The Guardian’s Special Focus On Most Impactful And Innovative CEOs Creating Value In The Nigerian FinTech Industry
Unified Payment: Boosting Commercial Transactions, Setting Trends In Fintech Sector
How would you describe your upward movement and the challenges you have so far faced in the Fintech industry?
I would rather describe the path that we have taken as an organisation than what I have done as an individual. As an organisation, we are the first financial technology company in Nigeria and the first company to own a payment scheme formerly called the Value Card. So, we led the way. We later decommission Value Card because it was only for domestic use, especially as we planned to link Nigeria with the rest of the world. We then had to partner Visa Incorporated to enable Nigerian banks, for the first time, issue cards that can be used within Nigeria and outside its shores. This became another first for our company. By so doing, we became the first non-bank institution in West Africa to become a principal plus member of Visa Inc. such that, banks and non-banks in Nigeria, had to issue or accept Visa using company’s license.
Eventually, we entered into a new arrangement with Visa, where we agreed that Visa could work with any other company and our company could also work with competitors of Visa. With this, we became the first company in Nigeria to be principal member of all Visas, American Express, UnionPay and Mastercard. It took us nine years to have American Express’ license. The first six years was spent on getting Nigeria, as a country, out of the blacklist of American Express because the company could not do business with any organisations in Nigeria due to the negative perception that has been created out there. We had to work on that. We made American Express to see Nigeria as a place it could do business; we spent another three years doing this. Our company became the first organisation in Nigeria to partner American Express, before other institutions came in. We are the first company in Nigeria to roll out Point of Sales Devices when the rest of the market focused on using cards at the ATMs. If you look at the market today, you will see that in Nigeria, the payment card is referred to as an ATM card. This is because the cards were seen as the cards we used for cash at the ATMs. It is not the normal electronic transaction if all you do is to take cash only. In this case, the difference is instead of the human teller giving you money at a bank’s branch, a machine would give you money. The machine is also a teller, which is why it is called Automated Teller Machine (ATM). But we were driving at the use of card as a means of payment for goods and services, as an alternative to cash. This is what financial technology in its true sense means. This is what electronic transaction means. It is better for the economy, individuals and businesses if we can transact business electronically instead of using cash. That is another path for us and I can go on listing more.
Each of these comes with its own challenges because in the first place we are ahead of the market. Being ahead means that you have to make a lot of investments and that also comes with opportunities. When we launched the first payment card in the country under Value Card, it was chip and pin. When we started working with Visa Inc., to enable Nigerian banks issue cards that can be used within Nigeria and internationally, it was also chip and pin. We can say with every sense of national pride that Nigeria is the first country in the world that implemented EMV end-to-end. Not only are you given a card that uses chip and pin Nigeria, all the acceptance devices in the country are to work in EMV mode; chip and pin specifically. If you take your card to any device in Nigeria, you cannot swipe it. You must insert the card and enter your pin. The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) saw the success of what we did and adopted it. CBN even went ahead to make it a regulation in Nigeria and every Nigerian issuer was mandated to only give cards that will work in chip and pin mode in the country.
Secondly, every acceptance device in Nigeria whether ATM or Point of Sale, was required to support chip and pin only. We have pioneered system in different areas and in different ways. The immediate benefit of this to the country is that fraud was reduced by over 99 per cent. The reason is simple. For with magnetic stripe card anyone with your account data can make a card and use it to withdraw from your account; but with chip and pin, it is not so. We can say without fear of contradiction that any Nigerian bank or deposit house that switched to our company’s card will have zero fraud rate. Meaning, someone cannot copy your card and use it without your pin. We did this ahead of the entire world. You may ask how possible is it for Nigeria to do it ahead of the entire world? It was only few years ago that America for example, fully adopted chip and pin because they have a large infrastructure built on magnetic stripe where you can swipe. When you see the magnetic stripe panel on the back of a card in Nigeria, it serves the purpose of opening the ATM shutter and when you go out of Nigeria to an environment that requires magnetic stripe, which means you will swipe, then it becomes useful, but this not allowed in Nigeria. We set that standard, we deployed it, and it worked. When we did it, Visa Inc. American Express, UnionPay and Mastercard saw the success in Nigeria and they realised that the negative perception created out there that Nigeria is home of electronic transaction fraud was not true. This made all of them to come in and invest in Nigeria. This is one of the several things that we did and it came with some challenge and immense opportunities for stakeholders in the sector. Today, we have hundreds of Fintech organisations in Nigeria, including start-ups. The industry is attracting a lot of investments. We now have more than two companies in Nigeria that are unicorn.
This would not have been possible if not that our company, Unified Payment, led the way. In doing this, we have been more focused as a company on business-to-business. We provide services to other businesses. If you go to your bank, and get a card, you won’t see our name on it, yet we enabled the transactions. If you get a POS device from your bank as a business outfit, you won’t see us, yet we are enabling your transactions. This also goes for your ATM too. Sometimes people do ask us, what has happened to Value Card? We do say nothing has happened to it; rather it is growing stronger and now under a company called Unified Payment, a leading company in different areas of business services and solutions. Today, provide services across different areas including, banking, electronic commerce, payment scheme, value added services, software development, and telecommunication value-added service. You will hear of PayAttitude, PayArena, Hope Bank, all these are our subsidiaries and they are focused on business to consumer services.
As a major participant in the Fintech market, what strategies are you engaging to boost Unified Payment portfolio?
I would say the first strategy for us was to cross enterprise alliance, we worked with other enterprises. The very first step we took in this regard was to decommission our own product, Value Card. The card was domesticated to serve as a vehicle for Nigerian banks and Nigerians to connect to the rest of the world. To do this, we had to enter into an alliance with Visa. Today, we are not only in alliance with Visa, we are also with Mastercard, American Express, UnionPay and lately, with the domestic scheme Verve; a subsidiary of our biggest competitor, Interswitch. We are pioneer service provider. We partnered Afrable, which is a new domestic scheme that was launched a few months ago under NISPS. This also speaks to why we changed the name of our company from Value Card to Unified Payment. We did it 11 years ago because we envisioned a payment landscape that will be defined by different technologies and multiples alliances. Today, payment is not defined by cards only, but by other means.
