In 2001 when mobile banking was still largely a novelty, no one could have predicted that nearly two decades later a young South African would design and develop a banking platform. Fourth year mechatronics student at University of Cape Town (UCT), Thapelo Nthite, designed and developed Naledi, a multilingual personal banking and financial management assistant powered by artificial intelligence that reaches users via WhatsApp. This is a clear indication of how fast digital banking is evolving.

The introduction of services such as Naledi makes life easier by reducing travel time to banks, and allows users to do almost everything comfortably wherever they are.  You can view your transactions and pay your bills online without going into a store and queuing.

Nthite together with peers Xolisani Nkwentsha, Sange Maxaku and Bonolo Malebo worked on the development of the service which offers assistance in English, isiXhosa, isiZulu and Setswana. More languages will be added once the service has been launched. Nthite explained that the language is often a barrier and as a result, they saw a need to simplify things by using African languages that are common among South Africans. Talking about the app, Nthite says “we want to enable other innovators in Africa and South Africa to enter a space of using human language for their solutions.”

Naledi App Team
The brains behind Naledi (from left) Thapelo Nthite, Bonolo Malebo, Xolisani Nkwentsha, Sange Maxaku.
(Photo provided by: University of Cape Town)

Statistics show that South Africa has a poor savings culture where it was found that at the beginning of 2019 the ratio of savings to disposable income equates to 0.15%. Most South Africans rely on credit to maintain their lifestyle and only an estimated 6% of the country’s population will retire comfortably. On that note, the Naledi banking app doesn’t only allow users to transact, it also tracks a user’s spending and helps them work towards achieving their all-important financial goals.

It is almost similar to ChatBanking: a secure, private and fully integrated WhatsApp service which was launched by ABSA in 2018. It allows the user to gain access to banking services through the use of largely automated messaging.

The advent of fintech and smart banking services such as Naledi and Tymebank signal the change that innovation will have in spaces that we are all familiar with. It also talks to the affordability and access that the majority of Africans need to be able to participate meaningfully across the economy.

Once Naledi is launched, users that require assistance will have to register their details on the system. Nthite, however, assures users that their banking details will be safe, as they have top-of-the-range security measures in place.

Leave a Reply