A new digital startup, cWallet, a company founded by a group of HEC Paris in Qatar graduates, helps low-income workers access digital financial services without a debit or credit card.
As more and more daily-life services are offered online, they are becoming inaccessible for those who do not earn enough to open a bank account or possess a debit or credit card.
cWallet plans to combat this issue by making digital transactions possible for millions of low-income, unbanked workers around the world through an easy-to-use mobile application.
Established in 2019 by a group of seven graduates of HEC Paris in Qatar, cWallet is already available for use in Qatar and plans to expand to other countries in future.
“A cashless society is the future, as well as an ambition of Qatar for the World Cup and the 2030 vision, but if you're promoting a cashless lifestyle, you need to promote financial inclusion and financial literacy too,” said Michael Javier, CEO and founder of cWallet.
In addition to the usual debit or credit card payment, cWallet allows users to deposit money into their digital wallet by either purchasing scratch cards from stores or asking friends to transfer “peer-to-peer” money. The app also allows employers to deposit salary directly into the wallet.
Money in the cWallet can be used for contactless payments across a range of retail services in Qatar, such as at coffee shops, grocery stores, food delivery apps, or utility bills. The company already has a dozen retail partners in Qatar and is adding more regularly.
cWallet began as a final-year thesis for Javier when he was pursuing a Master’s from HEC Paris in Qatar, a Qatar Foundation (QF) partner university. It later expanded into a startup after he collaborated with six of his classmates, all Qataris.
“First it was just purely based on the thesis, but then I said ‘let’s dig deeper, research, talk to people, and talk to embassies’,” said Javier. “And then I found out that there is actually a problem and it should be tackled more often and bluntly.”
cWallet was incubated at the Digital Incubation Centre, part of Qatar’s Ministry of Transport and Communications, and was a recipient of a development fund from Qatar Science & Technology Park, a QF member.
A key strength of cWallet is the amount of effort that went into ensuring it is feasible for its target audience and meets their needs and expectations. To achieve this, Javier did not only talk to workers in Qatar, but also travelled to India, the Philippines, and other countries to understand how remittances are received and consumed back home.
The app is available in nine languages commonly spoken among workers in Qatar, is free to use, and allows users access e-commerce services that they might not be able to use otherwise.
cWallet’s ambition goes beyond providing basic cashless services to underserved communities. In fact, in a global economic crisis that has disproportionally affected the low-income workers, Javier envisions cWallet helping people become entrepreneurs if they have lost their job.
It is the first mobile app in Qatar to facilitate financial services via blockchain technology, allowing freelancers and owners of home-made businesses and micro-enterprises to send and receive money online without paying for expensive payment gateways.
“We are trying to create more entrepreneurs rather than jobs because cWallet allows you to cash in and cash out money like a human ATM,” Javier added. “With the job market declining, we want to build a more entrepreneurship-friendly environment using financial technology.”
In future, cWallet will also allow expats to send remittances or pay for utilities like school fees or electricity bills back in their home country directly through the app. The company is already in talks with affiliate partners in other countries.