Today, you can make payment electronically or transact digitally without using your plastic cards. Through our subsidiary PayAttitude, we pioneered, for the first time in the world, a technology that you can use your phone number as a means of payment. When I say use your phone number as a means of payment, it is important we understand the difference between using one’s phone number as a means of payment and using one’s phone number as one’s account number. When people do transfer using people’s phone numbers, the phone numbers simply represent account numbers. That is not what we pioneered. The real thing we pioneered is when using the POS device instead of using a card, you can type your phone number on the POS and the transaction will come to your phone and you will be prompted and enter your pin on your phone and the transaction will be approved. Instead of entering your card details and getting worried of someone stealing your card details, which you want to keep personally, you simply enter your phone number. Your phone number is a piece of information you share with people, but not your card details.
Additionally, your pin will not be entered on the web, but on your personal device because you will be prompted on your phone and informed about the transaction and if you are satisfied, you will then approve with your pin. So, it is not that someone who has your phone number can go anywhere and initiate a transaction. For convenience also, it means you do not have to be present anywhere physically to approve a transaction, as you can ask somebody to go to any ATM in any part of Nigeria and take cash with your phone number. You may be in any part of the world and we will prompt you that a withdrawal has been made on your account. We will tell you the location of the ATM and the person. We will also inform you if anybody wants to make a withdrawal in your account, say N10,000 from an ATM in Abuja and ask if you approve of it. If you do, you will then enter your pin on your phone and remotely control the ATM machine to dispense cash. That is what we mean when we say pay with phone; it is not using phone number as account number and doing transfer to phone. That is not what pays with phone number means.
What accounts for the rapid increase in the number of transactions performed, not only by your company but also by other Fintech companies?
It is what I consider as a paradox. The growth we are witnessing, today, are opportunities that are informed by the low level of adoption of the system in the country. When I say low, it is relative to the population and the opportunities that we have. Specifically, we have a low level of financial inclusion or high rate of financial exclusion. This means that those who are excluded are many; so, we are driving growth by pursuing inclusion. That driving is what you are seeing. A number of those that are otherwise excluded are being included. Another growth driver is the high cash in circulation or the high adoption of cash as a means of payment. It presents an opportunity to move people away from cash to alternative means of payment. This also informed the growth you are witnessing.
Another thing that defines the growth is the policy and regulatory framework of the government, which includes the digitalisation agenda that has created an enabling environment for electronic transaction to strive. We also have a huge pool of talented young people who are showing interest in financial technology. This means that the supply side is witnessing an increase, as suppliers will need to drive demand; so there are many more players. Twenty-six years ago, when our company started as the first financial technology company in Nigeria, only very few people envisioned that there would be hundreds of financial technology companies in the country. The huge youth population is driving the growth and from the look of things, Nigeria has not even started; this is because those who are now financially included were mostly digitally excluded. We need to ensure that people are digitally included because digital financial services remain the best approach to driving inclusion for the following reasons: firstly, it predictably lowers cost; secondly, it is convenience, and thirdly, accessibility and availability.
Just imagine what it would be like to have brick and mortar bank branches in different parts of the country, compare to where we are now that somebody with an umbrella could do what a bank could do in terms of deposit and withdrawal. There are several things that banks do, which cannot be done under an umbrella. Most bank customers visit their bank branches for deposit and withdrawal, which can happen now with a very small machine. But we are expected to be at a level that, instead of going to take cash you use your personal device to consummate the transaction. We are looking at when we shall pay the vulcanizer on the street electronically instead of cash? When are we shall buy corn along the road electronically instead of cash? Or when the market men and women in our traditional markets shall stop hugging cash and embrace electronic means of payment? The opportunities are huge.
What are the likely solutions to some of the current challenges envisioned?
As I said earlier on paying with phone number is one of the solutions and this is coming from PayAttitude. This payment scheme is equivalent to any other card scheme and it is a digital focused payment scheme.
Another thing that makes PayAttitude unque is that it has only one multi-bank app in Nigeria. You need to download the app to link your accounts in other banks to it; so, instead of using two or more apps from two or more different banks you have only one app to access different accounts in those banks. The third feature is that PayAttitude allows you to have a uniform USSD code for your different account in other banks. What PayAttitude has done is what is known as “open banking” in the financial technology sector. When we started this journey about 10 years ago, not many people understood it.
When we speak about challenges; it was quite challenging convincing banks that their customers can work with us, but today, I am happy that CBN has released guidelines or regulations for open banking operations in Nigeria. This sets PayAttitude apart.
Another laudable idea is what Hope Bank is doing. The bank is the first digital focused banking or digital-only banking in Nigeria. You can open personal and business in the bank without talking to anyone or having multiple signatories. You can operate the account without a card or cheque book and you can also make multiple payments with a single debit to your account. It is not only fully digital, but also unique because these are unique services and solutions offered. No document is required for the account opening, yet your identity will be verified. Very soon we shall be launching PayArena brand. It is a digital mall where you can take a shop just as you could have a physical shop in a market or any place. People will come to it to buy, they can track the movement of the items bought, including the delivery because everything is automated and the tracking is machine-to-machine; no human involvement.
As Africa’s largest centre, do you envision Nigeria influencing the narrative in the sector for players in the continent?
I think we are already doing so, going by the investment we have seen so far. Nigeria has attracted more investments than any other country in Africa in the last few years. Nigeria enjoys the advantage of being the most populated country in Africa and also the country with the highest GDP. We have the highest number of Fintech organisations, irrespective of the new entrants. Nigeria is already the hub and will continue to be because we are deepening our services. The rate of cash use versus electronic payment will continue to tilt in favour of electronic payment. I am confident that more investors will continue to come into Nigeria because of its huge market.
