The financial company is looking to change the world by solving problems in an innovative way that is relevant to all cultures.
Tala is creating the future of finance by expanding access, choice and control for over three billion people globally. The company is doing so leveraging one simple item – an Android smartphone.
The financial company, originally known corporately as InVenture, with the product name Mkopo Rahisi, was founded in Santa Monica in 2011, and launched the loan product in Nairobi, Kenya in 2014. The loan product was created with a few goals in mind. The main goal is to offer people across the world access to the credit they need to fulfill their dreams without dealing with the obstacles of traditional finance. It is also for those who don’t have an established banking or credit usage history.
At Tala, employees see the world differently by being driven by a fundamental belief to build a company that represents the needs of consumers who don’t have a formal credit history, but show incredible potential. Whether it’s helping customers open a new business, or have flexibility in their budgeting or saving, Tala is using nontraditional data to introduce three billion consumers to the global market.
Fred Muya, who is a software developer for Tala says working for Tala is great. He says it’s been real incredible to see Tala’s growth to deliver financial access, choice and control to underserved people globally.
“I would say of course it’s quite a challenge for us given that you have to factor in different cultures,” said Muya. “You can imagine comparing cultures in Asia, cultures in Africa, cultures in America. Those are three different continents and thinking of addressing the same problem. The challenge at Tala is how we approach those different markets. That’s one thing that I think is significant to measure.”
But, Tala is able to execute on this mission because of two reasons: their talented team and a mobile device.
The company is headquartered in Santa Monica and has team members spread all around the world in places such as Tanzania, The Philippines, Mexico and India. In the Nairobi office, Tala has 183 members, and is its largest office. Nairobi is home to one of their engineering hubs and houses other departments such as customer experience and recoveries, growth and marketing, accounting, people operations and user research.
Each member of the Tala team is very passionate about extending financial freedom to the billions of underserved people across the globe, such as Muya, who works in the Nairobi office and works on back-end applications. Muya works on the services that interact with the mobile app that Tala has in different markets.
Tala is very big on building innovation that solves problems relevant to all cultures and changes perspective on the world. For Muya, seeing the ability for Tala to do so makes it a possibility that something can actually come out of one place and be able to help people across the world.
“I know when people are thinking of building a global product they’ll struggle, but given that Tala has been able to expand to so many markets so far, it just makes you think maybe things are not so different across the world, right?,” Muya said. “There are those specific challenges in each market, but the fact that the core goal, the core mission is still applicable regardless of where you go to, it means to some extent we all have a common ground for all of our needs.”
Through the process, customers apply to Tala through their smartphone. From there, Tala’s app looks for patterns and behaviors that prove consistency and indicate creditworthiness, nearly instantaneously based solely on mobile device data — no paperwork or trips to the bank.
Most importantly, analyzing the data from a potential borrower’s smartphone allows Tala to see a more detailed picture of the applicant’s life than from a paper trail or even an in-person interview. In many cases, the process allows high-potential customers to be approved for credit who might have otherwise been rejected.
As Tala retains alternative data points from mobile phones such as user’s social networks, mobile money ledgers and GSM data, the company can build relationships among seemingly disconnected bits of information that can tell the company whether the applicant is likely to pay back their loan.
For Tala customer, Jenipher for example, who is a 65-year-old woman who runs a food stall in Nairobi’s central business district. Jenipher wanted to expand her business, but unfortunately had no previous loan history and wasn’t sure where to start. Her son convinced her to download the Tala app one day and when Tala saw that Jenipher was leading a very creditworthy life, they gave Jenipher her first loan. Now, she has been using Tala credit for almost two years. During that time period she increased her savings by 13 percent and her revenue by 27 percent, allowing her to open a second food stall. Just recently she applied for a small business loan from a commercial bank to open her own restaurant because she finally has the credit history to prove she deserves it. Fortunately, she was approved and now she is working on fulfilling her lifelong dream at the age of 65.
Engineers at Tala work very hard to figure out the logistics for customers like Jenipher by integrating the product and keeping it the same across all offices. To Muya, he sees engineering treated as a craft at Tala.
In the Nairobi office, engineers work very closely with the U.S. team since most of the product team is located there, says Muya. Team members travel frequently between Santa Monica and Nairobi, and to Tala’s other offices around the world.
But Muya states that there are some advantages of working specifically in Nairobi, because they are able to build services locally.
“The team here [in Nairobi] has gotten to build and work on most of the products that are used in most of our markets,” Muya said. “An added advantage for building some of the services locally is that we get to have more context on it. I think that some of the work we are doing requires us to work with some local tech partners. So, in that case, having a team here is an advantage because we get to work with local partners in an easier way.”
Diaspora innovation and implementation are especially important to the company. Since Tala serves a global customer base, it is important for them to fulfill their mission of acquiring diverse teams working together across borders and boundaries. Although it has its challenges, it is Tala’s strong belief that their company culture should reflect the kind of world we want to build and live in.
The Tala team is definitely excited about where they’ve come and where they’re going.
They are known as Kenya’s number one finance app and they want to continue to keep the momentum by expanding and innovating their products for their customers all over the world.
Through listening and learning, company has plans to continue designing and roll out more personalized credit products and other financial services that will make their customers’ lives easier. Tala is also trying to differentiate themselves from the other lenders, by utilizing the fact that somebody who has been using Tala for a longer time can certainly trust it more and they can have some benefits, according to Muya.
“For example, they may be able to get a different interest rate if they’re a good customer and are in good standing and not defaulting on their loan,” Muya said. “So trying to build that factor which is about staying ahead of the competition that’s one of the main focus points that we’re working on.”
Tala is all about growth and that’s one thing that has been extremely consistent for Muya, specifically as a software developer perspective. He is entering into his fourth year working with the company.
“If I look at myself or compare myself when I began here at this point, I would say I’ve grown several times over,” Muya said. “And this is specifically due to the company’s focus on personal and professional growth for the team members and it is those efforts that have been good for everybody to keep on improving themselves. I would say that’s one thing that is definitely the most outstanding that makes me actually really really enjoy being at Tala. By being able to grow and learn from people over the three and a half years I have been here so far.”
To learn more about the company’s background and employees experiences working with Tala, check out CEO, Shivani Siroya’s TED Talk. Want to join their mission? Check out open roles all around the world here: tala.co/careers, overview video here!