BK introduces high-tech ATMs to boost customers’ experience

Bank of Kigali has started rolling-out new Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) whose features will ensure quick, enhanced security and quality service delivery.

Manufactured by renowned ATM producer and vendor, Diebold Nixdorf, the new ATMs are the first of their kind “DN Series” to be deployed in Africa.

Among the features that the new ATMs have include fingerprint option which is expected to reduce theft that might occur when a client’s card is in the hands of someone who knows their pin code and may take advantage to withdraw cash without the owner’s consent.

Another component is a tap and go option that will enable BK clients to tap on the machine which will dispense cash, with no need of inserting the card into the card reader.

The lender says that it will soon activate the Near Field Communication (NFC) on the new ATMs to help one access the tap and go feature. According to BK, this will among others help new ATM users to avoid cases where their cards would be seized by ATMs or break down because of fewer skills on how to insert their cards in the teller machine.

Additionally, the new devices allow bulk note deposits.

“The first step we are taking is to distribute these machines in as many places as possible, then incorporate these features in the near future. Not all machines will possess all these features,” said Caleb S. Gakunju, Head of Payments at BK.

According to Gakunju, the backbone of introducing these machines lies in the bank’s commitment to good service delivery.

“We are investing more in technology to serve our customers better, despite the Covid-19 challenges that everyone is going through. We seek to ensure quick and quality service delivery,” he underlined.

“These machines are quick to process transactions, thanks to the advanced processors they have,” he added.

So far, BK has acquired 15 of these ATMs and the lender said that it has also ordered additional 30 ATMs of the kind.

Sites where the new machines have already been deployed include at UTC, Kigali Convention Centre, Kigali Marriott Hotel, Intare Conference Arena, Kabeza Market, Rusizi town, Rubavu main branch and the branches of ULK and Giporoso.

In the near future, the new teller machines will also be set up at Ruli branch, Kigali Heights, Kibagabaga, and at BK Head Office.

The development adds to Bank of Kigali’s initiatives that intends to promote cashless economy.


Women’s month: Reflections from a woman in tech

Over the last year within MTN Rwanda, I have watched several young men and women take on and flourish in new roles across the organization. I am particularly encouraged by some young women in our Technology Department that have grown into senior engineers and formidable managers of teams.

Each time I see them excel, I am reminded of my own journey that led me to the exciting world of technology. I first joined the telecommunications world as a fresh IT graduate, but you would be surprised to learn that this was not always the plan.

Having excelled at Maths and Sciences in High School, I was placed in the school of Natural Science at University, taking courses such as Biology, Physics and Chemistry. The end goal for me was not clear at the time, but I foresaw that I would be a bio-chemical scientist of some sort. As fate would have it though, two months into my studies, the university I was attending closed indefinitely leaving me no choice but to hurriedly apply to another school.

Applying to this new university, I naturally put down Natural Sciences as my first and only academic preference. This was risky because if this stream were fully subscribed, I would have had to opt for whatever other courses were left. Lo and behold, I arrived at the new university only to find the Natural Sciences intake was full and the only other under-subscribed stream was Computer Science.

Unsure about whether technology was “my thing”, I spoke to the department head for advice, whose words I will never forget, “with a training in computer science or technology, you get a degree in ‘versatility’ – you can literally work in any industry”. With that said – my path was set, and I went on to study Computer Science and later a Master’s in Information Technology. So, yes, I am an IT Engineer albeit by accident, and have zero regrets on what has been a most exciting and futuristic path.  

I am an IT Engineer by training, Telecom CEO by profession but also daughter of a very fierce gender equality advocate of a mother. I have thought about her a lot in this month of March when we celebrate women. Ever since I can remember, my mother has held strong beliefs in the boundless capabilities of women.

With words like “Mitwa, you must make something of yourself, for yourself and for others”, she has built me into who I am today. She also believes that one should never make apologies for being the voice representing women as they have historically started a few paces behind in the race to success and thus deserve all the support they can get if we are to achieve a gender equal world.

In 2015, all UN member states adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. At its heart are the 17 Sustainable Goals for Development which are an urgent call to action by all countries. Goal 5 is achieving gender equality. It is said that we cannot achieve peace and prosperity now and into the future if this goal is not met.

Gender equality comes with massive implications. According to McKinsey, advancing women’s equality in Africa could add $316 billion or 10% to GDP by 2025.  Further, the World Bank reiterates that boosting female employment and economic diversification can make the difference between a gainful decade and a lost one.

