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ANIS KALLEL, H’19

Enabling Financial Inclusion for Unbanked & Underbanked Tunisians
Anis Kallel H’19 spent four years studying in the US and then spent a year traveling to more than 16 African countries. He experienced first-hand the impact that mobile money has on individuals and businesses, but could not forget how tedious, slow and expensive it still was for Tunisians in his home country. He made it his life’s mission to fix it. Kaoun was his solution.

“We believed that if Kaoun could successfully tackle identification, payments and credits, this could have a ripple effect on other industries and empower thousands of businesses and people at the same time.”

Creating a Tech Giant in Tunisia

THE CHALLENGE. Tunisia is a North African country that borders the Mediterranean Sea and the Sahara Desert with a population of approximately 11.5 million.

Only 36% of Tunisian adults have bank accounts
Only 13% of Tunisians use a debit/credit card to make a purchase
Only 12% of Tunisians borrow from financial institutions

Tunisia has seen a stagnation in economic growth over the past decade with rising unemployment rates, a growing informal economy, large amounts of untraced cash in circulation, a low percentage of banked population and a general state of frustration given the inability to obtain credit to start small businesses. Post the 2011 revolution, there was a huge wave of brain drain and a general state of despair. Working in the Middle East and Africa also comes with a unique set of challenges – having to collaborate with governments, adapting to the ever-changing social scenes and complex linguistic backgrounds and working your way around the general lack of information. Out of these frustrations and limitations, Kallel saw an opportunity to be at the center of this issue, by not only providing an affordable and accessible solution for a new market, but the chance to change lives as well. “As technology becomes an integral part of every household, I dream of a community that does not play catch up, but innovates to solve its own problems. I want every person with any phone, anywhere, anytime, to be able to pay for and access the services they need,” says Kallel.

THE PROCESS. After graduating from Rochester University, NY with a degree in computer science and business and after spending almost a year traveling throughout Africa, Kallel was of the firm belief that if he could successfully tackle identification, payments and credits, it could have a ripple effect on other industries and empower thousands of businesses and individuals. Kaoun was launched in 2018 with the aim of being the first ever nationally adopted decentralized payment infrastructure that reduces barriers to entry for the unbanked to make sending and receiving money as seamless as possible. The start-up wanted to help people create businesses and monetize products via easy-to-use APIs while monitoring people’s financial health and helping them to access credit.

The company was built on the belief that the best solutions to problems are usually locally-bred – or at least inspired. The start-up works in markets known for their unique characteristics, habits and most of all, cultures. They therefore prioritized a full cultural immersion for their team – locals and internationals – in order for them to experience the status quo first-hand, understand its roots and sources, and expand their take on the problem, to finally see the actual effect of their work in the real world.

The Kaoun team had their work cut out for them in the early days. They knew that their solution had to be affordable and accessible – a key foundation of any market-creating innovation. They had to build a new payment infrastructure with distributed ledger technology to allow secure, instant and low-cost transactions between individuals and businesses across any bank. For the unbanked, they offered a free, proprietary process for opening a bank account remotely and obtaining a legally valid e-signature. Their mobile wallet is not just a means of money transfer but a pipeline of true financial inclusion. The start-up plans to use transaction data to analyze users’ financial health and generate alternative credit scores. People previously excluded from many financial services will now be able to access personal and small business financing.

THE RESULT. The start-up has already rolled out a private beta of its first mobile banking application called Flouci. Kaoun selected a pilot bank and signed an MOU to initiate tests and integrations for their eKYC (remote identification) and payment products, and negotiated with another three banks to define the technical details of the integration. The database of individual users signed up to their pre-launch waitlist was over 1000 before their marketing efforts had officially started. Flouci is an app that lets customers use a mobile phone to create a mobile wallet that connects to a bank account, allowing transactions such as payments to merchants and peer-to-peer (P2P) transfers. The app also allows users to sign documents electronically to access government services. Their goal is to digitize financial and governmental services to reduce barriers to entry for adoption, such as waiting times, cost of transactions and distance to bank branches and government offices.

Their second product is Flouci Business, a mobile banking app that allows businesses to make transactions, keep track of invoices and perform analytics. Botkeji, is their latest offering and is a software system designed to ease the integration of Flouci’s decentralised infrastructure with various core banking software.

Kaoun charges a technical support fee to banks who implement their e-KYC solution. Flouci charges tiered percentage fees for P2P transfers, a fixed percentage on merchant payments and a flat fee for bills. Partners often request specific development that fits their needs, which is charged separately. Kaoun has managed to accomplish in a year what some thought impossible to implement in a decade, and used a unique understanding of the current regulations to come up with innovative products to solve the most urgent issues. The start-up is tapping into unexplored areas in Tunisia and believes it can scale to many other countries in Africa and the Middle East.

LEARN MORE ABOUT KAOUN

Kaoun is building a financial inclusion pipeline for the previously unbanked and underbanked in Tunisia. The company helps businesses to understand and monetize their data for better service and higher profitability; governments to develop comprehensive financial programs and smoothly move towards a paperless system and the financial sector to democratize access to credits and loans by generating alternative credit scores.

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Committed to making a difference

ABOUT ANIS KALLEL

Empowering Tunisians through innovative banking solutions

Kallel completed a Bachelor’s Degree in Computer Science and Business at the University of Rochester, New York, graduating in 2017. While studying, he was an international ambassador for Wallah We Can for two years. In this role he visited parts of Tunisia that are often neglected and overlooked, and tried to fundraise as well as design solutions for the problems he encountered in public boarding schools. This was his first experience of realizing that any individual regardless of their resources can and should make a difference, and that living away from your own country should not be a reason to be passive and not contribute to the development of the region.

He also served as the President of the Computer Science Undergraduate Council while at Rochester, which allowed him to give a voice to international students in the Computer Science department. This resulted in meaningful relationships with minorities who faced difficulties in a tech environment that was not welcoming to ‘outsiders’, inspiring him to stay vigilant and point out subtle injustices even if they didn’t impact him personally.

Kallel’s work experience included a Program Manager Internship with Microsoft and Traveling Associate for Africa as part of Seedstars World. This one-year experience with Seedstars World was most likely the catalyst for setting up Kaoun as it enabled him to travel to 16 African countries and explore the amazing things that talented African entrepreneurs are doing.

“It taught me how similar people are in all corners of the continent, and inspired me not only to go back and start a business in my native country Tunisia, but also to make it my mission to bring North Africa closer to the rest of the continent on a social and economic level, and explore African culture with all it has to offer.”

Kallel received the Forbes Competition prize of $5K towards a project based in Tunisia.

I AM A HARAMBEAN

Anis Kallel views Harambe as an opportunity to learn from the best.

“Being a Harambean is the perfect opportunity for me to grow my venture while being surrounded by some of the most talented individuals the continent has to offer, and people who share the same level of commitment towards their countries and region as a whole. Being a Harambean is key to having challenging, intellectual discussions and building lasting relationships that can only bring nations closer, and combine people’s perspectives, traditions, experiences and visions into one big flavorful dish of prosperity and peace. I love being part of a rich and dynamic community that wants to tell the story of nations and create a new narrative for what Africa can be.”