EchoKash app breaking barriers for the visually impaired

App Bantu the creators of Echokash who placed 2nd, posing with Mark Kivumbi, Snr. Manager Product Development and Innovations.
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The visually impaired encounter a number of barriers that impede their access to financial services independently due to deficiencies in voice commands, societal stigmatization and misconceptions about their capabilities.

App Bantu the creators of Echokash who placed 2nd, posing with Mark Kivumbi, Snr. Manager Product Development and Innovations.

In Uganda, its estimated that 5.9 per cent of the population, or about 2.7 million people are visually impaired while about one million are completely blind.

These individuals have trouble doing some activities that the able bodied find easy, such as buying airtime, carrying out balance inquiries, and generating mini statements.

What if there was a solution to this? And now there is one.

App Bantu, headed by Franklin Byaruhanga, and -members Anne Nowamani, and Andrew Nyago have created the EchoKash app with a vision that transcends traditional financial interfaces by catering to visually impaired consumers.

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“We identified the challenges faced by individuals in Africa, particularly those with visual impairments, in navigating traditional text-based financial interfaces. This recognition fuelled our commitment to develop a solution leveraging AI and voice technology to create a more inclusive and accessible platform for financial transactions,” Byaruhanga said.

EchoKash placed second at the 2023 MTN MoMo Hackathon and received a $3,000 prize.  The MTN MoMo Hackathon 2023 was the third edition and was held under the theme “Innovative Financial and Transactional Applications”. The hackathon is an innovative platform designed by MTN Mobile Money (U) Limited to bring together visionary web developers and entrepreneurs from across Africa.

The hackathon aims to harness the power of technology and creativity to accelerate financial inclusion and drive the digitization of payments on the continent.

A key feature of the hackathon was that all developers and entrepreneurs created groundbreaking mobile applications that leverage the MTN Mobile Money Application Programming Interface (APIs).

Consequently, these applications all utilize modern capabilities of V2.1 apps such as the ability to make notifications, carry out Know Your Customer (KYC) operations, KYC, and authorization among other things.

The apps also enjoy V2.2 (Channel as a Service) capabilities to cover use cases beyond payments, thereby fostering a comprehensive and inclusive digital financial ecosystem.

The hackathon served as a nexus for budding developers across Africa to connect, collaborate, and forge pathways to professional growth by engaging with seasoned experts within the tech industry.

“EchoKash employs advanced AI for voice recognition, ensuring seamless user interactions by understanding diverse accents and tones.  Our AI doesn’t just facilitate transactions; it provides personalized financial insights,” Byaruhanga explained, highlighting the platform’s commitment to inclusivity.

He said that the integration of Natural Language Processing (NLP) within the app allows for intuitive, conversational commands, transcending language barriers and providing a user-friendly experience.

The platform also employs AI-driven transaction analysis to interpret patterns, offering tailored advice that empowers users to make informed financial decisions.

EchoKash doesn’t stop at insights; it extends its support by facilitating access to low-interest loans, promoting financial flexibility, and empowerment.

With this app, accessibility lies at the forefront, breaking down barriers for the visually impaired and those with limited literacy. The intuitive nature of voice interfaces attracts a wider audience compared to traditional text-based methods, fostering inclusivity.

Moreover, Byaruhanga emphasized how EchoKash’s voice AI contributes to improving financial literacy. The platform’s global reach, supporting multiple languages, aligns with its goal of breaking linguistic barriers for financial inclusion.

Looking ahead, he foresees a future where voice becomes integral to diverse financial processes, from customer service to advanced financial planning tools.

“EchoKash is more than a transaction tool; it’s a personalized financial advisor at your fingertips,” Byaruhanga declared, explaining that the platform aims not only to provide convenience but also to serve as a catalyst for inclusivity, security, and a user-friendly financial landscape.

Apps like EchoKash exemplify why the MTN MoMo hackathon stands as a vital platform fostering innovation, collaboration, and problem-solving.

The hackathon gathers diverse talents—developers, entrepreneurs, and experts—to address real-world challenges specific to mobile money services and issues in the telecommunications industry.

And in so doing, the MTN MoMo hackathon has served as a breeding ground for innovative solutions, encouraging participants to think creatively and work collaboratively within a condensed timeframe.

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