New Member Spotlight: Tyme

Saturday 28th November 2020

The Alliance welcomed Tyme as our first digital banking member. Tyme is focused on financially empowering underserved consumers in emerging markets; it deploys technology, product and operational expertise to create digital banks. Their first major deployment is TymeBank in South Africa, the first black-owned bank in the country. Launched in Feb 2019, TymeBank, a fully licensed commercial bank, now has 2.5 million customers. The Alliance interviewed Rachel Freeman, Executive Director and Chief Growth Officer, about the barriers women face in accessing financial services and TymeBank’s role in closing them and what it would take to create an enabling environment for the fintech sector to be more gender intelligent.

Alliance: For the benefit of our global readership, can you introduce us to Tyme and the kind of services you provide?

Tyme is a digital banking group that deploys technology, product and operational expertise to create digital banks. Our first major deployment is TymeBank in South Africa. TymeBank is South Africa’s first black-owned bank and targets the unbanked and under-served. We started the bank on the belief that people want to integrate banking into their daily lives.  We work to meet our customers where they are in their digital journey. 

Launched in Feb 2019, Tyme Bank, a fully licensed commercial bank, now has 2.5 million customers. At Tyme, we believe that it is a combination of technology and physical touch that works best with customers. Our back end is all digital i.e. there is no paper or forms used in the bank. 

We onboard customers through kiosks located in retail stores. A customer can get a bank account and a personalized Visa debit card in about 3 minutes through our kiosks. The card and account are linked by code to the retail supermarket cash register to enable cash deposit and cash withdrawal at the till point.

We have ‘ambassadors’ standing next to the kiosks to help our new bank customers learn more about their accounts after they onboard. In traditional bank branches, customers spend more time filling out forms and often don’t get educated about their account or banking through the process, whereas our ambassadors provide support and educate our customers through the onboarding process.

We are now serving more women than men and in terms of Net Promoter Score (NPS), low-income women rated us at 69 which is higher NPS than Amazon.

Alliance: The World Bank’s Global Findex shows a persistent 8-percentage point gender gap in access to a bank account. What do you see as the main barriers women face in accessing basic financial services and how is TymeBank contributing to closing the gender gap?

The three main barriers that women face are physical, financial and emotional. In terms of physical barriers, it can be hard for women to get to a bank, so we locate our kiosks in the grocery stores which are in the neighborhoods thereby reducing the need for a separate trip to a standalone bank branch.  In terms of financial accessibility, it’s expensive to have a bank account in South Africa. Fees are charged to open and maintain accounts and the cost can at times be so prohibitive for many. We addressed this through transparency in pricing and a ‘pay-as-you-go’ fee structure. We are much more cost effective to our customers because we are not limited by technology like traditional players and our operating model is low cost.  For example, we only have 230 staff serving over 2.5 million customers, a model that brick-and-mortar banks won’t be able to adopt. Lastly, the emotional barrier is due to un-banked or under-banked women feeling reluctant to visit a bank or open an account. Our ambassadors who come from local communities are much more trusted. By making our customers feel comfortable, they start to trust us, and these barriers are broken down.

These three barriers—physical, financial and emotional barriers—exist not just in South Africa but other markets we are looking at in the South East Asia region.  

Alliance: Conventional wisdom says that un-banked/under-banked women are costly to serve. Can you share what you are finding in terms of your business case?

My views come from my time at IFC and from interacting with organizations such as the Financial Alliance for Women which have proven that there is business case for serving women all over the world.  Many studies that show the life-time value of women is greater because women are sticky customers. They will stay with you and purchase many more products if served well. Internally, I have discussed this aspect in our leadership group, and I highlight my personal experience. I still have the same bank account that I had when I was six years old. I have stuck with them through many moves across continents because the bank values me as a customer. I believe this to be fundamentally true across the world. If we serve women well, they will stay with us and have higher value as customers. 

