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Nigeria’s problems present a call to innovate, not a flag to caution – Niyi Yusuf

Niyi Yusuf is the Managing Partner of Verraki, a business solutions firm. In this interview, he speaks on the opportunities to innovate unique financial solutions within Africa, the company’s ambitions to work with enterprises and governments across the continent, as well as the firm’s resolve to help start-up businesses.

 

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What is your company’s relationship with Accenture and why did it leave Nigeria?

Professional services firms in Africa are currently at an inflexion point. Digital technologies, new ideas and business models create disruptions, while start-ups compound the challenging business terrain. New factors such as agility, flexibility, cost-leadership, value for money and entrepreneurship are required for success and to harvest the opportunities from this disruption. Couple this with diaspora talents; that is Africans in the diaspora coming home, and the increase in capital to invest in new ideas.

We have seen indigenous companies in Africa not being well served by foreign companies which may not understand what they need or are unwilling to take required risks, or are unable to adapt to the regulatory requirements, resulting in foreign companies reducing their exposure.

All these generally affect professional services firms in Africa. Accenture did a review of its operations in Nigeria last year and we concluded that perhaps there is a need to change the way Accenture is represented in the market and the way it operates in Nigeria for it to be more impactful. We thought it will be best if Accenture now operates through a local entity that will be more flexible, more agile to take on risks while meeting national content requirements. These reasons influenced Accenture’s decision to re-organise its presence, to remain a legal entity in Nigeria, but not an operating entity. Accenture considered what is required to be competitive and impactful in Nigeria and is adopting a new positioning strategy.

Verraki has been approved as a business intermediary of Accenture to deliver services to Accenture’s clients in Nigeria. Accenture will continue to support and provide services to Verraki, including delivery support and access to specialised skills on projects as applicable.

We see this as an incredible opportunity for growth; to expand the business and to be more relevant in the market. Whereas with Accenture we were operating in four or five industries, with Verraki, we will be operating in 13 industries. With Verraki, we are more risk-accepting and will embrace risks that will improve outcomes for Africa. With Accenture, we could only deliver technology and consulting services, but with Verraki, we will deliver technology, advisory, consulting, and we will also work with start-ups in our ventures unit. With Accenture we were only able to work with large and matured companies, but with Verraki, we are partnering with both local and international companies, small, medium or large corporates. This is essentially an expansion of the business and provides an incredible opportunity to leverage our global experience and local insights to work with small, medium and large, local and international companies and governments across levels of maturity and evolution to make Africa a preferred destination to live and work.

How do you intend to support SMEs?

There are 13 sectors of the economy that we will operate in and we have grouped them into three broad markets: services, real and social sectors, and this underscores our goal of working broadly to help transform Africa.

In the services sector we will focus on banking, financial services, insurance, telecoms, media and entertainment. The real sector comprises energy, natural resources, mining, cement, manufacturing and fast moving consumer goods. In the social sector, it is an understanding that transformation of the continent will go beyond just services and real sectors, it must be centered on human development, and so our social sector practice will look at education, health and public service. We will be working with multi-lateral institutions and governments to improve human development in the continent.

Our focus is enabling SMEs and start-ups by providing talent, building capacity, helping them by connecting them to the right partners to enable market access and providing capital as needed. Fundamentally, they need to know what to do, and how to do it. Verraki will work with them to improve and refine their ideas and validate and build their ideas. We will identify viable ideas. The advantage is that Verraki has been a local company and we can choose the most impactful areas, create a list and prioritise. We will identify, invest in and groom start-ups that will serve the African market.

How then will you help them?

SMEs’ challenges include access to markets, access to mentor networks and even access to the right tools. Our focus is enabling the start-ups by providing talent, building capacity, helping them by connecting them to the right partners to enable access to markets and providing capital as needed. Fundamentally, they need to know what to do, and how to do it. Verraki will work with them to improve and refine their ideas and validate and build their ideas. For start-ups who have products that are relevant for our corporate clients, we can take them to meet our corporate clients and that creates incredible access for them. Beyond skills and experience, I think access to market is more important because imagine a start-up working with one of the four big banks; suddenly, you have access to more than 25m customers. Access creates funding opportunities and we intend leveraging our professional networks for these start-ups.

How do you intend to secure funds for the start-ups?

As a partnership, the partners that we have today have put in money to fund the business. Beyond that, we have two funds for ventures; funds focused on early stage companies, for incubation services and those set up for growth stage companies, for acceleration. We will also create opportunities for external investors to invest and yearly, a portion of profit will be moved into a fund to ensure a continuous ability for us to support the ventures.

In summary, it is an investment by the general partners, investments by the limited partners and investment into the venture by other entities and then an annual portion of our profit will be dedicated to growing the ventures.

How do you intend to cope with African businesses?

It is popular for a lot of Africans to downplay their opportunities and throw up challenges. We believe that Africa’s problems present a call to innovate, not a flag to caution. Africa’s commonalities are more than its differences. Even though there are 54 countries in Africa, there are regional blocks and so there are common markets. With the operation of the African free continental trade before the end of the year, the continent will be one big common market with ease of entry for goods and services, people and movement across the borders.

With technology, we can provide a mobile telephony service to 60 per cent of Africa’s one billion plus people, developing technology products that serve Africans wherever they are. Do we need to be in 54 countries and to have offices in each country? The answer is no, but through technology, we can serve anyone in the world because the internet is pervasive. We can serve Africans in the diaspora, we can serve foreigners in Africa through technology and that is what we plan to do. Of course, we will have physical operations in few of the major cities in those blocks, but for now, the plan is to use technology to provide the platforms that can be accessible and available to serve Africans wherever they are.

What are the specific services of Verraki?

Verraki is a proudly African company partnering with enterprises and governments to accelerate the development and transformation of Africa by providing business solutions designed for Africa. We provide business solutions that meet the challenges and opportunities that exist in Africa. That business solution can be a technology products to solve certain business challenges. The business solution can also be an advisory solution where we work with our clients and advise them on what to do, how to do it and how to embrace change. We could also provide a business solution via our ventures practice where we identify a start-up with an interesting idea that needs help to scale and grow and we work with them to do that. The combination of these three services: technology, advisory and ventures, combined, make our solution effective to solve the challenges that exist on the continent.

To illustrate, financial inclusion or the lack of it have been a vexing challenge on the continent with most Africans wither unserved or underserved. A good reason for that is lack of identity management and verification. In Nigeria for instance, there are about 40 million BVNs, that is 40 million registered customers in the banking industry, and we have about 82 million Nigerians that have registered with INEC, we have about 154 million mobile phone subscribers, even if you discount those who have multiple phones, we should still have at least 100 million mobile phone subscribers in Nigeria. Yet we have only 40 million BVNs, which means 60 million of us are not in the formal banking sector, but those 60 million are getting served one way or the other through cooperative, saving schemes and those 60 million have mobile phones. If most people have mobile phones, how can we use it as a means of identity and enable inclusion for people outside the financial services envelop?

This is a huge opportunity and will aim to provide a platform for digital identification, thus enabling inclusion for more people, whether financial, health, insurance and other areas.

 

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