Delights, dangers, and disappointments of remote work

Remote work or Work From home (WFM) is either the biggest blessing or the craziest curse to hit the professional landscape in the last 50 years. Before you scream your opinion, just know that views depend on who is making an opinion.

The impact of remote work on the global work culture has been undeniable. I think it’s just as transformative as the advent of cloud computing which allowed startups to work their magic. Who would have known Stripe, Paystack, Moniepoint without the ease of launching scrappy startups from the cloud?

Then the COVID-19 worldwide lockdown happened. 

And then individuals and organizations came to realize they could do so much more from their homes– the world unlocked a new realm of possibilities that had been hiding just under our noses.

There are only two kinds of people left in this world

It’s been three years since remote work became as normal as working from the office and now there are two kinds of people left in this world: those who want to work from home and those who want to return to their offices. A subset under those who want to work from the office is those who can’t even work from home to start with because they don’t have the means.This is prevalent in Africa where constant power and affordable stable-internet access is a daily miracle.

Some even pray for this 😞. 

The argument of whether or not it’s time to return to the office or if life can continue with remote work is one in which there’s some merit on all sides. Remote work introduces a much appreciated flexibility and, in many cases, boosts productivity, especially in cities like Lagos where long commutes are a norm. There’s no such thing as a 9-5 job in Lagos. 5-9 is a more accurate description for the average Lagosian when one considers travel time to and from work and traffic conditions. Personally, there are some places I dread going to in Lagos for fear of growing old and missing the birth of my grandchildren because I’m stuck in traffic. 

Alternatively, for those pushing to go back to the office, they’ve probably measured their productivity in both situations and determined they’re better off with traditional office-based work. Access to power, internet and no screaming family members or daytime chores? Can we really blame them?

Don’t even start with annoying parents who send their grown kids on errands during work hours.

Hybrid work presents a middle ground and has its own benefits. Sometimes, being able to meet up with colleagues physically just makes sense. Teams are able to balance virtual interactions with occasional in-person collaboration.

As much as there are merits to all sides of the arguments, some professions don’t have the luxury of choice. For instance, pilots, air hostesses, logistics agents, etc. Try being a dispatch rider from home and see how that works out for you. 

If remote work met the love of its life and had a poster child, it’ll be me

There are people like me for whom remote work has done wonders and fueled innovation and growth. Without the opportunity to remote work, my Lending-as-a-Service (LaaS) startup, Lendsqr, wouldn’t exist and I probably wouldn’t be configured the way I am right now.

Obviously, I had to do Lendsqr by the side when I had a corporate job but it wasn’t scaling. I barely had time to check on it and it stayed a tiny operation on the road to who knows where not. Then the COVID-19 lockdown happened and suddenly I could do it all. I could tap into a diverse pool of talent across Nigeria, work from home and work for as long as possible. Additionally, I didn’t have to hide what I was doing in the office. 

That was how Lendsqr grew. 

This isn’t unique to Lendsqr alone. That’s how a lot of companies flourished between 2020 and now. Of course, some others had been working remotely even before then but it was a relatively new development to much of the world.

Remote work is a great color on my company, Lendsqr

During one of my recent travels, I met a bunch of founders and business owners who all had offices in Nigeria at one time but had to shut them all down because the cost of running those spaces was unreasonable. That’s just the reality of trying to run a business from physical offices. In the last few years, the price of everything has gone up: diesel, petrol, rent, etc. For large organizations with big business and cash flow, perhaps the price hikes have been manageable. But not so much for small operations. 

Lendsqr isn’t profitable yet (sadly) but if we had decided to operate from a physical office, we probably wouldn’t exist anymore. 

Last year, I considered using one of my apartments as Lendsqr’s office and after looking at what it would cost to set the place up into a really nice office, I just didn’t think it was worth it. That money would have been better spent on salaries for the next few months. The opportunity to work remotely has allowed us to significantly reduce operational costs and redirect our funds towards growth and employee wellness.

One of the blessings I’m most grateful for operating remotely hasn’t even been the cost savings. It’s the opportunity to have discovered a few young people that have been extremely amazing.

In Lendsqr, access to quality talent is one of the benefits we enjoy from operating remotely. If we weren’t operating remotely, we would need to have an office and by extension, only be able to employ only people who could easily get to the office. This would limit our recruitment to a very narrow geographical area.

