Yohana Ermias is co-founder and Chief Technology Officer (CTO) of a new company, Equb (eQub), set to become operational this month. She hopes it will “digitize the traditional means of saving money in a communal rotation”. She converses with The Reporter’s Samuel Getachew on the company, the vision, on how to use an app to ease old traditional ways and on how technology can help.
You are set to launch Equb. Tell me about that?
Thank you for this opportunity. In a nutshell, we are a new company and we are excited about the product we are introducing to the local market which is named Equb or eQub. The electronic Equb or, eQub, will push for an efficient user experience. eQub is an app that aims to digitize the traditional means of saving money in a communal rotation. For those of you who might not be familiar with what an Equb is: An Equb is an alternative means of saving money by agreeing with a group of people in your community to pool a defined amount of money routinely in a defined duration of time.
At the end of each round of said duration, a lottery draw will be held to determine which Equb group member will win the money in the pool. The rounds continue until a cycle is complete and so on and so forth. What has sustained Equb up to the present day is trust; the trust you bestow on your fellow Equb group members to abide by the social laws of an Equb and not default a payment before or after collecting their lottery. We’ve created an application that hosts all of these unique features of the traditional Equb and more.
How have you managed to incorporate trust on a digital platform involving money?
The traditional sense of Equb uses blind trust. You don’t join an Equb full of complete strangers because there needs to be an element of trust among members. We have adapted that aspect through the use of features of accountability and transparency. These two elements give people the trust they need to join an Equb group.
What is the long term mission of this company?
Our mission is digitizing informal saving practices by creating a transparent, unbiased, & efficient technological platform where traditions are preserved and inefficiencies are optimized. Our vision for this company is big and we’re only disclosing what we see for it in the near future for now, and that is to bridge a gap by on boarding the unbanked sector of the population, to democratize cash payments, and to further increase access to credit to the people of Ethiopia.
How about the benefits?
There’s an infamous Ethiopian saying that goes “Equb made nobodies into somebodies,” speaking about the promotion of saving money via communal accountability and the credit access aspect of an Equb. We want to help preserve that tradition but also scale the benefits of an Equb into this digital generation. We noticed inconveniences in the traditional Equb groups people have in their communities; there are clear solutions to these inefficiencies given the latest technologies we have.
We specifically saw inefficiencies in exchanging payments, lack of neutrality in lottery draws, lack of transparency in a member’s awareness of the state of an Equb, discoverability of an Equb group to people outside that community, lack of accountability of members that don’t abide by the social rules of the group, and many more. We have studied and designed solutions that we have turned into easy to use features in our application.
To name a few, we created the “Wheel-of-eQub” a Wheel of fortune like feature that randomly spins to draw a winner for every round of an eQub; therefore, eliminating any bias in picking a round’s winner. Another feature is the eQuber Points. This point system aims to serve as a social scorecard. For instance, every time an eQuber makes an on-time payment that earns him/her a certain amount of points and when in-turn an eQuber fails to make the payment on-time or defaults a payment completely that deducts a certain amount of points from him/her, this and many other actions you make on the app will either earn or deduct from your eQuber points. We hope this fosters accountability and allows eQub groups to vet a member to participate in their group based on the person’s good standing or ratings.
What makes it different from similar apps?
The app intends to preserve the communal way of saving. Built by trust & sustained by commitment, eQub is a social remedy for finance to many. It’s built on the rich Ethiopian tradition that is preserved. eQub will push for an efficient user experience. In addition to what I mentioned earlier, the app has more features to give users a transparent, neutral, and efficient experience on our platform. We also incorporated “eQub Waiver” where eQubers can easily shift their eQub lottery winnings to other members if they choose to differ their claim on that round. Users can also easily set “eQub Calendar” reminders for payments & send out memos to other members.
These are a few of many exciting features users will appreciate on our platform. Our value propositions clearly defined are: transparency in providing check and balance across our platform, efficiency by pushing for technology to eliminate drawbacks, neutrality by avoiding any bias in collections and draws, accountability by tracking any inconsistencies among members, accessibility by improving access to eQub and eQubers through search filters, and preserving tradition by allowing the upcoming generation to have access to Equb.
Who founded the company?
I co-founded Equb Financial Technologies PLC with my business partner Alexander Hizikias who is serving as the CEO and myself, serving as the CTO. We’re also proud and would like to highlight that eQub app is fully developed in-house and by Ethiopian talent in Ethiopia.
How about the partners?
We have ongoing discussions with different banking partners currently. We will notify the public about all our mutual partnerships as we move forward. We are fighting to ease payment hassles and inconveniences by providing our society with electronic payment options. This is one small step we are taking towards democratizing overall cash transactions & a giant leap in the sector of financial technology & digital transformation of Ethiopia.
As you may know, the founders and our supporters are young people who have seen in other countries how such technologies are beneficial to the public and how much it helps integrate and ease services. Our hope is that such an app and new ways can be emulated in Ethiopia where such service is needed but has not been realized.
I am almost certain it will be welcomed by many as we expose them to it and those who try our services feel content enough to help introduce us to others. Words of mouth complement and endorsement is important and we have taken our time, studied the experiences of others to come to this app that we feel confident to say will be well used and its features are tailored to the unique needs of our people in Ethiopia. I hope those who want to learn about us can visit our website www.equb.app and also our Twitter, facebook and Instagram pages - @equbapp and learn about us as well as start a conversation with us.
We are not just business minded but conscious of our society’s needs and very community focused. You will see that throughout our business practice.
Once again, thank you for the opportunity your paper presented us and we are conscious we are a new company with limited resources with our own PR team. We are small and growing, but we have the passion and the commitment to see our product is best used and utilized. The fact we are small makes us listen, put our ears on the ground and tweak our own products as we move forward. But I personally have to tell you, I am really excited. Among our team, we have waited for this moment and that moment has arrived and now we are going to see our product be tested and tried and to me, that remains the biggest satisfaction.