It is well documented that diversity and inclusion make companies more innovative, customer centric and profitable. A study by the Boston Consulting Group found that companies that have more diverse management teams, have 19% higher revenue due to innovation. This finding is huge for tech companies where innovation is key for growth.

In the telecommunications world, the gender gaps are slowly closing however there is still a lot of work to do. According to the GSMA, in Sub-Saharan Africa, there is a 37% gender gap in mobile internet use and women are 8% less likely than men to own a mobile phone.

At MTN Rwanda, we are hyperaware and sensitive to these statistics. We constantly challenge ourselves to find innovative ways to contribute to the closure of this gender gap.

Through the MTN Foundation, we recently launched the second edition of the Connecting Women in Business initiative that seeks out and provides financial support to cooperatives that are formed and led by women.

On my recent visit to Rubavu, it was great to see the positive impact that this support has had on last year’s winners. My heart smiled listening to how Cooperative Twivane Mu Bukene in Cyanzarwe sector, doubled the size of their farmland and thus their product yield on the back of the support they received last year.

Internally, our commitment has been to increase the participation of women in leadership and technical roles. The biggest step in this direction was the establishment of the Women’s Empowerment Network (WeNet) within MTN Rwanda whose mission is to provide a forum for MTN Rwanda’s women to educate, empower and inspire each other.

With WeNet, we have seen the implementation of initiatives that are aimed at preparing women for opportunities within the organization. These initiatives include public speaking trainings, mock interviews, mentoring programs to mention but a few and in only one year, we are already seeing the fruits of these initiatives.

On the softer side, the network, which I too am a part of, is built on the principle that each and every one of us is our sister’s keeper. Sisters keep each other honest, push each other to step out of their comfort zones, and encourage one another to do more and be more. WeNet has only been in existence for a year, but in that time, we have seen more women stepping up to apply for jobs, speaking up and making their views heard.  I am super proud of them all and while we are encouraged by early results, we are only inspired to do more. Diversity and inclusion remain an important pillar of focus at MTN Rwanda.

It is important for us all to keep an eye on the goal of achieving gender equality by 2030. We need to be intentional and specific on the steps we are taking to contribute to attaining this goal. As leaders of organizations – it starts with awareness; how many women do we have in our organizations? Do we know their participation levels at all ranks of the organization? Are we aware of any disparities that exist?

We may not be able to resolve all gaps over night, but awareness is the first step in getting to a gender equal world. I wake up every morning not thinking of myself as a female CEO but simply as a CEO, leading an organization to the best of my ability. I look forward to a world where there is no longer a “first woman to do this” or the “first woman to do that” – but simply a world where there are professionals all living the best versions of themselves.  So yes, this year and for time to come, I #ChooseToChallenge.


Delivery drones: Why Zipline is switching to 24/7 operations

The new operation method, according to the firm’s country director, Joseph Ndagijimana, was launched on Tuesday, February 16, after securing approval from the Rwanda Civil Aviation Authority.

He explained that ever since Zipline launched its operations in Rwanda in 2016, there has been a sharp night-time demand from various hospitals.

“Some of them come to the distribution centres and then, you know, they would pick up some products from our bank. This pushed us to expand our operations to be able to sustain even the emergencies at night,” he said.

Currently, Zipline has a fleet of about 65 drones, with a capacity to carry out 150 deliveries from each of the distribution centres.

The firm has already established partnerships with a total of 320 health facilities especially in remote areas.

“Some of the hospitals used to requisition for medical products towards the end of the day because we were not available during the night. This means that now they can’t do that anymore, they can wait to order until they need that product or if their stock gets below minimum level.” He said.

Knowing that they (hospitals) can call Zipline at any time of the day, that is what we are providing, Ndahijimana added.

“It basically comes with a sense of security knowing that even if you don’t have it you can always get it when the situation presents itself.”

“Some hospitals used to transfer patients, because maybe they didn’t have the blood type a patient needed in that particular time. And if you do the transfer to a different health facility that will lead to a higher cost.”

Consequently, he noted that the move will ensure that unlike in the past, hospitals will reduce on the amount of inventory they had, “because they can get it on demand.”

Currently, the drone firm delivers more than 200 different medical products including emergency vaccines.

Medics speak out

Speaking to The New Times in a phone call interview, Director General at Rwamagana District Hospital, Dr. Jean Nepo Abdallah Utumatwishima, commended the move citing that, majority of the patients who lose their lives at night result from the lack of timely delivery of blood among other medical products.

