexpected financial needs or to significantly raise their standard of living in the longer term.

Spoon Money is leveraging stokvel principles – behaviors these business owners are already familiar with – to help them develop long-term savings habits and access to working capital. Spoon helps its users build sustainable, goal-based savings habits with a low minimum contribution of R100 per member per month, and offers access to loans at 3x the total group savings amount. These resources have the potential to help these women grow their businesses and develop long-term financial security.    

Spoon also capitalizes on the power of social networks, which helps ensure repayment while enabling women to build on the power of their collective savings to borrow more. A large proportion of women in South Africa belong to one or more stokvels. Many stokvels also become credit providers themselves by lending to individuals outside the stokvel (often at a rate of 30-50%).

 

Innovation

Led by two female founders, the Spoon team interacts with their users on a daily basis, even offering ‘office hours’ for those that wish to meet face-to-face with a member of the team. Even though this “front end” interaction with customers remains personalized and non-digital, Spoon is working to streamline and automate the lending and savings process through technology. Ultimately, the team knows that these personal touches are important for trust and to delivering convenience that embeds Spoon into women’s existing habits and routines.

Many women join stokvels because interest rates on loans accessed through these groups average around 10% for members, as opposed to the 30-50% rates typically offered by loan sharks, which are common in the townships where they operate. Some members of Spoon had previously defaulted on high-interest loans from other providers. Through Spoon they are now beginning to build their savings habits and credit scores again, all while feeling like part of a larger community.

 

“Spoon Money has been very beneficial to me. It was very difficult to access credit in the past, but Spoon took me as I was. I was blacklisted in the past, so could not access credit anywhere.  With the money I get from Spoon, now my dream is for my business to be sustainable.” – Veliswa Sikweza, shop owner and Spoon Money user, Khayelitsha, Western Cape

 

Understanding the needs and lifestyle of the women they serve, Spoon makes it easy for them to deposit savings and pay back loans by offering a variety of payment options – including bank deposits, ATM, bank transfer, e-wallet, in-person during Spoon office hours via POS, and via local retail stores, which are easily accessible in townships.

Spoon acts as a large stokvel itself. They divide the savings contributions of their members 50/50 between an emergency, short-term savings fund and a long-term investment fund, to help their users experience the benefits of investing.

Once a group has accumulated savings, Spoon offers the group a loan, which must be repaid before another is approved, much like Grameen did many years ago in Bangladesh. Spoon offers loans at affordable rates and caps the outstanding balance at 3x the combined savings power of each group. The savings balance gives Spoon an understanding of the borrowing potential of each group before dispersing a loan. 

While this group-lending methodology is not new, Spoon’s work to digitize and automate the process is. By innovating on existing habits and structures, supercharging them with technology and digital financial services, Spoon is modernizing group-lending methodologies.

 

Growth Potential

Operating as a traditional credit provider, Spoon is working to find ways to digitize group-based lending to increase efficiency while preserving trust and convenience. Achieving this efficiency will be critical for Spoon to successfully reach scale in South Africa and beyond. 

Spoon has seen consistent growth since launching, with active members in townships across the Cape Town area who save and borrow regularly. They aim to become the savings and lending platform for female MSME owners throughout Africa, enabling them to take control of their finances and build more sustainable businesses.  

Stokvels are already widespread throughout South Africa as is informal group lending via rotating savings groups. Spoon would be positioned to serve a wide variety of these saving and lending groups throughout the continent, thereby amplifying their opportunities and stability.

We look forward to working closely with Spoon as they find new ways of digitizing and automating their group-based lending product, and work to scale across the continent.