From student loan provider to education enabler

Apr 21 2017 14:21
Glenda Williams

Amasi Mwela has a rather considerable – and certainly not pedestrian – long-term goal for his company. “I want Fundi to become a one-stop-shop for all things education.”   

It’s a tall order, but if anyone is likely to pull it off, it’s Mwela. 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 a not inconsequential R5bn. But it is no longer just a loan provider. Mwela is seeing to that. 

His passion for education is deep rooted. He is a man of action, his energy rubbing off and inspiring those around him. 

Over the past 13 months, the company has rebranded and rebuilt its systems, has launched new solutions and opened a concept store. It has also developed and provided an innovative 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 tells finweek.  

A mere four months after joining as Fundi’s chief operating officer in 2015, and 14 days short of his 35th birthday, 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 his own family was very different to that of his siblings and their families.  

“The best way I can contribute to humanity is to get as many people to experience what I have experienced from my dad’s journey. Education has a multi-generational effect and that first generation makes the difference. I will dedicate myself to producing more people like my father.”  

Changing the company to fit the education space

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.  

“We knew how many loans we were providing and our collection rate. But we weren’t measuring what students were doing or whether or not they were passing. While the granting of a loan solves the funding issue, it does not necessarily ensure that a student gets through university. Research showed the need was much broader than we were able to provide so we looked at what we could do to change that.”  

Fundi aspires to what it calls its Vision 2020 – it views education as an ecosystem; the players, stakeholders, revenue flows and the levers that would need to be pulled to offer more support to students.   

“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 start-ups – 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 R1.5bn 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 utilise 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 a whopping 98% of its loans. “It’s an indication of the value that people place on education,” he asserts. 

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.  

Shaping the one-stop-shop blueprint

No longer does the company have a transaction-only relationship with its clients. Now it knows everything it needs to know about those clients. “What’s key is that as an organisation we can measure the impact of education and measure skills contribution. Very few financial institutions can do that.”  

Fundi also recently piloted its cashless school solution in two schools where students transact using a wristband pre-loaded 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 also expands to building or partnering in a jobs portal. The company is already in discussion with various partners.  

Different leadership. A different culture. Different values, vision and mission. All are facilitating Fundi’s ability to enable learning, disrupt traditional financial and education industries and along the way carve out new ones as it is doing in the fund administration industry.   

“It’s now a much bigger cause than just granting loans,” says Mwela. 

This article originally appeared in the 13 April edition of finweekBuy and download the magazine here.