“Money is one of the most significant inventions in human history. But it was designed years and years ago. Consider this: what would money look like if we could redesign it today?”
These are the thought-provoking insights of Meijert de Wijn. He is co-founder of Celbux, a South African software company set on revolutionising the world of money.
Having worked for two decades in the financial sector, de Wijn’s academic grounding in philosophy and psychology led him to question how the industry worked, to examine its values and to explore what’s right and fair.
“People don’t get how much money costs. Money costs a lot. It’s an expensive system that originated to facilitate trade,” explains de Wijn. “That got me thinking: if we can take that cost out of the system give it back to the people, everyone wins.”
When cloud computing emerged, de Wijn seized the opportunity to do things differently and to disrupt the market. Celbux was born.
Leveraging the Power of the Cloud
Celbux was built in the cloud right from the start. De Wijn was quick to recognise that, while not first to market, Google would be one of cloud’s success stories. He placed his bets and committed Celbux to Google’s Cloud Platform.
“It was the right decision. There are a lot of shared values between us,” explains de Wijn. “Google is known for shaking things up. It entered the search engine market and transformed it, and it has done the same in the cloud space. Likewise at Celbux, we’re all about challenging the status quo and pushing boundaries.”
Celbux has developed a software solution that uses Google’s Cloud Platform to enable fast, secure and affordable transactions between anyone, across any device.
A typical transaction involves three parties: the funder who puts money onto the system (and can place rules on how, when and where the money is spent); the recipient of that value; and the merchant who exchanges the value for goods and services.
Facilitating Value Exchange
Celbux only earns when there is a value exchange. “We only make money from the merchants and only when they have made money,” explains de Wijn. “We’ve brought value to the merchant, we brought the merchant a customer that spent and spent electronically. That’s where we take a fee.”
For example, an institution might need to provide grant funds to school students for tuition, food, books and accommodation.
It places the money on the Celbux platform, applying rules about what the students can buy and from which merchants. 100% of the value funded is safely received by the students, accessible through wallets on their smart or feature mobile phones. The students can then spend the money on the intended products from the designated merchants using their mobile devices.
Celbux earns a fee from the merchant after students have bought goods – ensuring the full value of the grant is realised by the students it was intended for.
Money Evolves to Smart Money
“By allowing parties to place rules at the point of payment, Celbux has transformed money into smart money. If a business sends you money, it can control where and how you spend that money – groceries rather than entertainment for example. And then after payment, it has the capability to provide money back into the wallet as part of a loyalty programme. And it happens instantly – the consumer doesn’t have to wait days for it to be processed,” says de Wijn.
Celbux is popular with companies of all sizes and is working with an impressive list of merchants. These companies leverage their loyalty programmes, incentivising consumers, rewarding them and directing their spending.
Celbux manages the complexity of the infinitely configurable capability, allowing merchants to apply their programme through a simple integration layer and removing the logistics and costs associated with traditional loyalty programmes.
Well-known merchants include Africa’s largest food retailer; South Africa’s leading pharmacy group Dis-Chem Pharmacies; health, beauty and lifestyle retailer Clicks; leading online store Takealot.com; as well as global brands such as McDonald’s and Burger King.
Celbux is seeing significant uptake from consumers. A Celbux wallet is created in real-time, meaning no lengthy sign-up or vetting process. This makes it inherently accessible to everyone. Consumers can send money to anyone with a mobile number, whether they have a Celbux wallet or not.
“Basic transactional banking services in South Africa can be expensive and are not accessible to all. That is no fault of traditional providers, but it is time to take financial services to the people that need them. We want to be financially inclusive and create a future where people don’t have to travel or queue for hours just to receive or spend money,” says de Wijn.
Disbursing Value at Scale
Google is integral to the success of Celbux. As the number of Celbux merchants grows, so does the number of transactions it needs to support.
The Google Cloud Platform seamlessly scales to accommodate this, and to date has handled more than 35 million Celbux transactions. “Celbux wants to disburse value to people and, with Google, we can do that at scale, efficiently and in an instant,” says de Wijn.
Reliability is also key. When preparing for a recent collaboration with a bank, Celbux demonstrated that over a three-year period, the platform’s longest downtime was 10 milliseconds. “We have built Celbux to be the system that every time you trade, it just works,” explains de Wijn.
“With Google, we don’t need to care if a server breaks. Google’s Cloud Platform has been built so that if it breaks, the workload shifts to another server. It is highly redundant, highly available and highly scalable.”
The team at Celbux value and benefit from Google’s ongoing innovation – from Machine Learning and Big Data through to new kinds of security.
The technologies are integrated into Google’s Cloud Platform. “We’re doing lots of cool stuff with the help of Google. We’re early adopters of Google software so we provide feedback and challenge their engineers,” says de Wijn.
However, when it comes to innovation at Celbux, this isn’t all channelled into the creation of an increasingly feature-rich platform with fancy new functions being added every day. Instead innovation is focused on making the product super simple, easy and reliable.
The African Connection
Celbux’s relationship with Google has historically been handled from the US. Recently however, Celbux has partnered with the South African team at Google, Google Cloud Premier Partner DotModus, and Digicloud Africa, Google’s enablement partner in Africa.
With their shared understanding and passion for the continent, the goal is to help Celbux expand its reach further across Africa.
“This is such an awesome place to make a difference and Google has a great suite of products and tools ready to change how Africa operates. We want to partner with lots of African tech companies, and show people that technology isn’t just about selfies or headphones, but it’s about changing how people live.”
The success of Celbux so far is undeniable – its turnover since its inception has reached ZAR 7 billion. But de Wijn remains ambitious and true to achieving his original vision: “Everybody thinks money is the whole game, but money’s purpose is to be spent. People need to focus on what they want, on the value they want, not on money. So, let’s have an economy based on value exchange – a place where people connect. A world of value-providers.”
This article was published in partnership with DotModus.