How can government with its policies boost the sector?
Firstly, government itself is a provider of services and as a monopolist it should adopt the policy of electronic payment only. It should collect all its revenue by electronic means; this will make anybody dealing with government to key into the sector. Another measure is to enforce the policies that have already been made regarding the use of National Identity Numbers (NIN), which is now digital. Nothing can drive electronic payments and transactions more than having a national verifiable identity database, which NIMC provides. But the path to achieving a high subscription or registration for NIN lies with government reviewing its current policy of making people to get their NIN free of charge. Already government has entered into collaboration with private organisations and each time these private organisations enroll people for NIN government pays. Government should allow these private organisations to charge the people, so, they can raise fund to invest more in the sector. And those who cannot pay the charges can then go to government offices or any NIMC’s locations to enjoy free services.
For your main answers, firstly, strict enforcement on the requirement for NIN for certain transactions in Nigeria, including enrollment of children into schools, and paying of rates and taxes or doing any business with the government, among others will boost the sector. To this also, government should offer tax incentives to those who pay electronically. This will rather increase revenue instead of reducing it. Also, as people pay electronically, government will be able to track all payments and know those who are outside the tax net and plan how to include them in the tax net. Transactions that are not taxed, today, will also be visible to government and might attract taxation later. These are the approaches government can adopt that will drive adoption of electronic payment and also raise more revenue for government.
What is Unified Payment Group’s next big thing?
The next big thing for us is to see that everybody is able to pay and accept payment from their telephone handsets, whether smart phone or not. This is because we cannot be discussing inclusion if the solutions that we are offering are only for a particular segment of people in the society. If we offer solutions that can only be enjoyed by those using smart smart phones, and those that have data services, then we are not pursuing inclusiveness or inclusion; instead, we are excluding some people, especially those at the bottom of the pyramid and they are more in number than those at the top. The next big thing for us is to see that everyone can pay or accept payment from their personal devices and that commercial transaction are made a lot easier through person-to-person interactions than what we have now.
THE GUARDIAN’S SPECIAL FOCUS ON THE BEST FINTECH APPS IN NIGERIA TODAY
“With MoMo, unbanked Nigerians can gain access to financial services” – Eli Hini
The MoMo App is a digital channel which enables users to perform financial transactions which includes airtime and data purchases, fund transfers and bill payments and many more. It can be downloaded via Google playstore and Apple Appstore.
In this brief interview with The Guardian, Managing Director, Momo PSB, Eli Hini talked more about how MoMo PSB brings one of the easiest and most convenient ways to bank in Nigeria. Some of its services include the collection of deposits and offering of digital accounts to banked and unbanked populations. In essence, it is providing financial services to Nigerians who would otherwise not have access to them. Excerpts…
What brought about the idea of Momo App and how has it been faring since its take off?
MoMo PSB is on a mission to drive financial inclusion and cashless payment in Nigeria and the bank is committed to providing individuals and businesses with access to useful, affordable, reliable and secure financial services that meet their needs. Since its launch in 2022, MoMo PSB has offered services such as Person-to-Person Transfers, Savings and Payments through a Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) channel accessible via its *671# short code.
In order to cater to various user preferences, offer an alternative user experience and provide a wider range of services, the MoMo App was developed and launched. The MoMo App is digital channel (can be downloaded via Google Playstore and Apple App Store) and it enables users to perform financial services which includes airtime and data purchases, fund transfers, merchant and bill payments. Furthermore, the MoMo App onboards a variety of merchants and service providers thereby offering users a one-stop-app for their financial and lifestyle needs.
What are the features of MoMo and other Apps you have?
While additional services are being onboarded, the MoMo App currently features: Peer to Peer Fund Transfers, that is,. from one MoMo customer to another MoMo customer. Inter-bank fund transfers i.e. from MoMo customers to other Bank customers Airtime purchases Airtime purchase with x8 bonus (MTN Awuf4u Bonus) Data purchase for self and others Bill Payment services, etc.
What makes the app stand out in the industry?
Security and Reliability! It is built on reliable and secure financial platform; and in partnership with its parent company, MTN Nigeria – sleek and easy to use. The MoMo App is easy to use and the customer gets instant notification of the transaction status. It has a human-centered design. With cognizance to our mission to drive financial inclusion, the MoMo App is intentionally designed with intuitiveness, simplicity and ease-of-use in mind – to further drive adoption.
How is the app beneficial to society and businesses in particular?
With Nigeria’s financial exclusion rate still over 30%, the MoMo App and USSD channels will enable millions of hitherto unbanked and underserved Nigerians rapidly gain access to the financial services they need to improve their living conditions and quality of life
What are the challenges you have been encountering with the App and how have you been countering these?
At launch, the app was only available to Android phone users but we have now updated it across all app stores and it is now available for all smartphones.
What makes the App Safe and Secure?
The App is two-factor authentication compliant as it features the MoMo PIN and OTP for each login session thus ensuring unauthorized accesses are not allowed into the MoMo app.
What are the things you have in place to make people take the App as first choice and how is your customer service like in terms of the support being given to customers?
The unique value propositions of the MoMo App are: Reliability, Security, Simplicity, Speed and Ease of Use. The MoMo App is supported by MoMo PSB’s Omni-channel 24/7 Customer Support Helpdesk. Users can also dial *671# for Self-Service or to access our Customer Support Executives Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
What are the future plans of MoMo PSB in terms of Apps and how do you see the future of the Fintech Industry in Nigeria?
To develop the MoMo App into a one-stop app that serves the financial and lifestyle needs of every Nigerian. Meanwhile, with a financial inclusion rate still at ~65%, there are millions of Nigerians yet to access the financial services they need. To bridge the gap, diverse innovative solutions from various Fintechs, Banks and other ecosystem players are emerging under the active guidance and control of the CBN and other regulatory bodies. Overall, Nigeria’s Fintech industry holds strong promise and significant potential to be a major driver of socio-economic growth and development.
