First Zambian startup to launch into YC develops Africa’s first card issuing API

by MMC
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More than 40 African startups from a handful of countries have gone through YC over the past decade. Zambia joins this list today, and its entrant, Union54is a first entry worthy of the name.

Union54 (54 is a nod to the number of African countries) is a fintech company founded by Perseus Mlambo and Alessandra Martini. The startup claims to be the first card issuing API in Africa and the only just launched this year. But to summarize the picture, Union54 didn’t come out of nowhere; it’s a project from the couple’s previous startup, Zazu.

Zazu Was launched in 2015 as a challenger bank in Zambia. Like any fintech on the continent, Zazu had to create its own debit cards that users could connect to a wallet. Most of the time, Zazu had to wait months for the country’s partner banks to issue these cards. Mlambo tells me that at one point they had to wait 18 months.

All this as the founders began working with area banks to begin issuing cards themselves.. But the banks have been lethargic in their approaches. “We just realized that neither the processor nor the bank were not necessarily well equipped to be able to answer our questions or to be able to provide us with the product that we are looking for,” Mlambo told TechCrunch in an interview.

The startup decided to go for the target and meet Mastercard. I mean, why wait for the banks when you can stop the people issuing these cards, right? Eventuallythe company has secured membership in Mastercard Principe, Africa’s first fintech, she claims..

As a lead member, Zazu became authorized to act as an “issuing bank”. In other words, they can provide debit cards and as “acquirers”, which means they can provide transaction processing services.

Along the way, the founders realized that has Really To advance African fintech, it was imperative to make it easier for fintechs in any African country to issue virtual or physical debit cards. The team therefore separated Union54 from Zazu. The platform now has several APIs that allow any fintech to easily issue programmable debit cards.

“We are now using our membership to be able to help other companies, any African fintech that wants to issue their own cards.. They can just come see us, connect to our APIs and get moving quicklywithout needing to spend a lot of time negotiating,” Mlambo said of providing services to other African fintechs.

The CEO adds that the company is targeting fintechs that don’t want to spend hundreds of thousands of dollars on setup fees. has get virtual or physical cards. Union54 claims to issue cards within weeks via an API that provides, among other features, BIN sponsorship, program management and settlement.

Being able to do this gives Union54 the bragging rights of being the leading card issuing API in Africa. Fintechs have rarely considered this opportunity; most are concentrated on other segments, from payment gateways to wallets. This is an interesting point to note because, in one way or another, all the big players in these segments end up trying to create virtual and physical cards for their customers and face complications.. This is the void that Union54 wants to fill, and although it is currently in beta, the company boasts an impressive anonymous customer base on its waitlist currently using the platform.

“The fascinating The problem with these companies is that they are not B or C players. They are part of the top 5% of African fintechs. And for me, I always tell people, we are now in the golden generation of African fintech. So it’s Really the ideal time for a card issuing product to work with all these guys are considered leaders in their field. This means that we Really I have something that people want to use every day,” added the CEO.

On the company’s site, there are eight use cases for its API: ledger-based, acquirers/gateways, buy now, pay later, credit union, delivery companies, digital banking, card management credit and corporate cards.

Fintechs using Union54 are also allowed to design the cards and set the currency in which they want the cards to be sent. to be in chargeand establish a complete catalog of who will use them, what they will do to be used because when they do to be used and how they will do it to be used.

Union54 charges fintechs on a pay-as-you-go basis for each API call. If a fintech company wants to create a physical card, they are loaded flat fees between $7 and $9 and fixed fees not disclosed during a transaction is made.

Mlambo says participating in YC’s 2021 summer batch allowed the company to sign up its first batch of customers, as most of them are from YC’s network.. He considers YC a program that has been “worth it since day one.”

“I am Really excited and proud that Union54 became the first Zambian fintech to be accepted into Y Combinator. And the second in southern Africa. As you know, when global investors look at Africa, they often do so from a West African perspective and our entry into Y Combinator validates a small part of our broader hypothesis: it is possible to serve the Africa from friendly jurisdictions such as Zambia.

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