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Is fintech revolution possible in Nigeria

Published by The Nation on Sun, 15 Dec 2019

The recent Global Fintech Index, which has ranked Nigeria 52 behind two other African countries, has fuelled fears that the countrys quest for technological innovation across the financial ecosystem is far from being achieved no thanks to poor infrastructure, reports Ibrahim Apekhade YusufAt the centre of the nations ambition to bridge the digital divide is the problem of poor infrastructure, which sadly has remained a recurring decimal. Like other sectors, this inadequacy is also apparent within the nations financial landscape.Global fintech rankingNigeria was ranked 52, behind two other African countries -South Africa and Kenyain the recent Global Fintech Index.The ranking, as contained in the Global Fintech Index City Rankings 2020 Report by Findexable, sampled 230 cities across 65 countries.Findexable ranked these countries based on the quantity of operational startups, measuring the quality of environmental factors influencing the growth of these firms.According to the Findexable ranking, Nigeria is placed 52, only 13th place to the least on the list, Lebanon.Cursory view of Nigerias fintech landscapeFinTech investment in Africa has increased significantly from $198 million in 2014 to ~$800 million in 2016, as investors are increasingly attracted to the industrys potential to tap into Africas huge unserved/underserved population.Like other countries, Nigeria has been adopting and deploying rapid advances in Financial Technology, FinTech. A sizable demography use these companies to pay their bills, transfer cash, make various online dealings and even borrow money.Professionals emphasise significant FinTech opportunities in Nigeria that could potentially redefine the financial services landscape over the next five years.According to Boye Ademola, Partner, KPMG US, the fast growing young population (115 million people below the age of 35), exponential growth of mobile phone lines (estimated at 150 million as at July 2016), huge financial inclusion potential (less than 50 million people with bank accounts in a population of 170 million people, based on Bank Verification Number [BVN] data) and relatively strong talent pool (buoyed by Nigerians in diaspora) are pertinent indicators of the FinTech opportunity.Findings reveal that the quality of companies and founders in the FinTech ecosystem projects a massive Return on Investment (RoI) potential and industry expansion, if accorded the right marketing push and innovation.Across the African continent, over $560million was reportedly invested in tech companies in 2017. Of the $114million reportedly raised by tech companies in Nigeria, 75% of it went to FinTechs in 2018. With the huge investment pumped into the sector and a great number of electronic transactions and FinTech startups springing up swiftly, the marketing geography looks quite auspicious.However, enforcement of the Bank Secrecy Act and money transmission regulations represents an ongoing threat to finTech companies. In response, the International Monetary Fund, IMF, and the World Bank,WB, jointly presented Bali Fintech Agenda on October 11, 2018 which consists of 12 policy elements acting as guidelines for various governments and central banking institutions to adopt and deploy rapid advances in financial technology.The new Payment Service Provider, PSP, and Payment Service Bank, PSB, guidelines recently released by the Central Bank of Nigeria, CBN, as some of the regulatory requirements to operate in finTech are in line with the World Bank and IMF Agenda.Until the newly proposed PSP licensing structure, the Payment Solution Service Providers, PSSPs, along-side the Switching license has been the go-to license for players in the fintech space. And the players in this category typically have direct integration into the card schemes (Visa, Mastercard & Verve) and a deeper relationship with banks. A recent report claimed that only seven companies have been granted this license in Nigeria. And Interswitch was named as one of them.Nigerias FinTech landscape, however, is being revolutionalised by a new breed of digital disrupters. In 2018, some FinTech companies disclosed amazing corporate deals involving millions of dollars. Paystack, for instance, was able to attract both foreign and local investments to the tune of $8 million. Paystack is less than three years old, and already it has become one of the leading FinTech companies in Nigeria. Insider information hinted that the company was going to come up with a mobile app as 2019 continues to unfold.Founded in 2016, Paystack offers payment services to more than 17,000 businesses and is said to be responsible for more than 15% of all online payments that happen in Nigeria today, according to information made available in its website.Reports also have it that Piggybank.ng had secured some $1.1 million worth of seed funding from a group of homegrown investors in the early part of 2018. It was founded in 2016, and positions as a mobile savings platform which targets young people both within and outside Nigeria.Paga, whose business model entails money transfer, is the last of the three Nigerian FinTech companies that were ranked among the worlds fastest growing startups in 2018 by CB Insights. It was founded in early 2009.Meanwhile, KongaPay remains one of the oldest companies in Nigeria. It is useful for payment of goods and services online. It can be used for shopping both locally and internationally as it is affiliated with major banks in Nigeria. Payments on KongaPay are made via Master card, Verve Card and Visa Card. KongaPay and Paga are some of the licensed and active mobile money operators, among many others.The report also said that PSB license would allow non-bank institutions such as telcos, retailers, super agents, and