Payment in Sudan is rather a very interesting challenge. But, my focus today is on this rather unique characteristic: trust. I will take Bok, the mobile wallet app for bank of khartoum. It is the largest app in Sudan, backed by the biggest bank in Sudan. It has around two million users, and it became synomyoum to payment in general. If it is a payment channel, then in most case it will be BoK.

BOK is universally used in Sudan to make purchases. BoK app doesn’t have a purchase option, but they have a very convenient way of making purchases via P2P or peer to peer transfers.

the cost of convenience

  • You can make transfer fund using BoK for up to $17,000 per day. This is a crazy amount!
  • BoK doesn’t have a purchase API, people use P2P feature in BoK app to make purchases!
  • The payment is done by simply asking the merchant for their BoK account number, enter the account number, make the payment and then show a result page to the merchant!

BoK relies heavily on the ease of payment to accelerate its growth. You simply just ask the other person about their BoK account number (it is 7 digits, auto increment number), and yeah viola, the payment is done. What could possibly go wrong. A LOT, actually.

But, let’s see how the payment flow works in BoK.

  • you can have a BoK account by visiting a nearby bank branch of bank of khartoum, and from there you can create a bank account which will also automatically creates an account in their BoK app
  • you can transfer to BoK users by asking them about their BoK account number, it is a 7-digits, auto-increment counter (starts at 1,000,000 (or 1 million))
  • having someone’s account number, will allow you (as a BoK user) to retrieve the following info:
    • their full-name
    • their bank branch, the place where the originally created their BoK
  • if you want to transfer money to someone, you will just have to ask them about their BoK account number, the app will first fetches the account info from the server (check previous step) which includes their name and the bank branch that the account was created
  • after that, you enter the amount and proceed and a result screen will be shown for you. The screen has three states:
    • orange, denotes the transaction is pending
    • green, the transaction has completed successfully
    • red, the transaction failed
  • there’s also a transaction history, where from the app you can click on history to check the status of the previous transactions (we call it in Sudan, the white screen, not to be confused by the previous three screens)

It didn’t take too much time before someone actually made a frauduelent replica of the app!

what happen when a fraud occurs

Fraud will inevitably happen, and it is happening. We have two cases:

  • either you sent amount to a wrong beneficiary (remember account numbers were auto-increment)
  • or, someone claiming to send you a money, while they actually didn’t. By using a fake BoK app

To fix the former, you will have to go the court, and file an issue that you have made a transfer by mistake. For the latter however, it is quite tricky. If someone claimed to pay you, but they actually didn’t, there is no way to fix that except for you to go to a court and make a legal fraud case.

I don’t have answers, honestly, but i’m just thinking out loud:

  • the cost of convenient
  • so far, BoK is still heavily used, for huge gigantic amounts
  • there’s a thin-trust layer, where everyone is using BoK with the assumption that the other person is not a fraud
  • i don’t know when or to which extent BoK will maintain their lead with all of these big issues