Amasi Mwela has a rather considerable long-term goal for his company.
“I want Fundi to become a one-stop shop for all things education.”
He has already made significant inroads into carving out that blueprint.
Formerly Eduloan, Fundi is a private enterprise that has provided more than 800 000 student loans over its 20 years of operation – the value of that is R5 billion.
But it is no longer just a loan provider.
Over the past 13 months, the company has rebranded and rebuilt its systems, launched new solutions and opened a concept store.
It has also developed and provided a student cash card.
Fundi’s previous CEO, Totsie Memela, poached Mwela, the former acting head of operations at Old Mutual iWYZE, the financial services group’s insurance business.
“I had just received a promotion at Old Mutual, but I truly believe that education is Africa’s answer to its many problems, so it was an easy decision,” Mwela said.
A mere four months after joining as Fundi’s chief operating officer in 2015, and 14 days short of his 35th birthday, the charismatic Mwela was Fundi’s CEO, ready to put his stamp on the education space.
“Education for me is quite personal. I have seen the difference it makes.”
Mwela is referring to his father, the only one of 10 siblings to receive a formal education.
As a result, the standard of living he was able to provide for his own family was very different to that of his siblings and their families.
Since taking over the reins as CEO, Mwela has radically transformed the company.
No longer just a loan provider, the company now provides education services and resources from Grade 8 to MBA stage.
It’s an A-Z solution, both online and on the ground, that includes tuition, textbook and laptop funding to university registration.
Reinventing the company necessitated its rebranding from Eduloan to Fundi.
“The Eduloan name didn’t reflect what we now did. Predominantly, Eduloan provided loans to civil service parents and guardians of students,” says Mwela.
“I wanted to create an organisation with heart. If a person passes, we want to know, and, if they don’t, we want to know what help they need,” he says.
In developing its new model, the company bought two young IT startups: Stoogle (rebranded to EduOne) and a division of LIV.
“Some of the platforms were completed within three months. Traditionally, that can take years. But these
[21-year-old] ‘kids’ don’t sleep; they just get it done,” says Mwela.
Fundi’s new online platform, EduOne, now provides the support and resources needed to help students on their education journey.
Among the offerings on the online portal are subject choice information, career advice, course-matching tools, university qualifying guidelines, funding applications and bursary information.
The technology also anchors Fundi’s loan business as well as its R1.5 billion bursary-management business, introduced a few years back.
Apart from taking on the administration that comes with managing bursaries for the entities that provide them, Fundi developed innovative card technology with category “pockets” that bursary students use to manage spending.
Over 200 000 bursary students now use the Fundi card at over 2 500 selected merchants countrywide. Apart from teaching students how to budget, the technology provides online visibility of student spend for bursary providers.
With this level of accountability and visibility, the bursary administration portion is growing, currently accounting for 40% of Fundi’s business.
Making up the other 60% is the loan business, where students or their sponsors receive a preferential rate for tuition, laptops and books.
The company collects 98% of its loans.
In addition to its online presence, Fundi boasts 48 branches, located mostly on university campuses. Now, though, there’s a move to stores located in major cities.
Its new concept store in Polokwane with its self-service portal, university registration facility and in-store laptops, is an example of this.
“The goal is to have one of these stores in every major city across the country in the next 18 months,” says Mwela.
Fundi recently piloted its cashless school solution in two schools where students transact using a wristband preloaded with cash.
The company plans to roll out this cashless solution to at least 10 additional schools during the financial year.
To realise his goal of taking students from Grade 8 all the way into the working environment, Mwela’s vision expands to building or partnering in a jobs portal.
The company is already in discussions with various partners. – Finweek
Education: Mwela has a BComm from Bond University and holds an MBA from Milpark Business School.
Best business advice: “No matter how senior you are in an organisation, you don’t have all the answers.”
Management style: Mwela is no figurehead, managing by “walking around” and interacting with his team. Endowed with a quirky sense of humour and an endearing modesty, he is quick to laugh and equally quick to give credit where it is due.
Currently reading: Team of Teams by General Stanley McChrystal