Some of the best people that have worked in Lendsqr have been from all over Nigeria: Abuja, Kaduna, Port Harcourt, Benin, etc. These are people who would have never been able to come work with us if we didn’t operate remotely and Lendsqr would have been forced to compete in a very narrow space.

I’m sure we can all agree that the flexibility from working remotely is also unmatched. My staff can jump on different projects throughout the day and take a nap to recharge as well. Yes, we sleep at work … but with sense. They don’t need to sit in traffic for hours or think about getting robbed on the way to work. They also don’t need to worry about getting to work tired or coming to the office smelling like petrol and fumes (sorry guys, but it’s true) from commuting. Uber is out of the question of course, that’s expensive for most and not sustainable for all.

If Lendsqr had a voice, it’ll probably curse remote work sometimes too

Operating remotely also comes with its own significant pains, of course. The most obvious one is that employee retention becomes a concern. Wait. Don’t jump to the conclusion that it’s because I’m impossible to work with. Those who’ve stuck with me the longest are actually the ones who’ve seen even the worst of me. 

Virtual meetings are a pain; video meetings are a curse. They drain you so deeply you are more tired than a 70 year old running a marathon the first time. It never ends well.  

The real reason is that with remote work, the ease of exploring alternative employment opportunities is frictionless. They can jump on calls, take interviews, and close new jobs without breaking a sweat. This would have been incredibly difficult to do if they were working out of an office. If you don’t agree, do your next interview in your current company open-plan office and then let me know how unemployment is treating you.

Also, there are some issues with the quality of work. It takes longer to get some things done with the communication barriers and longer review cycles. These are things that would probably only take a couple of minutes to refine if we could just stroll into each other’s offices. Don’t even mention how difficult it is to have decent conversations via chat when your colleague takes 57 minutes to reply to each message.

It’s not the common view but working remotely actually demands more discipline and not a lot of people have it. People can tell you they’re working on something already meanwhile they haven’t even opened the brief. Guess what? There’s nothing one can do about it. 

I see the lack of discipline a lot with young people who usually have a hard time fitting in. But you can’t blame them at all! 

You have green talent, fresh out of school, have never worked before and they come into a remote job. How do they make themselves sit at a desk everyday and do the work without being pushed? Many get distracted with domestic responsibilities, seeing friends, playing games, binge-watching series, etc. You can get on a call and ask people to turn on their videos only to discover someone has been on the road somewhere doing something completely unrelated to work. 

Everyone knows this can’t happen when you work physically and no one gets to go home until the day’s work is actually done. With remote work, someone says their internet isn’t working and poof everyone disappears. 

To each his own. I know my own.

Hybrid work seems to be the best and we’d have the chance to bond and connect more when we see each other physically. However, it’s not always practical. I can’t always get my designer in Kaduna, developer in Abuja or support person in Port Harcourt to come down to Lagos to work. 

Lendsqr will probably continue to operate remotely for a long time. However, I can’t ignore what I’m missing out on from not having a physical office. I wish we could be more stable. The attrition rate is atrocious and we, myself included, could all benefit from being even more disciplined than we are now. Although, I do recognize that some people who work physically just pretend to be busy while they misuse theirs and company time gisting and doing other irrelevant things.

The reality is that remote work comes with many blessings and many curses. It’s up to you to decide which works best for you. I won’t recommend any approach to anyone because it depends on what you have the capacity to make work.

Just like cloud computing created the opportunity for startups to build things without having to actually build things, remote work has created the opportunity for serious-minded people to build beautiful careers. 

Above all, do what works best for you. I know I am.

Look before you leap: A practical guide for those who want to work in startups

Startups have undeniably fueled global economic growth over the last 30 years. In Africa, success stories like Paystack, Moniepoint, and Piggyvest have demonstrated the value startups can create. The irresistible allure of startups, driven by their achievements, entices many to join their ranks.

However, here’s the question, “is everyone truly cut out to work in a startup?”

Focusing on successful startups alone is like admiring a pretty, healthy child without acknowledging the traumatizing birthing experience for the mother and the challenging journey that led to their growth. Startups can be likened to sperm cells; billions of them are produced but only very few are fertilized and end up becoming children. In the same vein, startups emerge from a myriad of ideas, yet only a fraction possess the potential to flourish and only a handful of passionate individuals believe so deeply in their viability that they bring these ideas to life as companies. 