We launched TymeBank with transactional and savings accounts only and have just launched our “buy now and pay later” product which we call MoreTyme. Our MoreTyme product is integrated into the TymeBank customer account, so it is based on transactions, done through our ‘PicknPay’ store partners—starting with white goods. If you put 50 percent down, you pay twice over the next 2 months with no interest, thereby increasing customers’ buying power (with no financing costs for the customer). This offering will be expanded to more retail stores soon. Then, there is the eCommerce play with, which I’ll talk about later.

Since we are a fairly new bank (21 months old), some of our calculations are showing that products per customer are pretty even between men and women, but as we expand the breath of our products, women will uptake more than men. We’ve seen different use patterns as well. For example, how women use our cash-in cash-out function in the stores much more than men, whereas men are using other banks’ ATMs, which is quite a costly product.

Interestingly, we’ve seen a lag in terms of take-up rates. It seems that women take longer to be on-boarded. After spending time and listening to the presentation that you and Yosha [Senior Advisor, Finstep Asia] did at the Summit, we think that this analysis was an unconscious bias on our part. Just as Yosha said she had to check herself when looking back now at her first fintech, so we are now looking at the numbers anew. We are a data heavy institution, so our data scientists regularly challenge our thinking. Our Chief Data Scientist has led our thinking around the use of data to highlight usage rates and trends by gender and identify underlying themes for decision making purposes.  We review churn, dormancy, and what channel/product are being used, to really have a very good grasp of our customers. This newfound awareness of the importance of gender-disaggregated data and analysis came through our conversations we had during the fintech research the Financial Alliance for Women conducted over the summer.

Alliance: It seems like TymeBank has a culture that is really focused on having an impact on the market?

It really does come down to culture which is set from the top. For example, our TymeBank CEO comes from a background where he was financially excluded.  He speaks regularly about how he valued the first retail store that gave him credit, a starting point for him to build a credit history to later secure a mortgage. Now running TymeBank, he reflects on how difficult it was initially to have access to basic financial products.

We believe that financial inclusion and dignity in banking are in Tyme’s DNA.

Alliance: TymeBank won “The Female Economy FinTech of the Year” award at the Alliance Hack, our first ever hackathon. You won the challenge that was about supporting women SMEs—with both access to finance for their business and access to non-financial services. Can you elaborate on the solution you designed?

We participated in this because we got interested in social commerce when we met whom we partnered with to win the Hack. knows that regular eCommerce has its limitations and that it is through conversational commerce, via social media platforms like Instagram and Facebook Messenger, that the sales process can really be successful. supports entrepreneurs with digital storefronts and has a very sophisticated sales bot that helps the customer out. After the sale, helps the seller through inventory management and other inputs.

So we felt it was the best non-financial services offer out there, and our data people saw this as the best use of data they had seen. We decided to partner with for this solution, with us bringing in the financial services aspect and providing the sales platform. Jumper’s co-founder, Nyha Shree, spoke at your Summit and explained the model. It is amazing how many women are trying to sell over social media, but it’s very fragmented, so this tool will enable them to expand more. As they grow, we have launched our ‘soft POS’ which is on their phone two phones tap each other and transact to enable payments.  We can then leverage the data from these transactions to create targeted lending products for the women sole proprietors. 

We are working with to launch the product in South Africa, and the Alliance Hack prize money will support this launch.

Alliance: As this solution is in partnership with, to what extent do you see partnerships across ecosystem actors the way of the future?

For us, partnerships are very important. Our model in South Africa is a partnership with grocery stores such as PicknPay. Our debit card gives customers PicknPay’s Smart Shopper points, and enrollment is automatic. We also have a data sharing arrangement with PicknPay to enhance greater customer understanding on both sides.  Partnerships on distribution is key.

Our whole tech stack is based on partnerships with about 40 different vendors. And we partner with community organizations such as ZCC church, the largest church group in South Africa, with millions of members. We have mobile kiosks across the church meetings to enable the members to become financially included. As we enter new countries, we will do so through distribution partners.