AYODELE ADELUKA: Serial Technology Entrepreneur, Bringing Ideas to Life in the Fintech Industry
Resilient, exceptional, and creative. These words aptly define Otunba Ayodele Evans Adeluka, the founder and CEO of Smade and Smight Limited. His contributions in the Nigerian fintech industry transcend both the public and private sectors. Despite having a degree in Meteorology and graduating with a third class, he never allowed his academic achievement and the tag of “unserious student” define who he is and what he is capable of achieving.
Challenge-driven and result-oriented, he started his career in the tech industry as an information system developer at Tsaboin Tech World. Thereafter, he established Klug and Heimer Consult Limited; a technology solution company specializing in the development and sale of innovative enterprise solutions that are adapted for mobile and web. At the commencement of the company, he secured his first big project which was the design and development of a revenue collection system called Electronic Revenue Collection Administrative System for the FCT Water Board. It was the breakthrough he needed as he went on to deliver similar product to more government agencies.
Given the success of the Electronic Revenue Collection Administrative System, he founded ERCAS Integrated Solutions Limited in 2015 and in about five years, it became dominant force in the North. “Thanks to corporate governance and the experts on board, we were able to deal with experienced older people, some of whom were chairmen of blue-chip companies and core technocrats”, he said.
In his quest to create more platforms where he could incubate ideas and create bespoke solutions for start-ups, he established Smade and Smight Limited in 2020, leaving his position as CEO at ERCAS to become a Director. According to him, Smade and Smight conceptualizes and scouts ideas in the start-up ecosystem, conducts open application processes and leverages partner networks – financial and technology partners, government, and donor agencies to nurture promising startups through acceleration, funding, mentorship, networking, and post-program support.
“FinTech is an empowerment business and that is part of what we do at Smade & Smight, our goal is to empower people greatly. We have a product called PayZeep which enables individual, SMEs and corporate organizations process payments, accept deposits and complete business transactions. The unique thing about PayZeep is its delivery and simplicity. In a nutshell, the beauty of fintech is that it has created jobs and reduced the cost of financial transactions. I often tell people that the agents, not the fintech firms, are the primary beneficiaries of fintech solutions. Take for instance, a POS terminal costs about N100,000; the truth is that it might take about two years for the operating firm to recover the money invested in the technology that powers that POS, but the agent on the street would realise the cost of purchasing the POS in less than three months”, he said.
On the status of Nigeria as a leader in the African fintech ecosystem, Adeluka explained that Nigeria’s population is a huge factor that has contributed to the success of the fintech industry. According to him, “We have a huge population which is attracting foreign investment in every sector of the economy. The fintech industry has benefitted from this factor just like every other sector. Not just that, we are blessed with innovative minds who are creating digital solutions for every business you can think of, and we have done exceptionally well in exporting our ideas to other nations, which is highly remarkable. A number of fintech companies owned by Nigerians are now operating in several African nations, and we at not let out at Smade and Smight, because we are taking PayZeep beyond Nigeria. We have already obtained license in one country and we will definitely expand to more countries.”
He continued, “I was in Cape Verde recently, and the moment they heard I am a Nigerian, they were really excited because they are learning from our fintech industry. They are modelling their fintech industry after ours. It simply means we are doing big things and inspiring Africa.”
An outstanding go-getter with a knack for excellence, Adeluka drives a culture centred around excellence and execution in all the company’s businesses, a factor that has seen him excel in his quest to mentor and empower start-ups beyond Nigeria. “Part of what we do at Smade and Smight is to nurture ideas into reality. PayZeep started as an idea which I have nurtured to become a company; similarly, I have invested in a lot of ideas; and when I invest in your idea, I will not leave you; instead, I will be a part of that idea until it becomes sustainable”, he informed. This drive for success and excellence led to the acquisition of PayZeep by Cavista Holdings and a partial exit of Smade and Smight having completed its mission of bringing the idea to life and making it a viable and investment worthy company.
He further highlighted the importance of implementing policies that will promote prosperity in the fintech industry. According to him, one of the key issues in the sector is policy implementation. “I have attended CBN and NIBSS strategy meetings on policy frameworks; the truth is that there are policies, but they are not well implemented. They are not strictly enforced. A lot will come out of the Nigerian fintech industry if these policies are well implemented,” he maintained.
At Callphone, We Prioritize Intentional Consumerism in Meeting The Unique Needs of Our Users – Precious Ekezie, CEO, Callphone Limited
Precious Ekezie is a Fintech expert and tech business negotiator who has made his mark in the Nigerian fintech industry. He began his career as a computer analyst in the Nigerian Navy Naval Dockyard before co-founding Madsuite Technologies with some friends. In 2017, Madsuite Technologies was selected amongst the 1000 best startup brands in Africa by the Tony Elumelu Foundation.
He was involved in the negotiation processes that resulted in the strategic merger of Madsuite Technologies and Callphone Limited in 2020. He was subsequently appointed the Chief Operating Officer of Callphone Limited, the product owners of Airvend, Airpay and Airgate payment gateway.
Since becoming the Chief Executive Officer of the company a year ago, he has established a cordial business relationship with all the Mobile Network Operators (MNOs) in Nigeria and increased Callphone’s monthly transaction volume to millions of naira.
With his team, they successfully met the N250M minimum capital requirement and other prerequisite, and thereafter became the first Fintech Company to be awarded the commercial license category for Payment Solution Services (PSS) by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). This has positioned the company to operate as a PSSP (Payment Solution Service Provider), PTSP (Payment Terminal Service Provider), and Super-Agent in Nigeria. His negotiating skills earned Callphone remarkable international collaborations with multi-billion dollar Technology Companies, OEMs, and ODMs. He speaks on the various products and services offered by the company.