Startups are built on rocky ground

Building a startup is extremely hard and the odds of success are strikingly low . Statistics show that 90% of startups fail. The stories we hear of successful startups are compelling, but the incredibly painful journey and exhaustive effort behind their success often remain untold — after all, these stories don’t exactly fit the glamorous narrative. 

For job aspirants, it’s easy to romanticize startups, envisioning young people like them accomplishing remarkable things. They believe in their own potential and aspire to contribute meaningfully to the cause. Or it could even be that their pastor told them they’re destined for greatness and they want in on that ASAP. 

Work-life balance who? Sorry, she doesn’t work here!

Reality check: over 95% of individuals who join a startup without a clear understanding of the demands end up regretting their decision. Note, this doesn’t imply that 95% of startup employees experience regret, but rather those who plunge into the startup world unaware. So, a word of advice— people, do your research! However, since you’re already here, let me be nice and give you a glimpse into what lies ahead. 

Imagine running up a moving escalator that’s heading down.

Yes, that’s exactly what building and working in a startup feels like —exhilarating if you make it to the top, yet spectators don’t understand your struggles and some may even think you’re crazy for trying.

Now, back to my analogy on startups and child-rearing. Working in a startup is a lot like raising a baby; they’re cute and they coo, and people love to look at them and pinch their cheeks but the reality behind closed doors is far from ideal. They pee, poo whenever, scream like banshees, fall ill a lot and don’t grow fast enough.They demand an enormous amount of effort but most of that stuff, however, isn’t visible to outsiders.

Working in a startup is immensely challenging. Work-life balance? That idea might need to take a backseat, at least in the initial stages. If you try to balance work and personal life in a startup, you won’t be successful in either; you’ll struggle at work and your life won’t be balanced. And that’s not a curse.

Hold on, before you come for me, I’m not discrediting the importance of work-life balance. Eventually, the “child” will grow up and maybe even end up taking care of the parent; but there’s an initial stage of dedication that’s necessary for the future well-being of all involved. That’s the same way it is with a startup. There’s no work-life balance at the early stages; not until the startup achieves stability and success and grows enough to accommodate it. 

Much like parenting, a startup becomes your life, but only temporarily.  If you grind hard at it and the start up becomes successful, then you have the chance to be recompensed for all you put in. Ask any parent who sacrificed for their children’s future—their sacrifice pays off over time.

Reality check: leave startups alone if this is you

Let’s pause and answer a brief questionnaire:

  • Do rigid boundaries and structured roles appeal to you? – If you were employed to do A, you must not be asked to do B.
  • Do you struggle with health issues like high blood pressure, etc.?
  • Can you work and adapt quickly to rapid changes?
  • Can you handle high-pressure situations?

If you answered yes to any of the first two questions and no to the last two, please go back home; working in a startup isn’t for you.

Startups aren’t for the faint-hearted

The glory of a successful startup is enviable but one has to be fully aware of what it takes to get there. It’s unfair, deceptive and downright reckless to enter a startup if you don’t have the mental fortitude required. You will definitely fail and maybe even endanger the entire company if you fail epically enough. 

It’s equally misguided to request a founder to slow down for the sake of your work-life balance. Doing so could spell doom for the startup. You either agree to do that mad job to raise the startup ‘child’ or don’t get into it. It can destroy you if you don’t have the fortitude to get through it. 

I’m not trying to glorify pain, I’m simply telling what it takes to build something great.

So what do you do if you get in and realize you can’t cope with it? Leave!  The nature of the startup won’t change to accommodate your preferences. If the startup slows down for you to give you that time you want, that startup will die a miserable death. You have to ask yourself: do you want to leave the job or do you want to destroy the company? There’s no other way. If an alternative exists other than full commitment, then it’s not a startup.

Startups aren’t the only fertile ground for greatness …

As much as I’ve spoken about how much strength and determination it takes to thrive in a startup, does this mean you can only achieve greatness in a startup? Not at all.

If you’re good at your job and are responsible with what you do, you can find yourself work in an established organization and build an awesome career. For instance, if you work in a bank, that means the possibility of getting promoted every two years with a salary bump and if you’re diligent, you move up faster. The same applies to opportunities for growth and advancement if you decide to work for the government.

