January 30, 2018

Flutterwave, Simbapay, Mergims, Sawapay and Sendwave: 5 remittance specialists!

by Jens Ischebeck

The international remittance market has grown exponentially, and it is not about to stop. According to World Bank statistics, a growth of 4-5% can be expected annually. The use of online services is one that has triggered this growth on massive levels. An area that was previously complacent in terms of new services is now full of ideas and startups.

More and more local fintech startups offer money transfer services for specialized target groups and niche markets. E.g. remittances from Afro-origin people living in US or at least outside of Africa.

Flutterwave and Simbapay are shining examples of this recent development. With Mergims, Sawapay and Sendwave in their back chasing them.

Investors have realised how much potential these incumbents into the market possess and are backing their play. The availability of cheap smartphones and access to the internet have made money on mobile transfer services the hottest commodity in the business.

Remittance companies for Africa

The demand for services for money transfer to African countries is exceptionally high, and there are a few startups that are meeting those needs. Send money online services such as WordRemit, Azimo, CurrencyFair and Wise have been in the business for a few years, but now young regional African providers have entered the market.

The new providers understand the needs of Africans living abroad to access pay bill services for necessities such as electricity, school fees, hospital services and mortgages. These startups work by focusing on a few countries and then moving on to Diaspora hotspots.

Pay Bill services: The future is already here

Countries in the Horn of Africa have been at the forefront of cutting-edge mobile money services. Nations such Kenya, Tanzania, Rwanda and Ethiopia have provided ways for people to send money from abroad to their relatives and friends.

However, a majority of the remittance services available in the past allowed for person-to-person transfers but with the money on mobile services, persons-to-accredited merchants have become possible through paybill menus.

It means that an individual living abroad can link with a trader or merchant back home and send money on a money transfer app for their relatives to purchase items. The advantage here is that it saves both parties time and hassle. The recipients don’t have to worry about withdrawals and the fees they come with or the insecurity of moving around with money. All they have to do is make their purchases.

By using an online bill payment service, bills can be paid on time, without having to fret whether it’s a holiday or not. With a money transfer app, the sender doesn’t even have to move from where they are. Only the touch of a screen and money is sent to a merchant.

African online money transfer providers

Here is a look at the regional African providers making it a breeze for Africans in the Diaspora to send money online.


Founded by Iyinoluwa Aboyeji in Lagos (Nigeria) / San Francisco (USA) in 2016, Flutterwave is the new fintech start at the African startup horizon. In 2017 Flutterwave was named Africa’s best fintech company at the Apps Africa Innovation Awards. It has attracted significant investment from experienced Fintech investors such as Ycombinator Continuity Fund (investors in Stripe), Greycroft (investors in Braintree and Venmo), Greenvisor Capital, Omidyar Network, and Glynn Capital amongst others.

Flutterwave’s customers are banks and businesses. The idea is to easen payments across Africa. In order to reach this goal, the company provides a payment API. By integrating this tool it allows consumers to pay in their local currency, which is an important factor, not to be underestimated, in such a huge and divided continent like Africa.

The part of Flutterwave is to organize the banks and payment-service providers in its platform. As a result, Flutterwave acts as service provider for its customers.

At the beginning, Flutterwave became immediately famous because the founder, Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, rised also the edtech startup Andela before, which received an essential funding by Mark Zuckerberg and Priscilla Chan. Andela is known for connecting African coding specialists to global companies.

Flutterwave processes payments in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya and South Africa. Flutterwave accepts any payment type: mobile money, credit and debit cards, Cash tokens, USSD and ACH.


Founded by Nyasinga Onyancha, Simbapay is in London and caters to Kenyan and Nigerian recipients.

Countries that can use the service include; the UK, Ireland, Italy, Spain, France and Germany.

The platform allows money transfer to a bank account and mobile wallet like M-pesa, Paga or Airtel Money.

Simbapay is the first money on mobile service that allows international access to M-pesa Paybill. This paybill menu permits subscribers to pay bills to numerous companies in Kenya directly from their Safaricom mobile wallet. It means that through Simbapay, customers get online bill payment options to any Kenyan company that has a paybill number. And all this without the need for one to own a Safaricom number as is the case with Kenyan subscribers.

Simbapay has partnered with Family Bank, KCB, Co-op Bank and M-pesa to allow a person to make an online electricity bill payment. Customers can use their Visa and MasterCard for the service, which is available, as a money transfer app.

The limit on the money transfer online service is KES 4.5 million/45,000 USD.

Pros Simbapay

  • Fast payment service for those in Kenya and Nigeria  
  • Partnership with various banks, which makes it easy to pay utilities
  • Zero fees charges

Cons Simbapay

  • An upper limit of $45,000
  • Only offered in Kenya and Nigeria


Mergims is in Kigali, Rwanda and was founded by Louis Antoine Muhlre and Gilbert Niyo.

The money on mobile service provides a prepaid platform for first necessity products and services in Rwanda. By 2025, 90% of first necessity products and services will be prepaid.

Some of these paybill services include; tuition, groceries, airtime, electricity/power, medicine and mortgages. Through Mergims, customers living abroad can access online electricity bill payment services.

Mergims provides a money transfer app for customers to enjoy mobile money.

Pros Mergims

  • Fast money transfers  
  • Convenient cash-to-good service
  • Easy to use

Cons Mergims

  • Only offered in Rwanda
  • Limited services and goods can be bought


SawaPay is owned by First Choice Global Ltd and was founded by Alan Osoro in Kenya.

With SawaPay, customers can send money from the US to an M-pesa or Kenyan Bank account. The money transfer operator, CoinX has an agreement with SawaPay to allow the money on mobile service to be a correspondent into Sub-Saharan Africa.

Besides online electricity bill payment, customers can use SawaPay to pay for Mortgages, tuition, airtime and groceries.

Available as a money transfer app, the service targets Ethiopians living in the US and US-Ethiopians.

Pros Sawapay

  • Quick funds transfer from the USA  
  • Easy to use
  • Allows those working abroad to pay utilities and even school fees for their relatives in Kenya

Cons Sawapay

  • Only offered in Kenya
  • Not available in all US states


US citizens run the Sendwave money on mobile service, so it doesn’t count as a full regional online money transfer platform.

The money transfer online service allows people living in the US or Canada to send money to East Africa (and Ethiopia). The majority of the target audience, however, are Ethiopians in the US.

Customers don’t have to pay fees to send money online using the of the money transfer app; just the currency exchange rate.

Pros Sendwave

  • Money transfers are very fast, often taking 30 seconds  
  • The Wave app is simple to use
  • The Exchange rates for some pairs are quite competitive
  • There is no fee except for the percentage charged on the exchange rate

Cons Sendwave

  • Limited availability since you can only send funds from the US, UK, and Canada
  • Limited receiving ability since receivers must be in Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Ghana, or Nigeria
  • The exchange rates for some pairs are not competitive
  • You can only access the Wave service via a mobile app, there is no website

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