Kenyan targets diaspora billions with digital bank

Waya Limited CEO David Wachira

By Business Daily Africa

Every year, Kenyans living abroad send hundreds of billions of shillings home using non-inclusive banking and financial services. For most, they have no choice but to make do with the available system.

David Wachira, however, after years of experiencing first-hand the challenges of immigrants, decided to find a solution.

“I started Waya—to empower immigrants with banking and other financial services,” says Dr Wachira, the CEO of the digital banking and financial services start-up.

Before the entrepreneurship bug bit him, he had a plum job at the World Bank in the US as an analyst. Before his tenure at the World Bank, Dr Wachira was a public policy and finance instructor at Southern Methodist University and a teaching and research fellow at the University of North Texas. He earned his PhD in Public Administration and Management at the age of 27 in 2013.

These experiences, he says, cultivated his appetite for risk-taking.

And before taking the risk to launch Waya in November 2019 together with three other co-founders, he did his homework, identifying a ready market of millions of immigrants and minorities.

“Our research indicated that immigrants’ remittance issues were part of a broader financial exclusion issue prevalent in the US. These groups often lack access to banking services, preventing them from saving, investing, and accessing credit,” says the 39-year-old.

A year later, Waya was incubated by IBM through the IBM Hyper Protect Accelerator Programme, a tech startup incubation programme designed to build and scale the next generation of fintech, insuretech and health-tech companies with solutions engineered to keep their sensitive data highly secured.

In addition to an in-person workshop in the US, ongoing technical and business mentorship, business value design assistance, access to IBM’s network of partners, customers, and stakeholder groups, go-to-market support, and co-marketing collaboration, Waya received a strategic non-equity investment from IBM.

“Our research indicated that immigrants’ remittance issues were part of a broader financial exclusion issue prevalent in the US. These groups often lack access to banking services, preventing them from saving, investing, and accessing credit.

Our goal was to provide an inclusive financial ecosystem by offering accessible and inclusive banking services, financial education, and credit-building opportunities. Given the US’s highly regulated market, we underwent a rigorous process to secure regulatory approvals and strategic partnerships for our business. Most of our work during this phase involved meeting the regulator’s requirements,” he says.

In the first two years, the founders formed a team on a lean budget, developed necessary partnerships, and built the product and technological infrastructure.

During the business’s initial phase before its launch, three out of the four co-founders were still employed full-time. After the launch, Dr Wachira resigned from the World Bank to serve as the CEO of the company full-time. He was joined by the co-founder and Chief Risk and Compliance Officer Aenoi Chanthavog, who had been working at a leading bank in the US.

Exploring the African Market

“Our company was established with teams based both in the US and Kenya. We selected Kenya due to my interest here, despite having spent most of my adult and professional life abroad. Beyond having a team in Kenya, we’ve been exploring various opportunities in digital payments and banking in the country through our Kenyan-based technology arm,” he says.

Part of his strategy to enter the cutthroat market with many financial players is through partnerships.

“We’ve strategically partnered with local financial institutions and payment service providers (PSPs), jointly developing our products and providing them with our technology. In return, we leverage their licensing and networks to offer services to our African customers. These local partners handle all legal requirements such as licensing and regulatory coverage,” he says.


In 2022, Waya officially launched in Washington, DC, and shortly after secured oversubscribed pre-seed funding from leading investors from across the World.

A year later, Waya formed a strategic partnership with global payments leader, Mastercard, enabling the issuance of Mastercard-branded debit cards offered to customers when they open Waya accounts.

Currently, Waya has a team of 43 permanent and on-demand staff. The company boasts over 10,000 active users and approximately 50,000 downloads from various app stores.

Waya provides digital bank accounts in the US for both individuals and businesses. Services include virtual and physical debit cards, free instant transfers between Waya users, and domestic bank transfers via ACH and wire. Furthermore, they plan to launch international money transfers to over one hundred and ten countries soon. The Waya App is designed for immigrants, minorities, and low-to-middle-income Americans.

Waya employs robust security measures to protect its users’ data and transactions.

“We use technology to safeguard our clients’ data and secure their transactions. These features include digital identity verification for all users who open Waya Accounts, and two-factor authentication to prevent unauthorised access and ensure secure transactions. Moreover, our fraud and security teams work tirelessly to keep our clients’ money safe. We also hold customer funds with an established financial institution. Waya accounts are insured up to Sh32.8 million ($250,000) through our partner bank, a member of the Federal Deposit Insurance Corporation in the US.

We utilise advanced technology to protect client information and prevent illicit activities like money laundering and terrorism-related financing. By prioritising data security and transactional integrity, Waya provides users with peace of mind and confidence in their financial dealings,” he says.

The team plans to scale and expand Waya’s reach, thereby empowering more people, especially immigrants and minorities worldwide, to become financially included.

“The road ahead is challenging, but we’re dedicated to making financial services more accessible and inclusive, both in the US and globally. We need more financial institutions to acknowledge the role of immigrant and minority communities, particularly in the US and across the world, and offer solutions that meet their needs.

We urge more partners, investors, and stakeholders to continue investing in startups like ours, so we can all succeed and provide more access to people who remain unbanked, underbanked, and often overlooked by traditional banking channels,” Dr. Wachira says.

His most valuable business lesson? “The best way to enrich oneself is to enrich others.”