Growth strategies at Callphone Limited
We understand our niche, target audience, and ideal customer. These influence every strategy we adopt and are key to achieving a ‘future-centric’ company status in the face of market uncertainties. Many companies are sales opportunistic; focusing on making sales and meeting investors’ demands instead of meeting the needs of the customers.
My team at Callphone adopts and prioritizes intentional consumerism, which has served as a guide to helping us ideate and develop products to meet users’ unique needs. Because we understand how important our customers and their expectations are, we adopt customer-centric strategies that help us solve our customers’ problems, enrich their lives, secure their data, and earn their trust. These strategies are crucial to our success and are infused into our customer acquisition and retention processes. Not forgetting collaborations with reputable financial institutions and partners, applying agile methodology across-board, and most importantly, appreciating the values of my team. We back these up with our security infrastructure, as well as PCI DSS and NDPR-compliant licenses, solidifying customer trust and loyalty.
Product offering and USP
We have many unique products solving diverse payment challenges. Overall, we simplify payments for the everyday Nigerian – individuals, MSMEs, developers, and organizations. Our anchor product, Airvend, is available on Google and Apple app stores, and through it, we provide all-in-one-box financial and value-added services. Backed by our PSS license, collaboration with financial services, and direct connection with MNOs, as well as electricity distribution companies.
Our agency and merchant banking app, Airpay, addresses our Super-Agent and PTSP needs with unique features like the pay with transfer via virtual account and auto-receipt print via terminals, and many other unique features.
Then, there is our soon-to-be-launched payment gateway product, Airgate, which is set to revolutionize the payment gateway niche. We have the Buy Now Pay Later solution for electricity payments. There is also the Airvend Universal PIN solution, a recharge pin that can recharge any network (MTN, Airtel, Glo, or 9mobile), built around our USSD Short Code *174#, with which you can successfully recharge any mobile network operator with the value of the pin you purchased. It is also available for bulk airtime or data recharge for corporate organizations.
How Nigeria is changing the narrative for the FinTech industry in Africa
Nigeria remains amongst top African countries that have attracted the highest foreign direct investments in recent years. As the continent’s giant, every stakeholder expects us to continue leading the narrative. The funding and growth of the Nigerian market have impacted financial literacy and penetration across the continent. According to the Global Findex 2021 Report by the World Bank, more than 1.7 billion people are without an account at a financial institution or a mobile money provider, of which seven countries (Bangladesh, China, India, Indonesia, Mexico, Nigeria, and Pakistan) in the world and Sub-Saharan Africa contribute about 50% and 17% of the underbanked respectively.
This shows there is still a lot of work to be done. Cash is still used in around 90 percent of transactions in Africa, which means that Fintech revenues have a considerable potential to grow. Also, a vast sector like the Credit Market signifies an untapped market, and Nigeria has a significant role to play in this. With Nigeria having huge potential and creative and innovative youths, I see us continuing to change the narrative for Africa. We can further shape this narrative by adopting fully disruptive solutions to address cross-border payments and other easily overlooked Fintech niches.
ABIODUN ATOBATELE: Resourceful Techprenuer on a Mission to Project Nigeria on The Global Stage
Abiodun Atobatele is a tech-savvy entrepreneur with expertise in technology, software development, programming, financial technology (FinTech), systems administration, technology law (TechLaw), and cloud computing. He is the founder and CEO of ATB Tech Limited and X3 Leasing Limited. With about two decades of experience in the tech industry, he has led various teams on IT projects in the financial, manufacturing, and public sectors.
He was the Head of the Engineering Unit of Information Technology at Leadway Assurance before establishing ATB Tech in 2007. Since then, he has left no stone unturned in growing the company to become one of the leading technology brands in Nigeria. In 2016, he ventured into the fintech industry with the establishment of X3 Leasing Limited, the company responsible for the consumer lending brand known as Loan35.
A dynamic and inspiring character, Atobatele received his first degree in Physics and electronics from the Federal University of Technology, Akure. Thereafter, he attended the prestigious Harvard Business School and Manchester Metropolitan University, where he earned a law degree in 2017. In this interview, He speaks about what drives his passion for technology and the potential of the Nigerian fintech industry.
What are the opportunities and challenges in the fintech industry?
Not only are we stakeholders in fintech, but also in the tech industry. Most Nigerian tech startups are not performing as well as they should compared to those in the fintech space. One key reason for this is the intense competition from international players. Customers, namely government agencies and commercial enterprises, spend a lot of money on foreign products, neglecting indigenous tech products. We forget that companies like Microsoft, Google, and Oracle did not get to where they are overnight. These foreign companies enjoyed the patronage of their governments and enterprises, and this is why they have been able to develop and build fantastic products. There seems to be an inferior perception of indigenous tech products. Nigerians have developed software that is just as good as the best products anywhere in the world. If we change this perception and patronise our own, we will go a long way as a country.
Unlike typical tech, fintech is excelling. This success is largely because there is little to no foreign competition. The Fintech industry is a well-organized ecosystem due to the presence of government regulators. As a result, any foreign company that wants to operate in Nigeria must prepare to submit to regulators. This system is why competition in the payment industry is purely local. It is also why many indigenous fintech organisations have grown into billion-dollar corporations today.
Of course, there are infrastructure issues, but there has been a lot of progress. People can now transact through mobile applications without incurring bank fees, a phenomenon that has significantly improved financial inclusion at the grassroots level. The fintech industry is also attracting a lot of foreign direct investment, as we have seen foreign companies come in to buy local businesses.
For instance, Stripes purchased Paystack, but the company remains Paystack. They cannot fully set up shop here in Nigeria because it is too complicated and regulated. Localisation is essential in the fintech industry, as it is in practically every industry.
What is it like getting products on the market?
