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Ex-soldier develops technology to secure money transfers

By | Published Tue, January 12th 2010 at 00:00, Updated Tue, January 12th 2010 at 00:00 GMT +3

By John Njiraini

When former acting finance Minister John Michuki raised a red flag over Safaricom’s M-Pesa, there was unprecedented uproar as many came to the defence of the money transfer service.

Michuki’s assertion that M-Pesa "might not end well" was seen as an alarmist statement then. But the fact that the service was a new innovation meant its risks were barely known.

Three years down the line the service has defied all odds to become one of the most valuable innovations of the last decade.

Today it’s competition galore in the sub-sector. But this does not mean it is completely safe with more people and players entering the market.

The need to guarantee total security and reduce the cost of operation for the service has become paramount.

Mr Julius Mwale, President and Head of Strategy of US-based SBA Technologies Inc.

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And this is what Julius Mwale, the President and Head of Strategy of US-based SBA Technologies Inc has dedicated his time doing for the better part of the last decade.

Mwale, a former Kenya Air Force soldier who fled the country in 2000 and sought asylum in the US after differing with the top brass in the Government, has developed a technology to secure mobile and internet banking, e-commerce and e-government.

"We are looking at huge transactions that could raise fears of integrity in the future and this is why we have developed a technology that can secure them," said Mwale whose new home in the US was a shack in New York for about a year until his asylum application was approved.

With word on his innovation getting into US technology circles, he was soon enrolled as a special admit at Columbia University for masters in Electrical engineering in 2003.

Secure transaction

At Columbia his technology attracted faculty approval from world’s top technology researcher. This made it easier for him to raise the initial $2 million required to roll-out the technology.

The technology, dubbed Data Aggregation Timer Enabled Console, is integrated seamlessly with a client’s system and ensures that all transactions carried out are secure.

The technology, which has patents-pending in various countries, comes in three generations for online banking security or X, government agencies and private institutions or Y, and for mobile-based transactions and banking or Z.

The firm’s offices in the US. [PHOTO: JOHN NJIRAINI /STANDARD]

However, the technology can only work effectively where mobile phone subscribers are registered. Already, the Government has started a process requiring mobile phone users register their SIM cards.

Currently, the firm is targeting revenues of $1 billion by end of this year. But its guaranteed revenues last year stood at about $100 million.

Locally, the company has bagged two clients and expects to work with all mobile phone operators, commercial banks and government agencies by the end of this year.

Mwale said the firm will increase its presence in emerging markets where information, communications and technology is viewed as the next frontier for economic growth. "We want to control the developing world’s market where mobile phone usage is growing fast," he said.

Born in Butere in Western Province in 1976, he developed interest in the field of technology when he joined the Armed Forces in 1994.
It is here that he enrolled at the Kenya Armed Forces Technical College for a national diploma in Telecommunication Engineering where he emerged the best student in the 1998 Kenya National Examinations Council Examinations.

"There is no doubt that mobile and internet based transactions will continue to increase at a significant rate. We are providing a technological platform to secure these transactions," Mwale told Financial Journal in an interview during a short visit in Kenya.

Research

Studies by Forrester Research, a technology and market research firm, shows that in the next three years there will be about 200 million mobile telephone users in Kenya, South Africa and Nigeria.

It is anticipated that about $1 trillion would be transferred annually using mobile phones by 2013, while operators would rake in over $5.5 billion in revenues according to research by Informa Telecoms, a leading telecommunication research firm.

In Kenya, where M-Pesa already has seven million registered users and Sh255 billion has been transacted since the service was launched in 2007, it is expected that $2 billion will be generated annually by 2013.

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