Alabraba and Oviosu: From Friendship To PAGA
In recent times, many Nigerians have been relying on financial technology (Fintech) companies for quick solutions to their financial constraints.
A cross-section of the population now use these companies to pay their bills, save funds, transfer cash, and even take loans. The disruption fintechs brought about in the financial services space is certainly undeniable, and their effectiveness and efficiency are just a couple of the reasons that have made them popular in the country.
In this interview, we get to meet the brains – Tayo Oviosu and Jay Alabraba – behind one of the leading financial services – Paga. These two, through the services rendered, have been able to capture both the hearts and pockets of over 12 million Nigerians.
Tayo Oviosu – The Start-up Champ
One would think to be techy means uptight and weird, but the reverse is the case with the founder and CEO of Paga, Tayo Oviosu.
His wealth of knowledge, experience and affinity for a cashless society led him to create and launch Paga, a leading financial service in Nigeria in April 2009.
“Paga is actually a Spanish word meaning ‘to pay’; it is ideally a digital wallet where you can link your bank account and your cards to be able to perform financial transactions easily and seamlessly. The best part is that you can use Paga on both smartphones and less sophisticated phones because of the USSD code feature,” Oviosu says enthusiastically.
Having figured that the incessant banking problems and the need for a cashless society weren’t just a Nigerian problem but a global one, he began to search for a business partner who would share in his vision of finding a lasting solution.
In the wake of his search, he met Jay Alabraba, a like mind who was even more willing to work on the project so that he left his job a few months after returning to Nigeria to join Oviosu.
“In all our discussion, I had come to respect his intellect because he is a very smart person and this is very important to me,” Oviosu says of his partner. “Also, I thought to myself that this business is going to be a long journey and it had to be with someone I can relate with on different levels.”
With Nigeria which houses over 190million people, as its primary market, Paga now boasts of over 12 million users garnered since its inception in the past 10years; in other words, 48% of the Nigerians trust the platform to handle their financial transactions.
He further states how they have been able to break through to the likes of market women,
“A lot of the agents are traders and people who are bringing Paga into their communities to make life and business a little easier. For market women, in particular, they now have the option to secure their money by depositing it with a Paga agent as opposed to travelling with large amounts and face the risk of getting robbed.”
“Although the platform is multilingual, there is still ongoing innovation to ensure that everyone is being catered for. The customer care service is available in a variety of languages so everyone can get help whenever they need it,” Oviosu adds.
In fact, it is one of the reasons that Paga was launched in Lagos, Kano and Onitsha, three of Nigeria’s most popular commercial cities.
To aid and shape their services, they consider feedback, an important tool. And over time, the result of the feedback they have gotten from the average Nigerian has been tremendous. Oviosu recounts the time a man explained what Paga means to him and attempted convincing him to try the service.
Having known that to handle money in Nigeria comes with a lot of doubts from customers and attempts from fraudsters, Oviosu ensured that Paga attained the highest security certification for any payment company. This is to ensure the safety of its users and prevent any incidences of fraud on the platform. Users are encouraged to keep their personal and login information to themselves to avoid giving access to their accounts to potential fraudsters.
Being the founder of such a successful company has taught Oviosu one of the biggest leadership lessons – empathy.
“A little over time, I have learnt a lot more about empathy. I am now able to put myself in other people’s shoes. Another thing I have learnt is transparency. By being open and letting people know where you are and how you have been able to get there, when people see that you are being open with them, they can have faith in you and key into what you are doing,” he states.
All his hard work at Paga has not been going unnoticed as he has gained recognition globally. In 2014 CNBC selected him as the Entrepreneur of the Year West Africa, and in 2015 the African Leadership Network selected Paga as the outstanding growing company of the year in Africa.
Oviosu, an avid Chelsea fan, is a member of the Young Presidents Organisation,who aims to change the face of Africa one venture at a time.
Jay Alabraba – Jack of All Trades
Jay Alabraba is the co-founder, director of Business Development at Paga. He has a Masters in Business Administration from the Graduate School of Business, Stanford University and three past work experiences; one of which includes working as an investment banking associate at Goldman Sachs.
With quite an intimidating profile which includes stints at tech to pharmaceuticals and now to the financial services sectors, it is safe to call him the Jack of all trades.
Throwing the question at him with so much curiosity on why he moved back to Nigeria, even with such a lucrative portfolio, he responds in detail.
“For me, I had been back in Nigeria for several months, heading into a year and prior to that, Tayo had been exchanging notes about the market (salary levels for other jobs we were working on). However, one of the major problems I had was finding people that I could confidently say I want to work on projects with. Tayo is someone I am going to always respect and trust so I would say it was truly the excitement about the opportunity to work with someone like him and the idea behind the project that caught and retained my attention for this long.”
His work experience in places outside Nigeria, where definite and viable structures define work roles existed, impacted his way of thinking like a businessman.
“Coming back to Nigeria, I also knew that it would help me to learn how to operate within the Nigerian context and how the average Nigerian businessman thinks.”
As much as Alabraba thinks fintech is the future, he still doubts that it can take over the typical banking system completely.
“There is definitely a big role for banks to play in sort of building out financial services that support people. I think there is tremendous room for collaboration between fintechs and banks which is the approach Paga has taken to doing business.
We [Paga] work with all the banks in the country today and we also have a closer relationship with the smaller subsets and the way we see it is that there are services that the banks do really well and we can work with these banks to deliver.”
Building a business is no small work. As such, Alabraba says that listening and relating to what people mean has been his important lessons as a leader. “It is also clear to me that you cannot always know and do everything by yourself. The talent pool in Nigeria may not be as tremendous as other West African countries but Nigerians are extremely smart and as a leader, you need to bring out the best in people,” he says.
Alabraba also opines that the company’s greatest achievement so far is the fact that Paga is building a team and a culture that is consistently “delivering the highest quality and with the highest level of customer satisfaction. Building this team with this mindset alongside having everyone understand our mode of operation, for me, is another ‘greatest achievement’.”