Business

Leveraging fintech for financial inclusion in Nigeria

The rise of financial technology companies offering different services raises hope for Nigeria’s financial inclusion journey. With more funding coming their way, fintech may just be the right solutions to fill in the gap for banks. SAMSON AKINTARO reports

They came as the products of technology revolution sweeping across sectors and every area of endeavour globally. But they did not just come to compete with regular banks, they have come to offer solutions, bridge gaps left uncovered by banks and this is why financial technology (Fintech) firms are succeeding in Nigeria and elsewhere globally. Typical of every revolution, the fintech incursion has prodded banks to up their games with regard to the deployment of technology in day-to-day banking. Today, commercial banks are churning out new exciting products to keep their customers and to try to meet up with innovative ideas coming out of the fintech environment. But while the banks remain the biggest players in the financial sector, fintech firms are pushing boundaries with products aimed at bringing more Nigerians into the financial system. A report by McKinsey & Company tagged “Harnessing Nigeria’s FinTech Potential” reveals that fintech companies are developing products across the entire value chain of the financial services industry. And today, there are startups offering services in payments, savings, digital banking, lending, insurance, wealth management, and merchant solutions.

Financial offerings

The fintech firms in Nigeria are offering multiple services, which are helping to drive the financial service ecosystem and easing payments. Through Paystack, for instance, people can receive payments via invoices and create payment pages, while utilising Paystack as payment gateway. The platform makes the online payments process consistent for both the consumers and the businesses they are attempting to pay. Similarly, Flutterwave provides technology, infrastructure, and services to enable global merchants, payment service providers, and helps banks and businesses build secure and seamless payment solutions for their customers by smoothening the exchange of funds. Paga on its part is fulfilling its mission of making it simple for people to access and use money by providing a smooth and stress-free money transfer experience. Other fintechs such as Carbon give short loans through their mobile apps, making the process paperless and quick. FairMoney, a mobile banking platform for private and business borrowers, uses smartphone data to build an instant credit score and give loans. Through instant online borrowings, fintechs in this category are also filling the gap for the banks in an easier and faster manner.

Rising fintechs profile

Nigeria’s fintech market is seen as one of the fastest growing in the world and it is largely dominated by payment service companies such as Interswitch Limited, e-Tranzact, System- Specs, Emerging Market Payments, and Unified Payments; consumer payment apps and digital commerce platforms such as Quickteller, KudiMoney, Jumia, and KongaPay; and online microlenders. Interestingly, due to the fluidity of the market, it continues to attract new entrants. While the Chinese company, Opay, is already gaining ground through its array of services attached to its payment platform, another Chinese company, Transsion Group, whose mobile subsidiaries are dominating the Nigerian market also floating a fintech company in the country, leveraging its millions of mobile customers. With a war chest of $42 million, Transsion is pushing its payment platform known as Palmpay. The Transsion Group, whose Tecno, Infinix, and Itel phone brands dominated the Nigerian market, said it would have the Palmpay app pre-installed in all its devices.

More investments strengthening fintech

Within this month, two leading fintechs in the country have raised close to $200 million in investments. First was Flutterwave, which announced that it had closed a $170 million deal, which raised the company’s value to over $1 billion. New York-based private investment firm, Avenir Growth Capital, and U.S. hedge fund and investment firm, Tiger Global, led the Series C round. Thereafter, Kuda Bank raised $25 million in a Series A round to continue to provide a modern banking service for Africans and the African diaspora. The funding round was led by New York-based venture capital, Valar Ventures, with participation from existing investor Target Global, an international venture capital firm headquartered in Berlin, Germany, and several other existing investors. According to a report by the Enhancing Financial Innovation & Access (EFInA), fintechs in Nigeria had raised a total of $560 million between 2017 and 2019. This, according to the report, was a growth of over 190 per cent as more investors continue to harness the huge opportunities in the country’s fintech landscape. As of last year, EFInA said there were over 200 fintech companies in Nigeria offering services ranging from payments to savings, and lending. These businesses are said to have accounted for around 10 per cent of direct investment into Nigeria from 2017 to2019 and have been projected (pre- COVID-19) to contribute up to $3 billion.

Skewed funding

EFInA, however, noted that funding had been concentrated on later-stage investments, adding that there is a perceived gap in pre-seed funding partly due to limited local participation. “This is reflected in the fact that 50 per cent of the funding has gone to companies with foreign affiliations,” EFInA stated in the report in its ‘FinTech Landscape and Impact Assessment Study 2020 Report.’ “The Nigerian finTech landscape is attractive and growing, with a concentration in Lagos, focused on banked customers and providing payment and lending solutions. However, dynamics are changing, new pockets of growth are emerging driven by changes in consumer behaviour, funding sources, and new business models; leading to an extension of financial services to unserved and underserved populations,” EFInA said.

Threat to banks?

According to Peter Mushangwe, a banking analyst at Moody’s, Nigeria’s efforts to deepen the role of fintech firms in Nigeria’s banking system will result in increased competition for incumbent banks. However, Mushangwe said Nigeria’s large banks, such as Access Bank, Zenith Bank, First Bank of Nigeria, United Bank for Africa Plc, and Guaranty Trust Bank Plc, would be better positioned to defend their market shares due to larger customer bases and large technology budgets. With this in mind, it is expected that small and midsize banks and fintech competitions will battle for the SME industries with innovative products in the coming years. But for the Chief Technical Officer/Executive Director at SystemSpecs, Dr. Emmanuel Eze, banks should not perceive fintechs as threats because their modes of operations are not the same. “Fintech is not money keeping bank. We are not banks and we will never be banks anything we do with money has to sit in banks. The banks should realise clearly that money will always sit with them and they will enjoy the float and Fintech is just providing services on top of the banking system, which makes it easier for the different customers using our platforms to enjoy the services,” he said. Nonetheless, Executive Director, Infrastructure Business at Inlaks, Mr. Tope Dare, noted that only banks that can transform into effective digital banks would survive the threat and stay relevant in the years ahead.

Partnership as way forward

In the thick of the stiff competition that is bound to get stiffer as more players enter the scene, stakeholders said the best for the industry would be for the banks and the fintech companies to work together. According to the Managing Director/ CEO of Inlaks, Mr. Femi Adeoti, the financial service providers need to adapt to the current digital trend and have a concrete strategy to keep them relevant. “Fintech service providers and banks have to work well together to create a seamless financial experience for consumers in the near future, this can be achieved with the adoption of future-proof strategies to ensure relevance for years to come,” he advised. “In Nigeria, Digital banking brings a world of opportunity to address pressing issues in access to finance, a young and internet active population, and an increasing focus on customer experience to cater to a growing middle class. Both retail banks and FinTech in Nigeria and Africa should use digital innovation in banking to solve issues in an exciting and modern way,” Adeoti added.

Last line

The fintechs, no doubt, have come to revolutionise the payment system. While their exploits are already rubbing off on the economy, as they attract more foreign investments, their potential must be fully explored to deepen financial inclusion in the country.

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