To fully understand the importance of what Evelyn Kaingu is building at Lupiya, you have to step back and look at the financial picture in Zambia. According to the most recent Finscope 2020 survey, the country’s population currently stands at 17.9 million with a total adult population of 9.5 million people. Of those 9.5 million adults, 54 percent live in rural areas while 46 percent live in urban areas. Furthermore, 53 percent of these adults are female while 47 percent are male. Put simply, Zambia has more people living in rural areas than urban areas and more women than men.
Currently, 70 percent of Zambians are financially included versus 30 percent who are financially excluded. Financial inclusion is defined as the availability and equality of opportunities to access financial services. Without this equal access to financial services, the economic and social development of a country is stunted and its people live in a perpetual state of poverty.
Lupiya’s mission is to “foster financial inclusion in Zambia by simplifying borrowing processes and requirements.” The company was founded in 2016 by Evelyn Kaingu and her co-founder Muchu Kaingu, who also happens to be her husband. The idea for Lupiya came towards the end of Evelyn’s short stints in the corporate world where she had roles at multinational retailer Spar and at the World Bank.
Lupiya does not have a single branch and the entire loan application process is done online. The customer simply goes onto the website, types in the amount of the loan required and gets all the relevant information necessary to help make an informed decision. This approach takes away the guesswork from accessing loans and perhaps encourages more people who would be otherwise excluded to create new opportunities.
Evelyn is the sixth in a family of seven. She was born and raised in Kafue where she exhibited entrepreneurial inclinations from a very young age. “I have been an entrepreneur all my life. From Grade 7 into tertiary education, I always believed I had an events company. I would host modeling competitions in my neighborhood and charge my friends a fee to come and watch” says Evelyn. Her flair for event planning would continue at Cavendish University where she pursued a degree in Economics. While at Cavendish, she launched the first Mr & Ms Cavendish beauty pageant which still exists at the university today.
Lupiya’s core customer base is made of salaried employees who have propelled the growth of the business’ revenue. In 2016, Lupiya had only 16 salaried debtors on their portfolio and today that number has grown to over 10,000 debtors who borrow from Lupiya to meet their short-term obligations. Lupiya focuses on women and has developed a tailored product called Lupiya for Women which addresses the unique financial needs of Zambian women. While this business focus on women is strategic, it is also personal for Evelyn: “me being a woman and not being able to meet the requirements of a formal lender and not having data around why I could not qualify made us focus on women” says Evelyn. Initially, Lupiya was supposed to be for women only and was meant to alleviate the challenges that women face when it comes to accessing finance. However, as the company grew, it became clear that lack of access to affordable financial services was a widespread problem and Lupiya could provide their unique solution to both men and women.
Evelyn’s success with building Lupiya has not come without challenges. Female representation remains a real challenge both locally and globally and Evelyn has not been spared from these challenges. She recalls a time when Lupiya lost out on a lucrative contract, not on merit but because it was led by a female. As fate would have it, the company that was awarded the contract failed to deliver and Lupiya was awarded the contract on merit. “When we had a conversation with the company later, we were told that we had lost out on the contract initially because we were very small and also because we were led by a woman. They were not sure whether we would deliver on what we had promised,” Evelyn shares.
Despite the challenges, the future for Lupiya could not be brighter. In July 2020, the company raised $1 million from South African venture capital firm Enygma Ventures. With this investment, Lupiya will continue to scale and roll out its services fulfilling its mission of ensuring Zambians, particularly women can participate in the economy through its financial inclusion strategy. Speaking about the growth of Lupiya, Evelyn said “growth for us has been steady and calculated… the majority of the investment went into strengthening the loan portfolio and growing our customer base. We are making sure we have the cash available to meet the demand we are having and we have seen 300 percent growth from the time we got the investment until now.”
Evelyn Kaingu has come a long way from the young event manager of beauty pageants to running a respectable micro-finance company that is leveraging technology to deliver on its promise to customers. The success of her business and her personal life are based on the same principle: the way you treat people. “One thing that my mother always told us is to be careful how you treat people. This has helped us a lot in how we handle our customers and has helped when it comes to them paying back. I believe our biggest win has always been how we treat people.”
As Lupiya turns five years old in June 2021, it is not surprising that Evelyn still remembers the first-ever customer and the first 100 women that were served by Lupiya. This focus on customers as people first is the differentiating factor of Lupiya in an industry that is known for being ruthless and for treating people simply as entries in a loan book. Today, Lupiya has lent money to over 3,000 women in community groups that were previously marginalized and excluded from accessing financial products and services.
In response to COVID-19, Lupiya has restructured the repayment terms for its customers to make it easier for them to meet their obligations albeit at the company’s expense. Speaking on restructuring the loans Evelyn says: “what we anticipate is that eventually, we will have a cash flow problem because of these restructured loans, but this is something we have chosen to give our customers because we understand the times. Our strategy is to see how best we manage our cash flow to ensure that we keep our customers happy and continue to deliver a very good product.”