other similar stakeholders to offer basic financial services such as acceptance of deposit, payment and remittance, operate electronic wallets, issue debit and prepaid cards, amongst other services.In 2018, MTN Nigeria and Airtel had announced plans to delve into mobile money services with the former expressing hopes that it would get the CBNs approval and launch in the second quarter of 2019. The PSB license will, however, not allow the telcos offer lending services and participate in the foreign exchange market.In the report, the tier one lender said the capacity of FinTech companies to gain a significant market share would be limited in the absence of collaborations.The first fully digital bank in Nigeria (Alat) was launched early last year by a Nigerian bank. It is expected that many of these companies have plans to become a fully digital bank as they grow. And the key players are Alat and Kudimoney.Having X-rayed Nigerias FinTec ecosystem, Marketing Edge forecasts a vibrant growth in the sector. For example, if a leading telco such as MTN, which was recently listed on NSE, implements its plan to obtain the PSB license and launches its mobile money service before the end of Q2 2019, which is about a month away, the FinTech space will not be the same again. Meanwhile, despite the promise the sector holds, no significant success will be sustained without constant invention and innovation in brand marketing and positioning.eTranzact is Nigerias multi-application and multi-channel electronic transaction switching and payment processing platform. eTranzact has operations in Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Cote dIvoire, and UK and is currently expanding its business operations to other countries across the globe. Launched in September 2003, eTranzact currently has a global reach extending its services to include products across all aspects of the e-payment space: ATM, Internet, POS, and Mobile. eTranzact has also deployed its mobile payment solutions to banks and other financial institutions alike. Moreover, the CBN granted eTranzact the license to provide mobile money services to individuals with a special focus on the non-banking sector.Interswitch is an Africa-focused integrated digital payments and commerce company that facilitates the electronic circulation of money as well as the exchange of value between individuals and organisations on a timely and consistent basis. The company started operations in 2002 as a transaction switching and electronic payments processing company that builds and manages payment infrastructure as well as delivering innovative payment products and transactional services throughout the African continent.Also speaking on the potential of fintech, Elena Mesropyan, a research professional with a background in social sciences and extensive experience in consumer behaviour studies and marketing analytics, said the potential for growth is massive.While giving a perspective on the nations fintech ecosystem, the chairman, FinTech Associates Limited and a past president of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria, Dr. Segun Aina, said: I looked at the FinTech environment in Nigeria and saw that a lot of institutions are doing great things (banks, FinTech hubs, technology hubs, payment system companies, technology companies and even students in the schools). The government and agencies are doing great things as well. But we did not see coordination in terms of what we were doing, and we did not see integration in terms of efforts.On the role of the Fintech Association of Nigeria, Aina said, The first step was for us to have the association, which as I said, is for advocacy, knowledge event, hand-holding and coaching of start-ups and to provide a platform for them to display their enterprise and knowledge; we want to support regulators and governments. We have engaged various ministers who are relevant to what we are doing; we have engaged regulators across the board. We have engaged with the National Assembly. They just came back from recess and we are getting some appointments to come and see the various committees and the heads of the National Assembly. That is that for local.We are now moving towards Africa, because we want to make Nigeria the leader of fintech in Africa. We are the biggest in Africa, so why is it that when you talk of technology and fintech, you hear of South Africa and Kenya before Nigeria' Some time, you even hear of Uganda before Nigeria. If you look at the number of technology hubs in Africa, Nigeria is number five in terms of the numbers. South Africa has the highest technology hubs, almost 60; followed by Egypt, Kenya, Uganda or so and Nigeria is number five with just about 20 something hubs. That is not good enough. We have the need for such things better than those countries. So what we are doing now is that as part of the side events to this conference, (a day before the conference), we have invited finTech leaders from some selected African countries to form a roundtable of not more than 40 people.In the view of Chief Executive Officer of eTranzact, Niyi Toluwalope the nations fintech landscape shows a lot of promise.Notwithstanding its many hiccups, Toluwalpoe holds the view and very strongly too that the revolution is indeed possible in the nations fintech ecosystem.As a stakeholder within the Nigerian financial and payments ecosystem, the opportunities for growth that come from innovation and financial inclusion just as we are also aware of the challenges that fintechs face when integrating with banks using the Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and we are excited about the efforts of the Open Technology Foundation, an initiative working with banks, seasoned industry professionals and fintechs to define an open and non-partisan set of o design the API standards.
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