Let truth be told, Nigeria does anything banking or money handling very well; you have to give that to the country. And I believe this will get even better. I vividly remember the first time I saw GTB’s (Guaranty Trust Bank’s) advertisement on a billboard at Heathrow Airport in London a decade or so ago. The carefully scripted slogan “Proudly African, Truly International” adorned on the billboard showing a beautiful African lady carrying a giant globe of the world in her hands, with the background in GTB’s classical yellow color theme. I melted! I had never seen anything like that before; and I got emotional because the ad cast Africa and Nigeria in an exceedingly positive light, totally opposite to the narrative about Africa in the Western world. I have always believed in Nigeria, even if the country’s results have not validated this as much as the message on the billboard has done. The GTB, as well as many other banks in Nigeria, including Zenith, is doing well today, despite the hard economic time that Nigeria as a whole is facing.
Then there are the Nigerian financial tech companies, which are into electronic payments and money transfer, such as Interswitch and SystemSpecs. These outfits are also doing very well. Flutterwave and TeamAPT are newer fintech companies. The humongous achievements of Nigeria’s banking and fintech sectors can be credited to the Obasanjo’s regime. Interswitch might have helped pioneer the fintech sector by creating infrastructure to digitize some of Nigeria’s financial operations. I interacted with Interswitch between 2008 and 2011, and my impression of the company is quite positive. I have also visited SystemSpecs in their Balogun, Lagos office; and the company seems to be well managed. Obviously, the banks and the fintech companies work hand-in-hand.
Interswitch, which is Africa-focused, integrates digital payments and commerce, to, in the company’s own words, “facilitate the electronic circulation of money as well as the exchange of value between individuals and organizations.” By way of history, Interswitch started operations in 2002 as a transaction switching and electronic payments processing company that builds and manages payment infrastructure as well as deliver innovative payment products and transactional services throughout the African continent.
The company has somewhat transcended the startup phase, but may nevertheless become a unicorn if it is listed on London and Lagos stock exchange at the end of this year, as is currently being rumored. (Unicorn is used to describe a startup with a capitalization of one billion US dollars or more.) Interswitch reportedly planned to go public on the London Stock Exchange in 2016, but this event was cancelled, ostensibly because of the economy downturn in Nigeria. The company’s management team includes Mitchell Elegbe (General Manager and CEO), Chinyere Don-Okhuofu (Deputy CEO), Akeem Lawal (Deputy CEO), and Mike Ogbalu (Deputy CEO). As noted by Techcrunch.com, the cancelled Initial Public Offering (IPO) event in 2016 “would have made Interswitch Africa’s first tech company to go from startup to a billion-dollar plus unicorn valuation status.” Jumia Technologies AG, a German-owned company operating mostly in Nigeria and dubbed the Amazon of Africa, listed in New York Stock Exchange earlier this year.
Interswitch developed the Quickteller payment app, and has reportedly expanded to Uganda, Gambia, and Kenya, and also sells its products in 23 African countries through bank partnerships. The company also has presence abroad. It created the Verve Global Card product, enabling its cardholders to make payments in the U.S., UK, and UAE. Techcruch.com also reported last week that “Interswitch launched a partnership this month for Verve cardholders to make payments on Discover’s global network.” “The first transaction for the partnership was placed in New York City, with an advertisement for the Nigerian company’s payment product flashing across Times Square in New York City,” Techcrunch.com Jake Bright reported.
In 2015, Interswitch launched a US$10 million global ePayment Growth Fund to help provide money for innovative concepts within the e-payment industry in Africa. The fund made its first investment in Africa Courier Express (ACE), formerly A-Post, which is a Nigeria-based e-commerce logistics and warehousing firm. ACE reportedly received an investment of US$850,000 from the Interswitch fund. (Tunde Kehinde and Ercin Eksin founded ACE in November 2013.)
SystemSpecs was founded by the highly intelligent technocrat John Tanimola Obaro. The company launched Remita in 2005, which is a product that was wholly developed in Lagos, Nigeria, as “a comprehensive payment solution for anyone and everyone in Africa.” According to SystemSpecs, Remita “is fast emerging as Africa’s preferred payment platform, is chosen by millions of people and thousands of organizations, and is the default payment gateway that facilitates the Federal Government of Nigeria’s Treasury Single Account (TSA), the largest and most impactful of its kind in Africa.” The Remita platform enables you to view all your bank balances – from different banks – on a single screen, easily transfer money to one or more beneficiaries, pay bills, and view detailed transaction reports on-the-fly. According to the company, “Remita also allows businesses to conveniently receive payments from customers in a faster manner, through nine different channels, including the Remita Mobile App and Website, Internet Banking, Point of Sales (PoS) Terminals, Debit/Credit Cards, Merchant’s Website, Bank Branches, Mobile Wallets and Standing Order/Direct Debit.”