“Most emergency situations that call for blood transfusion occur at night, and this is a big problem especially in remote area.”

With Zipline switching to a non-stop service, there is hope that these patient’s lives can be saved.

“Because in most cases this patient can’t wait for the morning hours. So if you can place an order that can come in time, you will have a chance to save a life.” Utumatwishima reiterated.

Home deliveries in the pipeline

Meanwhile, Ndagijimana revealed that patients could soon receive their medical deliveries directly in their homes from the drone firm.

When pressed for details he said, “This is maybe something we can talk about but we are also thinking about delivering products directly to some patient’s homes, at some point, this is a project in the making.”

Since making its first drop in Rwanda in 2016 out of its Muhanga-based distribution centre, Zipline has since expanded its activities in other countries including Ghana and the United States.


MTN Rwanda considers setting up financial tech firm

The development is an attempt by the telecom operator to increase relevance to financial technology which is increasingly characterizing the financial industry in aspects such as inclusion.

MTN Rwanda CEO Mitwa Ng’ambi said that with financial technology fast becoming influential in digital finance, they have been considering setting up an independent subsidiary running financial technology operations.

This would see Mobile Money move from a department within the telecom to a stand-alone company.

“Mobile Money was initially set up as a department within MTN Rwanda. Where we stand today, we see the future of digital finance, Fin-tech so much bigger than what we are today,” she said.

She said that they had already commenced engagement with the regulator, Central Bank, to establish the requirements and characteristics of the new firm.

She, however, said that the timelines for the establishment and constitution of the new firm are yet to be determined.

The new firm, she said, is expected to be agile to trends in fin-tech hence the autonomous structure.

This comes at a time when Fin-tech is expected to be a key driver in driving financial inclusion, fostering savings, access to short-term credit among others.

With increased mobile penetration and usage, the avenue could bridge a gap in access to financial services which financial sector operators such as banks have been unable to bridge.

In 2020, MTN Rwanda saw a significant uptake of their Mobile Money and data services with initial estimates pointing to a 20 per cent (year on year)growth in revenue.

Though audited financials are not out yet, Mark Nkurunziza, the operator’s Chief Financial Officer, said that they have noted a shift in revenue composition with data and Mobile Money increasingly raking in significant portions of revenue.

Chantal Kagame, the firm’s Chief Business and Corporate Affairs Officer, noted that during the course of 2020, the active mobile money user base had grown from 2.8 million to 3.2 million while MoMo Pay users had increased from about 200,000 to about 1.4 million.

This, she noted was indicative of progress in uptake of cashless payments within the economy.

“We currently have more than 2.4 million customers using MoKash both by saving and taking loans. These are mainly by low-income earners where the service has helped them to save, take loans and develop their lives in general,” she added.

However, with the increased uptake and usage mobile money, there has been an increase of fraud which the firm said is constantly working to curb including

MTN is also expected to list on the Rwanda Stock Exchange by way of introduction allowing Rwandans to invest and partake in its returns.

The development will see the 20 per cent stake held by Crystal Telecom Limited held directly by the public.

 While 100 per cent shares of MTN Rwanda will be listed on the stock exchange, the 20 per cent stake held by Crystal Telecom will be available for trading by the public. MTN Group will hold the 80 per cent shares.

The Board of Crystal Telecom has recommended that the shareholders of CTL become direct shareholders in MTN Rwanda when the listing happens through a transaction where CTL shall repurchase all its shares from its shareholders in exchange for MTN Rwanda shares as consideration (share swap).

The board has proposed that when MTN Rwanda lists, the share swap will be on a 1:1 ratio basis, with each shareholder receiving 1 MTN Rwanda share for every share repurchased by the CTL.

The share swap and the approval, therefore, shall be conditional upon the successful listing of MTN Rwanda on the RSE, an announcement by the Board mentioned.

CTL is also expected to wrap up operations and close the shop thereafter.


BPR revamps mobile banking app and add business functions

Banque Populaire du Rwanda Plc has made adjustments to its mobile banking application for improved user experience among business banking customers ensuring convenience and experience.

Previously, the application was limited to personal banking customers. The adjustments introduced features for business banking to cater for the needs of the business banking segment (SME customers).

The development will allow business-banking customers (SME customers) to do a host of banking services on the App including enabling access to multiple individuals on their accounts, and assign their roles based on the business structure or needs.

The roles assigned include inputters, approvers, viewers, super users and the amount limits among others.

This, the bank says, is part of ongoing efforts to put digital at the front of service roll out to ensure customers are offered greater convenience and experience.

