Zambian startup Union54, which specializes in fintech, has announced that it’s developing Africa’s first card-issuing API.
According to TechCrunch, the company founded by Perseus Mlambo and Alessandra Martini claims to be Africa’s first card-issuing API — and while, technically, they’re correct, they initially thought of the idea when they were part of Zazu, their previous startup.
Back then, Zazu — which was launched in 2015 — was considered a “challenger bank,” and had to rely on outside vendors to issue debit cards to customers. According to Mlambo, some customers waited as long as 18 months to get a debit card issued in their name.
“We just realized that either the processor or the bank was not necessarily well equipped to be able to answer our questions or to be able to give us the product that we’re looking for,” the founder of the Zambian startup said in an interview with the outlet.
Because of that, Martini and Mlambo met directly with Mastercard so that Zazu could become what’s known as an “issuing bank” (meaning, a bank that issues debit cards on the spot, much like TD Bank does in the United States). Martini and Mlambo claim that they were then issued a Mastercard Principle membership — and became the first African fintech company to achieve such an accomplishment.
So that brings us to Union54. Although their API is currently in beta, the Zambian startup is looking to provide a series of services, including ledger-based, acquirers/gateways, buy now, pay later, credit union, delivery companies, digital banking, credit card management, and corporate cards, to its clientele. Martini and Mlambo claim that they’re hoping to “fill in the gaps” in these sectors, which are evident throughout Africa.
“I am really excited and proud that Union54 has become the first Zambian fintech to get accepted into Y Combinator. And the second in Southern Africa. As you will know, when global investors look at Africa, they often do so from a West African perspective and our getting into Y Combinator validates a small part of our broader hypothesis: it is possible to service Africa from friendly jurisdictions such as Zambia,” Mlambo said to TechCrunch.