A Kenyan technology company has developed a web application that enables investment groups to automate their financial records and systems, from collection to investment, bringing transparency and efficiency. The product, dubbed Chamasoft http://chamasoft.com/, enables groups, popularly referred to in Swahili as 'Chamas', to monitor collection and investment of funds and track group income and expenditure.
Through the cloud based software, chama members are also able to view group accounts on a dashboard such as their group statements, how much they contributed throughout their chama lifetime, penalties contributed and all other financials pertaining to the members and group. According to Martin Njuguna, founder of Digital Vision EA, the company behind Chamasoft, the service was created to enable groups overcome challenges they face such as transparency, communication and the lack of a simple system where they can check their balances and receive automated reminders on group activities. "We found that a lot of chama's have big plans but they have no secretariat. Most people have day job's and can only attend one or two monthly meetings. We created Chamasoft to solve this problem. Chamasoft is an online office which any chama member can visit virtually and monitor group financial activities. We are very impressed by the feedback so far and the uptake has been incredible,"he said.
Chamasoft also offers free SMS and email alerts and tracks member invitations. The software has automated the processes of issuance and tracking of loans and monitoring of Chama assets and liabilities.The revolutionary service is one of the 40 technology services and companies that will be officially launched at the Demo Africa conference in Nairobi later in the month.
"We tried as much as possible to understand how chamas work and the challenges they face. From the feedback we have received so far, we have been able to improve chamasoft to truly fit the needs of a chama. There is nothing like this in the market. We believe we will have a first mover advantage," said Njuguna
Chama's are common in Kenya and have evolved from the traditional women groups where women saved and borrowed funds for household utensils to groups that have acquired millions of shillings worth of assets.
Notable investment groups in Kenya include the Nairobi Securities Exchange listed Transcentury Limited Group, a multi-million dollar worth company, that was founded by a group of 29 Kenyans 16 year ago who raised $280,000 to start an investment company. The US$690 million worth Thika Greens Golf Estate project in Thika also traces its roots to an investment group. Across Kenya, people interested in acquiring assets, are turning to investment groups which enable them to pool resources easily, get better loan facilities and invest in capital intensive projects. Popular investment attractions include purchasing land, construction, transport services, establishing schools, managing hotels and purchasing stocks.
"We believe there is a very big opportunity in the market and this has been validated by the fact that financial institutions like banks have come up with specific products for chamas. They have launched chama accounts with specific advantages and financing terms. So, we know the opportunity is there," said Njuguna.
The service is available for as low as Ksh100 (US$1.2) per user per month. An advanced package that has more features is available for Ksh.250 (US$2.9) per user per month.
To use the service, one has to log into the chamasoft website http://chamasoft.com/and register their group. They will then receive a notification via email and SMS. One would then be able to invite their group members to register and personalize their chamasoft account to indicate how often they meet, upload their current financial records, state rules for penalties and loan application files.
Njuguna said the Chamasoft team is working on improving the product further to make it possible for auditors, banks and financial analysts to use the data collected and stored for auditing, advisory and lending approvals. He reckoned that a mobile version will be launched soon.
"We want to have a comprehensive product. The service will evolve with the kind of feedback we get. We want to make sure that this product is a one stop shop for all Chama needs," he added.