No product is easy to get into the market because it requires significant funding. So far, we have been self-funding without external funds. MyXalary, an HR software that simultaneously serves as a fintech product, is one of our flagship products. We built a remarkable Human Resources software that simplifies HR work for organisations, particularly SMEs, at no cost. They can use it for free for payroll and other core HR services.
On the other hand, we offer financial services to their employees in the form of Salary on demand, Salary advances, and Financed Purchases. We can seamlessly do this because their salary is processed through the application.
Another product we offer is NotchCX, a Customer Relationship Management (CRM) application. We face international competition for this product because we can only monetize it by selling licences, as our competitors do. But we will keep pushing. I believe we will enjoy significant patronage in the long term.
What makes your products unique?
Compared to the very complex solutions offered by competitors, we designed MyXalary with simplicity in mind. Our goal is to grow the product into a ‘bank for salary earners’; that is the entire concept. The uniqueness is that it is robust software that is free. We have had over a thousand signups so far. We currently have a commercial bank and another financial company on board. These companies formerly used foreign software, such as Oracle, for the same function before switching to MyXalary. This simply illustrates that we have built something that can compete with other tech products on a global level.
NotchCX is unique because it is the only CRM application of that magnitude or level developed in Nigeria. Other than South Africa, I do not think any other CRM software in Africa is close to its quality. We built it with international customers in mind but at a competitive price.
Loan 35: What do you think about loan recovery strategies
Loan Recovery in Nigeria is arduous, and the problem is cultural. You regularly have to deal with loanees who are unwilling to pay their debts. As a result, many loan sharks have used unorthodox and sometimes terrible methods to try to retrieve their money. They resort to harassing people and not following due process, which is also a cultural problem. Although both scenarios are wrong, the lenders tend to be the victims, as we saw with the decision to shut some loan companies down by the Federal Competition and Consumer Protection Commission (FCCPC). The problem is being addressed from one perspective, forgetting that these loan companies also took loans from commercial banks, which they must repay. The better strategy would be for the government to punish both defaulting loan companies and loan defaulters. Most failed banks in this country crashed because people took huge loans and never paid them back.
Loan35 is one of our products, and we give out loans in 35 minutes to individuals and SMEs in exchange for collateral such as cars and jewellery. We initially did not emphasise collecting collateral for loans. But to do things the right way, avoid unethical practices, and risk running at a loss, our loans have become fully collateralized.
How Nigeria is changing the narrative for the FinTech industry in Africa
Nigeria is leading the African fintech space. Our population is the largest, and we have creative minds who are passionate about innovation in the tech space. This is why we are taking the lead in financial technology in Africa, and gradually, we will take our place in the world despite bad governance and difficult business terrain.
Motivation and Strategies for Growth
What motivates me as a person is a desire to innovate and make a significant difference. I am driven by a desire to compete with the best of the Western World. I want to demonstrate that we are just as good as they are and even better in some circumstances. That motivates me a lot, which is why whenever I do something and fail, I try again, and again, until I get it right.
Of course, we have applied many strategies that have contributed to our growth and success as an organisation. I cannot discuss some of them here, of course. But I can tell you that we plan to scale, not only in Nigeria but on a global level. We have registered in two African countries, where we will be launching soon. We are going to these countries to push our tech products; that is, we are exporting our skills and IP.
Through Unwavering Commitment to Excellence, ERCAS Has Propelled Growth In The FinTech Industry – Ibukun Eko
Ibukun Eko is one of the women occupying the front row in the Nigerian fintech industry, and indeed Africa. With a career that spans finance, sales and technology, she has been involved in several innovative projects which have birthed top-notch products, as she occupied different strategic positions working for diverse financial services and technology companies in over a decade. She is the currently the managing director of ERCAS Integrated Solutions Limited, a one-stop fintech platform that has revolutionized bills payments, electronic bill presentment, payroll automation and API integration while offering services across different sectors. In this interview, she delved into the role of Nigeria as a leader in the African fintech ecosystem. Excerpts.
How would you describe your journey in the FinTech space in terms of opportunities and challenges?
As the Managing Director of a Financial Technology company, my journey has been exciting yet challenging. The Nigerian Financial Technology sector offers great opportunities for innovation and change. Advancements in technology, increased mobile usage, and changing consumer behaviour have created a favourable environment for Financial Technology businesses. However, we have also encountered obstacles such as regulations, cybersecurity, and gaining customers’ trust. Overcoming these challenges while making the most of the opportunities has been a crucial part of our journey.
What strategies have you adopted towards expanding the growth of ERCAS Integrated Solutions as a player in the FinTech industry?
As a PSSP-licensed company, ERCAS Integrated Solutions Limited propels growth within the dynamic FinTech industry through our unwavering commitment to excellence which is evident in our multifaceted approach, addressing evolving business needs through continuous innovation. Additionally, we prioritize user-friendly solutions, staying ahead of the curve in the digital economy. Our strategic partnerships also ensure seamless experiences and unmatched service for our clients. With a strong focus on talent development, we maintain a high standard of expertise.
To what would you attribute the rapid increase in the number of transactions processed by Nigerian FinTech companies?
As smartphone usage increases in Nigeria, digital payments are becoming increasingly popular, this has created an environment that is conducive for digital transactions. Additionally, the introduction of USSD technology has significantly increased access to financial services among the unbanked. A total of 193.9 million cellular mobile connections were active in Nigeria in early 2023, with this figure equivalent to 87.7 percent of the total population. (Datareportal.com). Moreover, FinTech solutions have attracted an increasing number of users due to their convenience, speed, and cost-effectiveness. As of 2020, 67% of Nigerians between the ages of 18 and 64 utilize digital payment methods. Collaborations between FinTech companies, traditional financial institutions, and regulatory agencies have also been essential to this process. These collaborations have paved the way for an enabling ecosystem, boosting digital transactions. Government’s prioritization of entrenching a cashless system has also contributed to a significant increase in transaction volumes in recent years.
Can you take us through some of your solutions, as well as the uniqueness of these products?