The point is that you don’t need to contort yourself to fit in a startup or try to disrupt the workflow there, you can go somewhere else your talents are appreciated and you can truly shine. What is it they say, go where you’re loved (as you are)? Yes, do that.

… But here’s the greatness you can achieve in a startup

I do hope I’ve not tarnished the image of startups as modern-day boogeymen. Yes, it’s hard work, but it’s greatly rewarding. Now, let’s address the question: “What’s in it for me if I commit to a startup?” The short answer: fulfillment and financial success.

You know that feeling you get when you finally get that broken thing in your house to work again after trying for what felt like forever? Just hold on to that feeling and multiply it tenfold.That’s the bliss and pride that surfaces when a startup finally overcomes its challenges and breaks into success. 

In a startup, solving the problems might feel a lot like having to find the right key to unlock say 5 doors from a bowl containing 156 different keys. And no, the keys aren’t labeled or tagged. So it’s only fair those who are around long enough to make it work win and win big. 

For those who stay and decide to build a startup to success, no one can take away the satisfaction of conquering a million and one obstacles. Also, unlike most established organizations, startup employees handle huge amounts of responsibility and are able to see a more direct relationship between their decisions and the impact on the company and customer satisfaction.

If ever there was a “Jack of all trades, master of one, novice of none”, it’ll probably be in reference to startup employees. The solutions required in a “baby” company are varied and often require employees to know a lot about everything in addition to their core area of expertise.This presents a unique opportunity for both wider and deeper learning and what the younger employees may not have in years of experience, they make up for in depth of experience. It’s little wonder that startup employees are often rewarded with a stake in the company. 

Finally, for the million dollar question, “will I get my life back?” The answer is a big fat YES. Work-life balance will come naturally when the bulk of the work has been done and dusted and all that’s left is to watch the company flourish. The great thing is by this time, most of the stuff works on autopilot anyway but that’s only because you already poured blood, sweat and tears to make it great.

New beginnings are wonderful, but we can’t get carried away with the pretty stories and forget that it’s back-breaking labor that births greatness.

The devalued Naira is a blessing for Nigerians

If I said to you that a devalued Naira is a blessing, you’d probably turn towards me yelling “your fada” with as much venom as a village cobra. But if you think about it deeply and understand a few things, this tough pill might be a lot easier to swallow. 

Since time immemorial, Nigerians have always valued a strong Naira. My mum regaled me with stories of N1 getting $2 on the streets of Lagos; those were the days chicken went for dentals. However, the Naira has been on a free fall since; plummeting faster than a falling rock. Because we import everything, the fall means life is difficult for the average Nigerian Joe.

So, it’s almost foolhardy convincing Nigerians that a devalued Naira can be a good thing.

How can a weak Naira even be a good thing?

Let’s start with the internet.

The internet aids the average Nigerian’s discoverability 

It’s one of those things that our politicians and money bags haven’t been able to ruin, per se. With the internet, every Nigerian has a chance to sell their services and even goods across the globe without leaving their homes in Ilorin or Kaura Namoda. As long as you have something to sell.

The internet makes every one of us discoverable – competing with everyone in the world, irrespective of the corner of the earth where they are holed up. All you have to do is be on the right platform and showcase your quality. With the right keywords, your services could be found by anyone in any country.

Being found is one thing, after all, others are being found in other countries as well. But with our weak Naira, converted to USD, suddenly, your services and goods can now be found at a bargain.

The opportunities exist …

If you think you have to export something physical, you are missing the point of globalization. Every soft skill can be sold as a service online. 

As a writer, you could get access to tons of writing gigs online. Software developers are in high demand especially when you share the same time zone as Europe where the demand for engineers is so hot it could melt a stone; content creators are being sought after from every part of the globe. Global firms are in need of designers, virtual assistants, analysts, etc. The world is quite literally your playground.

Slow your roll …

Granted, these opportunities exist and are ripe for the taking but only those who are ready to put in the work and understand the right kind of work to put in will go home smiling; tapping into these openings won’t be a piece of cake. A lot is required, the stakes are higher and the competition pool is deeper.

Let’s start with the basic requirement being a constant access to good internet (our service providers are chuckling at this one). In this Digital Age, internet access has rightly established itself as a need but we haven’t quite hacked the model for providing good and affordable unlimited internet services just yet. Perhaps, internet connectivity should get in line for a fix behind it’s older brother, electricity. But that’s not to say we don’t have a couple of reliable providers keeping Nigerians connected to the global village. 

