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WeCashUp: Bringing an ecommerce revolution to Africa via mobile solutions built on Google Cloud

About WeCashUp

WeCashUp is a Pan-African payment gateway service that empowers online merchants to accept all 155 mobile payment solutions available on the continent. By streamlining payment integration with a single API, WeCashUp digitally unites the fragmented African market and allows end customers to buy goods and services internationally with payment options available locally.

Industries: Financial Services & Insurance
Location: Marseille

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WeCashUp unifies the African ecommerce market with a Google Cloud-powered payment gateway, allowing African consumers to swiftly and securely shop internationally using local payment solutions.

Google Cloud results

  • Enables international ecommerce throughout Africa by reconciling 155 local payment solutions with global financial regulations
  • Improves the online retail experience by cutting transaction times from minutes to seconds with Firestore
  • Eliminates login problems for customers and boosts developer productivity by simplifying authentication with Firebase
  • Empowers developers to build features by isolating environments with Cloud Functions and cutting deployment time by 83%
  • Brings ecommerce to merchants who don’t have websites, through a real-time payment app for mobile phones

Supports mobile payment across 35+ African nations

In today’s global economy, people are used to being able to buy goods or services from almost any shop, anywhere in the world. If you live in Poland, you can buy your favorite sweaters from Norway. If you’re in the US, you can send money to Mexico. It’s all possible in a couple of mouse clicks.

If you’re in Cameroon, Kenya, or Senegal, things are a bit different. With 1.3 billion people, the African market is similar in size to China or India, and three times the size of the European Union. But unlike these homogeneous markets, the African continent is home to 42 different currencies, 42 central banks, 42 different sets of regulations, and more than 155 local payment solutions.

With low credit card penetration across the continent, most of these solutions lie within the burgeoning mobile money industry. This highly accessible form of payment allows people to conduct financial transactions with electronic money via their phones, even without a bank account. A key innovation for bringing financial services to the unbanked, these mobile money solutions operate isolated from one another, making it difficult or impossible to send money across borders.

To sell their products and services throughout Africa, entrepreneurs need to set up local entities in every single country, integrating every available payment solution with individual APIs on their websites. Few companies can meet these requirements, leaving end users in many African countries disconnected from the ecommerce marketplace. That’s where WeCashUp comes in.

Currently covering 36 countries, the Pan-African payment gateway service enables companies to collect payments from countries throughout the African continent with a simple API integration, allowing customers to buy products and services with the payment platforms available locally. “For the first time ever, companies have access to these countries with a single API, making it possible to offer their products to entirely new markets,” says Cedric Atangana, CEO and co-founder of WeCashUp. “We have more than 6,600 merchants signed so far, and we’re in the midst of expanding our services to cover all 54 African countries.”

“We’re facing two main challenges: balancing the traditional security standards of banks and credit card companies with those of the local mobile money providers and achieving the scalability to cover all 54 African countries. Google Cloud enables us to achieve both, with strong out-of-the-box security features and automatic scaling.”

Cedric Atangana, CEO and co-founder, WeCashUp

Proving the concept, scaling the stack

To connect highly fragmented markets with existing ecommerce superstructures, WeCashUp needs to reconcile strict security regulations with the realities of 155 different local payment solutions. “We’re facing two main challenges: balancing the traditional security standards of banks and credit card companies with those of the local mobile money providers and achieving the scalability to cover all 54 African countries,” says Cedric. “Google Cloud enables us to achieve both, with strong out-of-the-box security features and automatic scaling.”

WeCashUp’s journey with Google Cloud began soon after the platform’s initial launch on classic FTP and HTTP servers in 2014. During this proof of concept phase, the team faced scalability issues while aggregating the payment solutions, inspiring the move to the cloud. For Cedric, who had started out as a Google developer in Cameroon, picking a vendor was easy: “We tested some other solutions, but felt most comfortable with the simplicity of App Engine and time-saving features such as autoscaling.”

With help from Google Cloud, WeCashUp’s young team of developers quickly recovered from early hiccups. Initially, new sign-ins to the platform were an elaborate matching process, where the system needed to search the entire user base to match credentials. As the number of users grew, latency went down. “We took our issues to the Google Cloud experts, who helped us improve the system with tweaks to our matching process,” explains Cedric. “Using Datastore indexes, we could match specific credentials almost instantly.”

Banking on strong security

As its user base grew, WeCashUp’s team was keen to maintain a high level of security and protection for its customers’ and their data. Ensuring the safety of international transactions while dealing securely with merchants from various countries requires reliable authentication procedures and strict compliance with financial and data regulations, including GDPR, PCI DSS, and ISO. In 2017, the team decided to migrate to Firebase to leverage its built-in security features and real-time database synchronization.

In the past, authentication required exhaustive attention to the backend code, and the team had to incorporate updates manually. When new merchants signed up, WeCashUp had to generate an extra merchant ID themselves, opening up the possibility of duplications. When two merchants had the same ID number, they were unable to log in, leaving the developer team to track down the problem.