Alliance: At the Alliance while 100 percent of our members report working with fintechs, just 8 percent of members report their women’s markets teams having any interaction with fintechs to solve issues that women face. What can be done to encourage more interaction within banks and between banks and fintechs when it comes to designing solutions for women’s markets?

I think it’s to do with ‘large’ institutions, as we are too small to have a women’s market team.

Innovations come to banks through the “innovation” or accelerator team, so the product teams are not getting the chance to work with the fintechs. At Tyme, we have product people interact directly with fintechs.

For us, we are a bank integrating fintechs and we are also a fintech selling to banks. The latter is quite difficult. There are so many different layers inside a bank once you get into procurement everything stops.

For banks to make it work, you need to have a fintech friendly procurement process. That’s where to start. Every fintech is struggling to sell to banks, and the banks are struggling to solve how to engage.

Alliance: You capture sex gender-disaggregated data, as many fintechs do. Our research found however that very few are actually looking at that data to design or refine their business model in terms of a basic segmentation—by gender. Why is this the case and what can be done to encourage the fintech sector to be more gender intelligent?

The most important thing is to have more women on the boards of fintechs and more women in leadership.  While Tyme’s vision and strategy has always been focused on inclusiveness, you could see there was a subtle shift in language and focus on better understanding of the women’s segment when I joined the leadership team. Having a senior woman advocate about women’s access to finance has put the issue front and center for Tyme in Hong Kong and in South Africa. Fintechs do change when senior women join so I am issuing a call to action. IFC had such strong representation of women in leadership positions, that I have been shocked to find so few women in senior roles in the digital banking and fintech spaces. Going forward both founders and the funders – venture firms – can play a huge role in promoting women.

Banks have more women in them, but the combination of tech and finance makes it particularly challenging for fintechs. It’s hard to find a fintech founder, the original founder, who is a female.

Alliance: We know that diverse teams & inclusive organizational culture are key to solving for market gaps. What is Tyme’s gender diversity & inclusion strategy?

Our Tyme in Hong Kong office that oversees international strategy has just 10 staff members whose composition is quite diverse in terms of background and experience. 

Our Chief Risk Officer is a proponent of diversity and is driving the development of policies and new procedures that support team diversity and inclusiveness.   

Our founder and the leadership team acknowledge that we need to build on the foundation of diversity we have built. As we hire more people, we know that there is a need to include more women in leadership roles and address diversity in general.

Alliance: How did you hear about the Alliance Hackathon and why did you decide to participate?

I was one of the founders of APIX so I keep in touch regularly and heard about the Hackathon through that. And of course, I know FinStep Asia, the firm who conducted the research very well. The Hack also allowed us to cement our idea with And it was the first competition that we applied to and won, so this had a massive impact on us, on our Board. This enabled us to highlight the women’s issue with our shareholders.

In fact, we launched a Hack soon after yours, looking for a fintech that could pull out information from our bank that could generate regulatory reports, identify key questions for eKYC etc. The idea is to find other fintech players that are best in their categories and integrate them into our tech stack.   

As I mentioned, we also started looking at our customer data with a gender lens, as a result of our interactions with you.

Alliance: What would be your advice to Fintechs to create scalable solutions that can break down systemic barriers and drive the female economy?

I actually think doing ethnographic research at the beginning; not large surveys but having people following consumers around for 2 weeks is really insightful. Partnering with the right research firm to do this is critical to understand where people are at, and then it’s quite easy to develop the solution from there.

For more information on AllianceHack 2021 watch this space!

TymeBank at a glance (December 2019)

No. of Employees:

% of female employees:

No. of Clients: 2.5 Million 

% of female clients:  

Number of countries operating in:
TymeBank – South Africa; Tyme – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, South Africa, New Zealand