Patrick Mfossa lives in Foumban, Cameroon-- a place where it is notoriously difficult for people to access even basic financial services. Loans, savings accounts, and other advantages we enjoy through financial institutions in the United States are predominantly unavailable to the citizens in the developing world, often preventing them from having the ability to own homes, cars, and to save money for more expensive pursuits.
In response, individuals have organized an inspiring grassroots movement designed to help families gain access to the funds they need to improve their quality of life.
RoSCAs (rotating savings and credit associations) are old-age financial mechanisms comprised of family members and relatives who meet periodically in order to save and borrow together. Generally, meetings are run on a regular basis. At each meeting, each member contributes the same amount, and one member takes the whole sum. As a result, each member is able to access a larger sum of money during the life of the RoSCA, and use it for whatever purpose she or he wishes.
Every transaction is seen by every member during the meetings. Since no money is retained inside the group, no records have to be kept. These characteristics make the system a model of transparency and simplicity that is well adapted to communities with low levels of literacy.
With traditional RoSCAs, members meet in person. But more and more, friends and relatives live in different areas of a given country rather than in a singular location, making it almost impossible to run a financial group that’s based solely on trust.
Using Appsheet, Patrick and his RoSCA group, officially named “FamilyOKBank,” have been able to build a digital financial help group application that enables family members, longtime friends, and relatives to save, borrow, and lend to each other no matter where they are. The app combines mobile money functionalities and those of crowdfunding platforms.
Every family has its own app only its members can access. Patrick created a parent app he copies any time there is a new need. The link that enables members of a given FamilyOkBank to access their app is posted on a Whatsapp group created by its members.
The app has allowed FamilyOkBank to evolve its operations along with the advancements of the application. Members can choose one day between the 10th and the 15th of each month in order to make their contributions. This is not the case with traditional RoSCA’s, where contributions are done in a single day.
By combining the functionalities of mobile money and those of ROSCAs and crowdfunding, the app gives members access to additional services such as financial education (on savings, budgeting and debt management) and family crowd-lending, which enables members to add additional funds in order to meet unexpected expenses.
As Patrick says, “Saving alone is difficult, but saving together to help each other is much easier and less stressful. Our goal is to equip every single family (every single group of friends and relatives in Cameroon) with a FamilyOkBank.”