Ercas Pay, our payment gateway for businesses offers a payment link feature that allows customers to complete transactions in few easy steps. Ercas Collect simplifies the process of collecting, managing, and reconciling payments for both private and public corporations. Ercas Flex streamlines payment process across multiple bank accounts. The platform eliminates the need for multiple tokens and bank apps. Sagecloud offers seamless integration of a range of value-added APIs including Airtime and Data, Electricity and Cable TV, and Education. It is the flexibility of our products that makes them unique, since they can meet the needs of businesses of any size.
How do you see Nigeria changing the narrative for the FinTech industry in Africa?
It is no secret that Nigeria is one of the top three fintech hubs in Africa, alongside South Africa and Kenya. Among the factors that have contributed to the country’s prominence are its large population of over 200 million residents, a vibrant entrepreneurial ecosystem, and the adoption of smartphones, as well as the use of USSD by the unbanked. The Nigerian FinTech sector has the potential to reshape Africa, stimulating innovation, driving financial inclusion, and attracting investment. Nigeria’s deliberate focus on financial accessibility has unlocked vast potential, allowing businesses and individuals to participate in the digital economy with ease. The country’s young talent actively contributes to shaping the industry’s landscape and introducing novel solutions. Nigeria’s success serves as an exemplary model for other African countries.
What government policies do you think need to be changed or put in place for the FinTech industry to thrive in Nigeria?
In order to cultivate a thriving FinTech sector in Nigeria, it is crucial to give priority to specific governmental strategies. First and foremost, there should be a concentration on establishing a regulatory structure that fosters ingenuity, while safeguarding consumer rights and the privacy of data. Streamlining the procedures for obtaining licenses for FinTech startups and providing sandboxes for testing new technologies are additional measures that can facilitate expansion. Moreover, encouraging collaboration between conventional financial institutions and FinTech firms, along with initiatives to enhance financial literacy and develop infrastructure, play a pivotal role in fortifying the sector’s achievements. Lastly, consolidating all FinTech services under a comprehensive license, comparable to that of a commercial bank, will lay a solid groundwork for the industry’s progression.
What is the next big thing for Ercas Integrated Solutions?
At Ercas, our unwavering commitment lies in the success of businesses. With a vision centred on financial inclusion and innovation, we harness cutting-edge technologies like artificial intelligence and data analytics to enhance our solutions and unlock new possibilities. Our goal is to expand our product offerings, catering to a broader range of customer segments, and strengthen our market presence. Exploring strategic partnerships and collaborations, we aim to extend our influence, contributing to African dominance in the FinTech industry, transcending borders to other African countries. Moreover, we are actively developing ERCAS collection solutions tailored for government parastatals and agencies, driving efficient digitization of payments in Nigeria. By embracing technology and prioritizing customers’ needs, we remain confident in our continuous role in fostering growth and transformation in the Nigerian FinTech landscape, and beyond.
UGOCHUKWU JAY CHIKEZIE: Astute CEO Creating Value, Empowering Industries Through Technology
Ugochukwu Jay Chikezie is a technology enthusiast whose steady rise in the tech industry is a result of hard work and dedication. Having encountered academic setbacks as an undergraduate, he has remained tenacious in making up for the setbacks through innovative entrepreneurial acumen which birthed lifestyle applications namely, Nairabox and Tremendoc in the fintech and healthtech ecosystems respectively.
In 2015, he ventured into the fintech space with the establishment of Nairabox which he co-founded with a friend. According to him, the intention was for Nairabox to create a digital alternative for payment collection aimed at physical stores. The plan was to replace POS with Nairabox by implementing the barcode capability, which would allow customers to pay at stores using their Nairabox wallet. All was going well and a launch date for the product had been fixed, but they were left in limbo when the bank with which they secured a partnership pulled out of the arrangement.
“We went to the bank to announce our readiness for the launch, only to be told that they were not ready and that we would have to wait until the following year.” We were disappointed and forced to send our employees home that day because the collaboration was our only hope,” he recalled.
Having worked as an artiste manager and later as commercial manager at Hibuzz, a subsidiary of the defunct HITV, which offered similar services to Nairabox, Chikezie thought of the idea of redesigning Nairabox by including ticketing features for events and cinemas. At that time, people bought tickets at the event venues with cash, while those who offered digital payment had challenges with confirmation of customers before entry into venues. This was a major issue in the entertainment industry and the solution required was already built into Nairabox; the barcode feature.
“At that time, when you buy tickets online, you will still have to be on a queue for your details to be confirmed from excel sheets. The queues were usually long and by the time you enter, the event would have gone half way, but with the barcode feature on Nairabox, our representatives would only scan your e-tickets which was really efficient and time-saving. I told my partners at the time that if we don’t do it, we would have no other option other than to close shop.
“We decided to switch models by redesigning and redeveloping the application with the technologies we had on hand. We had a soft launch in November 2015 and an official launch in January 2016. It was a tough journey but we were able to create a niche for ourselves and inspire new companies”, he said.
He continued, “We have created an ecosystem where people can have access to tickets and not necessarily through us. For instance, Nairabox powers cinema and event tickets on the lifestyles section of most bank apps. We have customers who visit Nairabox for tickets, but we understand that there are platforms with customers who are interested in our services, so we have made it simple for them to get tickets from other platforms through partnerships.”
Nairabox has had a significant impact on the Nigerian entertainment sector since its debut. The impact of the company is not limited to ticket sales; it has also played an important role in marketing artists who have gone on to become superstars, while also increasing awareness for partner businesses. “You cannot take away our contribution in the industry. We have made events ticketing accessible and convenient for customers. Events are key development tools for artistes to become global superstars and we have worked with almost all the artistes there are today.