This saw them address concerns to respond to their business clients as previously the app was limited to personal banking services.

To access the application, business banking customers are required to fill in the registration forms (available at the branch), then proceed to download the application (BPR Mobile App) available on App Store (for iOS users) and Play Store (for Android users).

On the platform, business clients can access a wide range of banking services including managing their accounts (checking account balances), downloading their bank statements, making transfers in BPR accounts and to other commercial banks in all currencies.

Users are also able to push and pull money to MTN and Airtel wallets, pay Rwanda Revenue Taxes, pay bills and manage beneficiaries among other tasks.

Electronic transactions have grown at the bank with over 80 per cent of the number of customer transactions being done over electronic banking channels.

BPR Plc which is the largest in network outreach, has been constantly introducing new digital services as well as adjusting existing ones to improve user convenience.

This includes mobile and internet banking platforms, which allows people to transact and do a host of banking services on their mobile phone, computer or other electronic gadgets as well as enabling new clients (non BPR clients) to open bank accounts and start transacting instantly, among other things.


Rwanda National Post Office embrace codified addressing system for mail deliveries

The National Post Office (Iposita) has adopted a codified addressing system that will make it possible for them to deliver packages and mails to the exact locations by use of grid code technology.

Just like many companies that do commodity deliveries in Rwanda, Iposita has been depending on the street numbers established by government, or make phone calls to parcel recipients for directions.

However, this was challenging in terms of time and ease with which deliveries would be done, especially in areas where house numbers have not been assigned, says Patrick Safari, the Director of the Commercial Department at Iposita.

“When you are delivering parcels in the country, you are faced with the challenge of identifying the exact location where you should meet the recipient. This is because, in peri-urban and rural areas, there are plots in which the street addressing system has not yet been established. In addition, there are rural places where Google Maps does not work,” he said.

“And so, when making deliveries, our drivers are forced to call the recipients and ask, ‘Where are you?'” he added.

However, this is set to change with the new system which is capable of providing location of every Rwandan by use of a digitized address.

To use the service, Iposita’s clients will have to use a smartphone application provided by Akutari Limited, a Nigerian firm that is partnering with Iposita to deliver the technology.

After opening the app, the client will be required to undertake an easy registration process, feeding in a few details like their names and phone numbers.

Using the phone’s GPS, the app will locate the house, office or compound where the person is standing while registering and will generate a grid code for that location.

According to Iposita, Rwandans and foreign residents can voluntarily sign up to obtain an address.

Safari said that Rwanda Utilities Regulatory Authority has already given the technology a go-ahead and that Iposita will be undertaking training for its drivers and staff on how to use it, as well as sensitizing the public about it before it can go operational – hopefully this year.

In addition to this, Iposita has to incorporate this technology into their system, before they will start to do deliveries using it.

Under the system, every home and office even in a multi-story facility can have their own grid code – and this will assist them to have their parcel deliveries at their doors.

Speaking about its safety, Safari said that it is a patented technology, and that Akutari has been asked to keep all the information of people in Rwanda on a server within the country.

“As an operation requirement, we agreed with Akutari that people’s data has to be stored on a server in the country, under the authorization of RISA for privacy and protection of personal data,” he said.

Meanwhile, in March last year during the lockdown, Iposita launched delivery services for essential products to people in the City of Kigali, and this is still going on.


[Interview] Lionel Mpfizi, CEO, Awesomity Lab, Rwanda

Lionel Mpfizi
 is the CEO of Awesomity Lab, an award-winning software development company based in Kigali, Rwanda. 

Could you introduce Awesomity Lab and where the name itself comes from? 

Awesomity Lab is an award-winning software development company based in Kigali, Rwanda.

The name Awesomity comes from the phrase AWESOME CREATIVITY. Founded just 5 years ago by four young entrepreneurs, Awesomity has gone on to develop solutions for more than a dozen clients all over Africa and Europe. Awesomity specializes in building mobile applications and web platforms with the focus of always creating the perfect user-centered design for our clients.

When and why was it set up?

Awesomity was founded in 2015 and deyond just developing software, Our vision is to promote Rwandan-made IT solutions tailored for Rwandan challenges. Awesomity’s team has sourced out 14 of the best local talent in programmers and designers who truly understand the Rwandan way to approach a challenge and develop a solution to it. Which is why we pride ourselves on our richly designed and intuitive Made in Rwanda software applications.

How has the market responded to your services? Why do you think that is so?