Google Firebase automated all these time-consuming and error-prone tasks, allowing WeCashUp’s developers to focus on building features instead. “I couldn’t imagine authentication without Google Firebase,” says Lead Software Engineer, My Hoang. “It’s an all-in-one option, incorporating multiple ways of authentication. Instead of spending crucial time on security and support, we can trust Google Firebase to take care of authentication and compliance with GDPR and ISO standards.”

Faster payments, happier customers

With security and compliance in place, the team was free to put its weight behind optimizing the customer journey. By implementing Filestore, WeCashUp made its payment page capable of real-time transactions, vastly improving the customer experience.

For end users, WeCashUp appears as a payment page on the website of merchants. Depending on the user’s location, this payment page presents only the locally available payment options. In the background, the WeCashUp API needs to communicate with the user’s payment service, such as mobile operators, and close the window as soon as payment has been detected.

In the past, this process strained WeCashUp’s servers, involving a constant back-and-forth to check whether payment had been made. Today, the mobile operator’s feedback is automatically transmitted to Firestore, which then closes the task. “Without Google Cloud Firestore, each transaction took several minutes,” says My. “Today, customers get feedback in a second, making our payment platform so much more convenient.”

Firestore also allowed WeCashUp to realize passion projects that were previously impossible. The team is currently building a mobile app for smaller merchants who don’t have a website, further delivering on its mission to bring ecommerce to all corners of Africa. To execute transactions, this app requires a presence feature, sharing with the server that is online at any specific moment. For three years, the team searched for the most convenient solution.

“When the developers realized that the real-time write capabilities of Firestore would let us build our presence feature effortlessly, we all went out together to celebrate,” Cedric remembers. “We slept very well that night. Our team absolutely loves working with the entire Google Firebase package, and its integrations with Firestore.”

“Just deploying code used to take us three minutes, while building a new feature took 10 days minimum. Today, we deploy in under 30 seconds and build new features in a day. Our developers work independently, without worrying about code collision, runtime environments, infrastructure, or the fear of breaking features.”

My Hoang, Lead Software Engineer, WeCashUp

Taming the code, fast-tracking deployment

To make development even more convenient, WeCashUp began migrating parts of its system to Cloud Functions in 2020. Aiming for maximum microservice flexibility, WeCashUp nevertheless needed its features to smoothly run in parallel with each other, for example when screening ongoing money transfers for suspicious activity. Google Cloud Functions was the perfect solution, allowing developers to work more independently in a serverless environment on isolated features, which can easily communicate internally.

Previously, the back end of WeCashUp had been one big area of Java code, continually worked on by 12 developers. Coming in at one gigabyte, these millions of lines of code made it difficult to deploy efficiently. With Cloud Functions, WeCashUp split up the code, building smaller features that can run in isolation. This enables the same team of developers to work independently on separate features in their preferred programming language, which helps them be more efficient.

“Just deploying code used to take us three minutes, while building a new feature took 10 days minimum,” says My. “Today, we deploy in under 30 seconds and build new features in a day. Our developers work independently, without worrying about code collision, runtime environments, infrastructure, or the fear of breaking features.”

“It’s been amazing to see Google Cloud technology come to life for our needs. When Google Firebase was announced, we were among the first users. Today, it continues to help us improve our payment service while keeping costs low. Looking forward, we’re ready to break new ground with Google Cloud.”

Cedric Atangana, CEO and co-founder, WeCashUp

1/8 of the cost, 54/54 of Africa

By moving to Cloud Functions, Firebase, and Firestore, WeCashUp has cut the monthly costs of its server stack by 87%, all while optimizing the customer experience through smooth and secure transactions. With 18 African countries still to bring on board, the journey ahead is clear, and the company sees Google Cloud playing a part in helping to bring the ecommerce revolution to the rest of the continent.

Latin America, a similarly fragmented market, is WeCashUp’s next target as it thinks beyond Africa. “Our vision is global,” says Cedric. “Africa is probably the toughest continent, so if we can succeed here, we’ll succeed anywhere.” Beyond expanding geographically, WeCashUp will leverage the Google Cloud partnership to build entirely new features as well. The team is exploring BigQuery to create AI-powered fraud detection systems using machine learning models.

“It’s been amazing to see Google Cloud technology come to life for our needs,” says Cedric. “When Google Firebase was announced, we were among the first users. Today, it continues to help us improve our payment service while keeping costs low. Looking forward, we’re ready to break new ground with Google Cloud.”

Learn more about investing in WeCashUp.

Try the WeCashUp all-in-one digital financial service app on the Google Play Store.

Tell us your challenge. We're here to help.

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About WeCashUp

WeCashUp is a Pan-African payment gateway service that empowers online merchants to accept all 155 mobile payment solutions available on the continent. By streamlining payment integration with a single API, WeCashUp digitally unites the fragmented African market and allows end customers to buy goods and services internationally with payment options available locally.

Industries: Financial Services & Insurance
Location: Marseille