“In one of his interviews, Davido stated that he realized he had become a superstar following his concert at Eko Hotels in December 2017. That show was solely sold out by Nairabox, and it was Nigeria’s first sold-out concert. In 2018 as well, Nairabox exclusively handled ticket sales for Burnaboy’s concert at Eko Hotels. He went on to become a global superstar. The show was sold out, and it was his first concert that was entirely sold online”, he added.
Chikezie, whose Tremendoc telemedicine app has helped bring medical services closer to people, explained that the Nigerian fintech industry has been able to attract foreign investment because Nigerians are creative and entrepreneurial, which is why the country is leading the African fintech ecosystem.
“It is not surprising that companies like Flutterwave and Paystack are at the forefront of payment processing and collection. It is because of the kind of people we are. We have a never-say-die attitude, and because we are so entrepreneurial in our thinking, we always research what problems exist and come up with potential solutions. I believe that the more the global market improves, the more fintech solutions will emerge from Nigeria”, he stated.
Speaking further, he disclosed that as part of the new services that will be available soon, Nairabox customers will be able to order meals on the platform and resell tickets on the platform if they are unable to attend a concert or see a movie. Furthermore, promoters will have access to loans and sponsorship through Nairabox.
At P2Vest, We Are Focused On Growth While We Continue To Nurture Our New Ventures – Mr. Austin Abolusoro
P2Vest brings borrowers and lenders together, transforming the way people access credit and lend money. Having built a marketplace where costs are low and opportunities are high, making use of a technology to help people take control of their debt, grow their businesses, and invest for the future.
In this chat with The Guardian, Mr. Austin Abolusoro, Founder and Chief Executive Officer of P2Vest Technology Limited speaks on how the company stands out in the Nigeria Fintech space and strategies adopted in growing the brand. Excerpt.
How would you describe your journey in the FinTech space in terms of opportunities and challenges?
It was quite daunting given the level and pace of development of Nigeria’s finance sector. My journey dates back to my role in the banking sector. Having worked in a Tier 1 bank where I had responsibilities to interface with both local and foreign FinTech, I began to see myself switching positions in a “not-too-distant” future. Getting relevant data for reliable credit scoring was a difficult undertaking, making it impossible for banks to fit the majority of loan requests into risk management frameworks. This provided us with an opportunity to implement many machine technology solutions, including learning models, to attempt to anticipate creditworthiness and risk.
What strategies have you adopted over the years that have helped in expanding your portfolio at P2Vest Technology Limited?
In terms of expanding our portfolio, the Nigerian business environment is vast, with numerous prospects. We are talking about over 100 million people who are eligible for credits, with less than five percent perhaps having formal access. So we are just trying to carve out our own niche. We are collaborating with other ecosystem participants such as banks, fintech, regulators, credit bureaus, and so on. While continuing to build our loan solution, we discovered some potential in insurance and spotted a lot of alignment that we could explore; this is another way we are now expanding.
P2Vest Technology Limited is in the insurance business; can you throw more light on what brought about this innovation and the class of insurance business your company covers?
P2Vest is a technology company that builds platforms and we actually aim at building Peer-2-Peer Platforms connecting players and removing intermediaries. We saw the opportunity to bring this model into insurance, immediately, we started processing the operating license which we eventually got in March 2023. There were lots of hurdles as we were one of the first to get the Insurance Web Aggregator’s License in Nigeria. What we are doing now is providing a marketplace where people can find most insurance products and insurance companies, making it easy to buy insurance and get instant policies. We are also now working on making the APIs available to other places like fintech and merchants who may want to bundle insurance with their products. It is another huge market with so much potential that is untapped, we believe technology could help untangle it and we want to lead in this space. So far, we have signed partnerships with about 15 insurance companies and we have completed integrations with seven already from which people could buy insurance through our app.
P2Vest Technology Limited is into lending and borrowing at the same time which is quite unusual for a fintech company, can you share what brought about this innovation?
Peer-To-Peer lending is not a new model, but it is not popular in Nigeria and Africa in General. We believe it is a model that can work here. It is an easier way to get a lot more people to play in the ecosystem if we can build some trust. If you know that putting your money on our platform and lending with it could earn you 30% per annum, why would you keep such funds in a fixed deposit to earn less than 10%? But this is happening today on our platform. We also have a model where we provide a 100% guarantee for some lenders, but those are major lenders and not individuals who just want to do casual lending. At the same time, we stake our funds on the system to lend, we have licenses, and continue improving our scores.
To what would you attribute the rapid increase in the number of transactions processed not just by your company, but by Nigerian FinTech start-ups in general?
I must say the CBN cashless policy has driven people to the online channels. Recent data shows that Instant Payment transaction volumes have tripled within the last three years. Following the Naira redesign strategy and cash withdrawal limits, there has been a quick rollout of Point of Sale Terminals. Account numbers are now shown in stores that would not normally accept transfers. The expansion has been two-fold: The first is the rising number of FinTechs and payment solutions in Nigeria, which has also drawn significant foreign investment. Second, government policies shape how payments are done using electronic rather than cash methods.
How do you see Nigeria changing the narrative for the FinTech industry in Africa?
The Fintech market in Nigeria has developed and now incorporates several business ideas. Over 200 financial startups have been launched between 2017 and 2021, creating new unicorns. Nigeria is altering the narrative, thanks to its people and the calibre of ideas generated by its young people. About $1.5B was invested in African FinTechs in 2022 and Nigeria alone got about 46% of that. That is a massive vote for the quality of ideas generated in this country and the great work that our people are doing.
What is the next big thing for P2Vest Technology Limited?
P2Vest is focused on expansion while also nurturing new ventures. This quarter, we will launch the Corporate Insurance Portal and hope to market it to SMEs and corporations. We are also releasing a new Insurance App that we can white-label for Brokers and Agents to help them sell more. Our Education Loan portal is also ready and will be launched soon; we already have several subscriptions from local schools, and we are in the process of integrating some overseas schools and examination bodies. There will be a lot more in Q4, and we are enthusiastic about the potential ahead.
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