The market response has been great so far, In the last 5 years, Awesomity has had the chance to develop a variety of solutions in diverse sectors. Most notably, creating Rwanda’s first ride-hailing service in partnership with Volkswagen Mobility Solutions Rwanda which has completed over 150,000 rides since launching in 2019 and spearheading the development and redesign of all government websites in Rwanda, starting with all ministries, embassies and district offices.

Rwanda is the perfect place for a business like ours, I believe on of the reasons behind the our success in this market is our understanding of it, and the creativity and talent we bring to the table.

What is the uniqueness of Awesomity Lab from other tech-companies?

Awesomity is renowned for skill, hard work, creativity and user experience that goes unbeaten in the region. Our client’s projects become our projects and we work hand in hand from start to finish.

We have created quite a unique process of approaching client projects that helps them get the best value for their money. This process keeps being improved with every new project we work on and I believe this is what helps us keep up with the competition.

How do you find competition in your industry? 

The software development scene in Rwanda is rapidly growing and more and more companies are enterring the space. We however do try to deliver better quality and create strong relationships with our clients. One of our biggest advantages is that we have been here longer and the experience collected over these years has helped our team become stronger than most of the competition.

What are some of the proud moments of Awesomity Lab?

Over time, Awesomity has received a lot of recognition for the amazing work we have been doing. In 2016, Awesomity was awarded 1st runner up prize in Seedstars Kigali Chapter, in 2018 Awesomity took home the Gov UI/UX Challenge which took it into a contract for developing the Gov platforms the next year.

In 2019 Awesomity was recognized for its standards and best practices in software development and was award one of the three Rwanda Tech-Seals. At the beginning of 2020, Awesomity received a business excellence award from RDB as the young entrepreneur of the year.

What are Awesomity Lab’s biggest plans for 2021?

This year we are planning on expanding our portfolion with more consumer facing apps and enterring new fields such as fintech. But everything is still in the early planning phases at the moment. 

We also recently started the second TaskForce cohort, which is our unique onboarding process where interns go through a 7 weeks bootcamp specially designed to upskill them in both soft and technical team before they can join our team. We beleive that this will also be among our 2021 achievements. 


UNICEF and Airtel launch Internet of Good Things

UNICEF and Airtel have launched the Internet of Good Things in Rwanda – an innovative digital platform with information and resources which promote better, healthier living. Internet of Good Things is a UNICEF-led initiative, accessible in over 60 countries and territories around the world, helping bridge the digital divide and build knowledge-based societies.

The Internet of Good Things platform hosts mobile-packaged content from UNICEF and its partners, designed to make life-saving and life-improving information available at no cost – even on low-end devices, and basic web-enabled mobile phones. By providing greater access to information and feedback tools, Internet of Good Things also allows youth and citizens to take part in critical discussions and voice their opinions.

Through this new partnership, Internet of Good Things is now accessible free of data charges – in English and Kinyarwanda – on an Airtel SIM card via https://rw.goodinternet.org.

Internet of Good Things is bringing change in awareness and knowledge to critical areas, and continues to aim in assisting bringing change in attitudes and behaviours as a result of new knowledge.  The initiative is also helping to bridge the digital divide and increase access to critical information.

“Many communities and individuals across Rwanda do not have easy or affordable access to life-saving information. Young people especially are vulnerable to misinformation about communicable diseases like COVID-19, sexual and gender-based violence, early and unintended pregnancies, HIV/AIDS and more,” says Amit Chawla, Managing Director of Airtel Rwanda. “With Internet of Good Things available to provide greater access to this information, we are not only building digital literacy, but addressing these challenges and vulnerabilities that would otherwise compound.”

New users to Internet of Good Things can find updated information on COVID-19 prevention, how youth can stay informed and get involved in the fight against the virus, parenting tips, and interactive information on when to get vaccinated and against which diseases. Users can also create free accounts to comment on articles, ask questions, and participate in polls.

“Internet of Good Things allows anyone to be empowered to make more informed decisions around their health, ending violence, preventing diseases like COVID-19, raising children and more,” says Julianna Lindsey, UNICEF Representative in Rwanda. “We are especially pleased that this collaboration between UNICEF and Airtel will allow us to reach some of the most disadvantaged populations and marginalized communities who might otherwise never access such vital information.”

UNICEF’s global engagement with the private sector leverages resources to achieve the Sustainable Development Goals and contribute towards national development agendas. In Rwanda, the private sector – including the telecommunication industry – is considered to be a force multiplier for the country’s development and addressing the needs of children.