Central Bank Thwarts Abyssinia's "Apollo" Digital Launch

Jan 17 , 2023

Regulators at the central bank thwarted a scheduled launch of "Apollo", a pioneering end-to-end digital banking service developed by the Bank of Abyssinia (BoA). It was to be held at the Hyatt Regency Hotel today, January 17, where hundreds of customers and senior officials of the National Bank of Ethiopia (NBE) had been invited.

It appears that before Apollo shoots into virtual space, the central bank would have a say on its trajectory.

Senior executives of the Bank had to call off the launch after the central bank told them that BoA has to secure permits for depositors' online self-registration and electronic authentications.

Apollo, which incorporates broader services beyond mobile banking,  including microcredit provision, was abruptly called off despite having registered thousands of customers. Over 10,000 users have downloaded the app from Play Store.

"We're working under the assumption that modalities approved for our mobile banking services also applied here," Sosina Mengesha, chief of digital banking officer at Abyssinia, told Fortune.

The specific self-registration feature for application to loans within the Apollo platform required authorization from the central bank. BoA has applied and awaited such approval, Fortune learned. Although there is yet to be legislation governing electronic registration and authentication, Ethio telecom has been granted permits by the central bank to provide microcredit to its clients registered online.

Solomon Desta, NBE's vice governor, confirmed the decision on Apollo.

"Although the central bank does not directly control the launching of services, compliance with the existing banking protocols and laws of the country is mandated," he told Fortune.

While the Vice Governor did not explicitly state which specific digital banking protocol Apollo failed to meet, he confirmed that "certain modalities needed further reviews."

The Apollo service, which was primarily promoted on social media and service outlets across the city, was set to provide personal loans, advances on salaries, and credit options, in addition to digital banking services. The salary advance was set to be facilitated in agreement with employers and authenticates employment status through the Apollo platform. Eligibility for the size of loans was set to be modulated by the number of transactions processed through the platform, previous payment schedules, and employment status, which can be analyzed in real time.

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