Financial Technology Industry Poised for Growth ‘Now Now’ in Africa
MS: Let’s face it – The financial market in Nigeria is frenetic and the country’s banking regulations have a reputation for being tough to navigate; what must companies such as NowNow do in order to be successful in a system that is quickly growing, but facing new challenges every day?
Sahir Berry, Founder and CEO, NowNow: It is true that the Nigerian market is dynamic, and it exudes varying degrees of energies depending on the prevailing market forces. The regulating institutions which are saddled with the responsibility of stabilizing the market and its players are doing as much as they can. However, a lot more can be done in areas of policy formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation.
NowNow as a company has been able to navigate its way amidst these challenges by strictly complying with Nigeria’s laws and seeking to engage with law-abiding organizations in strategic alliances towards the common goal of providing sound financial solutions for the populous. NowNow has heavily invested in research and the close monitoring of market trends and their evolution to allow for swift adaptation to what the market is offering at any given period.
Companies such as NowNow should continue to invest heavily in research that would provide quality information aimed at making sound business decisions.
MS: The National Information Technology Development Agency (NITDA) of Nigeria has basically said that the Information and Communications Technology (ICT) sector must be developed domestically from local manufacturing, through the use of Nigerian-made software, hardware and telecommunication products. Has this autonomously-led regulation helped or hindered your ability to keep up with market demand and industry growth, both inside and outside of Nigeria?
Sahir Berry: No. This regulation has not impeded NowNow’s ability to keep up with market demand and industry growth. Rather, what the regulations have done is to avail more of a level playing ground for institutions like NowNow to seek out talents in our various locations and coagulate them to build a super product that will serve consumers, irrespective of their locations.
As NowNow’s tech team is based in Nigeria and India – a good number of our products are developed locally, with an indigenous advantage and local acceptability. This brings about a sense of inclusion to all parties involved in the production process.
MS: How do you make sure that your agents have enough cash to dispense to physical Naira to NowNow users and how do you regulate and monitor their dealings?
Sahir Berry: Our processes are very strategically handpicked, standardized and monitored after thorough KYC compliance. There is a reasonable daily limit to all transactions made by either the agents or consumers. Agents are allowed to hold a daily imprest up to the limited daily amount for the day’s transaction. In some cases, the agents are conversant with the transaction trends in their area and they are able to project a new limit not exceeding the company’s limit for themselves. This is put in place to control the movement of funds from one party to another, and also to forestall money laundering and other financial vices.
MS: How has mobile banking changed the fortunes of not only Nigerians, but Africans across the continent?
Sahir Berry: Mobile banking has assumed a lead position in the banking space. The ease with which people transfer funds from one end of the country to the other can not be overemphasized. This has helped to create a new micro-economy and an ecosystem that has afforded many of the unbanked the access to cross the financial and market inclusion divide.
According to a report undertaken by our team of researchers in-country, it was discovered that financial inclusion in the area of payments and pension rose significantly in less than a decade. An appreciable growth was recorded, with digital payments moving from 22% in 2010 to about 40% in 2018, while pension rose sparingly, from about 4.9% in 2010 to 8% in 2018.
Despite the fact that the financial inclusion goal of 70% by the year 2020 via digital payment has yet to be achieved, tremendous improvement has been made, with over $90 billion worth of transactions executed in over 9 million deals across all fintech platforms by the end of 2018 in Nigeria.
The Nigerian electronic market grew by 19.30% and was worth $174 billion in 2018 alone and as of 2019, we have about 25% growth, worth some $225 billion. These developments have created more jobs via tech startups and also aided financial inclusion in all of its tenets (e.g. equal opportunity and community empowerment). Talented Nigerians are employed by these startups to help create more solutions that will benefit a target of reducing financial exclusion to 20% by the end of 2020.
MS: What do you believe sets NowNow apart from the competition? How is your mobile banking app different from the others that are featuring in Nigeria?
Sahir Berry: NowNow has risen above the stratosphere of mediocrity in the fintech space. We have strived very hard to distinguish ourselves from the rest, by providing the value proposition of being service-focused and customer-centric, and also proving a flexible solution to a myriad of financial challenges, subject to varying levels of market-testing and simulations, our goal well before embarking on production.
We painstakingly evaluate our end-users and potential end-users alike and work with what works for them. At NowNow, the focus is strictly centered on value creation.
Our model is tailored to the agent-consumer-merchant ‘tripod’, such that we have a model that suits all businesses. Our mobile app is a ‘super-app’ model that helps with airtime recharge, utility payment, insurance, health, entertainment, sports and many more.
We chose the brand name NowNow because we live the reality of the name. Everything can be done on our app, our ecosystem, at the snap of one’s fingers.
MS: Considering the ICT sector is entirely domestic, how does NowNow manage data protection for its clients?
Sahir Berry: NowNow has software components that are deployed on an AWS Cloud Platform, which ensures that inherent security is added to our payment platform.
We follow strict data policy procedures in order to keep our consumer information safe from unauthorized access, by making sure our IT systems are given access based on ‘Roles and Permissions’. NowNow as a licensed mobile money operator by the Apex bank in Nigeria. We went through a thorough audit from both internal and external auditors (CBN and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation). Adhering to industry best practices is a source of pride for us. We do not intend to relent on our efforts to lead, as even more stringent measures are being put in place to forestall data leak from any source.
MS: How will NowNow help its customers during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis?
Sahir Berry: These are turbulent times for all. We have chosen to intensify our efforts in aiding smooth and seamless transactions, even in the face of varying degrees of economic ‘shut-down’ across the globe.
We have ensured that our staff works remotely to provide technical assistance around the clock for all of our agents and consumers. We are aware times like these mean many lean heavily on mobile money transfers and ‘cash-out’ transactions, as people are observing social distancing and trying to reduce physical contact in all facets.
We are abreast of the prevailing circumstances and we have evolved in various ways to meet these challenges. Also, we have lent our voice in the campaign on staying safe and staying indoors to help curb the spread of COVID-19.
MS: How will NowNow remain resilient through a period in which the coronavirus has sent global markets into chaos?
Sahir Berry: We know tough times never last, but tough businesses do.
We are resolute with our vision and we are going to keep devising ways to adjust to the pandemic’s ramifications towards recovery. Presently, we have adopted the remote working style, and we keep track of this and all other events on our platform electronically. This will be intensified, and more security measures will be put in place to guide against possible system compromise.