It goes without saying (but I’ll still say it) that when trying to tap into the global market, lowering the communication barrier is important; your command of English, the global lingua franca, must be impeccable. proper articulation can be quite advantageous – whether in your speech or writing. Speak well, speak clearly and apply the same to your writing. People recognizing your genius rests heavily on you being able to communicate it. 

Beyond the basic requirements or the skills you have, being professional, responsible and having a keen eye for quality can really put you over the top. Resist that urge to tell your clients to “manage it” when you have produced subpar work; the global market is not as forgiving of mediocrity as we have somehow learnt to tolerate as Nigerians. Be open and flexible; continuous improvement should be your holy grail. 

And my personal favorite, being accountable makes you even more attractive in the market; don’t disappear on your clients or give excuses after the fact; instead, let them know ahead of time if there will be any deviations or if you will be unavailable for a while; trust is everything, especially when building a borderless proposition. 

What’s in it for you? Money.. And that’s just the start 

In some twisted way, this is perhaps one of the few times a devalued currency can serve its intended purpose; the foremost economic logic behind a weaker currency is that it makes a country’s exports cheaper and more competitive in the foreign market – this is supposed to serve as an incentive that boosts exports. The economic quagmire we seem to have found ourselves in is: a weaker currency, a struggling commodity exports economy which is also highly import-dependent (shedding premium tears)

The silver lining here is that our human capital exports seem to be thriving and this is perhaps the loophole with which Nigerians are taking advantage of a weaker Naira whilst they patiently wait for the country to heal itself. 

The pay from working abroad can be amazing. N200,000 here as a writer, could seamlessly be $2,000 net from working remotely; N400,000 as a developer could be $5,000 and a designer could knock off about $500 per good design, and that’s about one every couple of days… do the math. 

And my grandma said

Bi a gun iyan ninu ewe; ti a se’be ninu epo epa. Eni to ma yo ma yo.

(cha ching!)

Lendsqr is solving the African credit problems

With years spent in banking, technology, and payments and a background in engineering, I’m able to understand how foundational systems become the catalyst for growth. This understanding of foundational systems gave me the belief that Lendsqr has a unique opportunity to spur the growth of the African economy by being a leading lending infrastructure provider across Africa.

With a population of 1.4b people, the majority born just after the Y2K bug, the demand for smartphones, internet, the good things of life, is growing at a rapid pace. Many of these, including education, health, etc. would need to be financed with credit. But access to credit continues to be a challenge which becomes a barrier for  the young woman in Accra from realizing her dreams and the lad in Kampala from going to the school of his choice.. 

We have witnessed the rise of digital lenders in Africa, particularly Nigeria and Kenya. This is driven by the massive adoption of smartphones, the continual reduction in the cost of internet data, and the relentless push of financial inclusion by central banks and fintechs going to the last mile with agency networks. While some of this growth has been driven by COVID over the last two years, experts are unanimous in the belief that the changes are a signal of future growth for Africans.

What problems do we have?

Africans continue to struggle to get credit, often in life and death scenarios. And even when they do get it, the interest rates charged are usually so punitive; many have commited suicide due to the pressure from lenders and their inability to repay their loans. On the flip side, lenders continue to deal with high-default and zero consequences for serial defaulters.

While technology and access to data powering the underwriting process can solve these problems, lenders lack access to quality data and sustainable technology, and even when those are available, they are so expensive that even VC backed lenders can hardly afford them. The diverse integration needed by a lender to various KYC providers and  payments systems also requires a level of expertise and focus that these lenders do not have.

Lenders just want to lend; not to become programmers.

How is Lendsqr solving this problem?

Lendsqr is building a cutting edge lending infrastructure powered by technology, data, integrations, and an ecosystem; providing lenders an easy way to digitize their lending in a scalable, sustainable, ethical, and most importantly, profitable way. Lendsqr has built integrations to some of the best payment processors, leading credit bureaus, and transactional data providers. These integrations and ecosystem play are often extremely difficult to pull off, providing Lendsqr with a unique opportunity to position itself at the confluence of credit and what people use credit for – shopping, health, cashflow, etc. 

By enabling smaller lenders to scale up, Lendsqr is guaranteeing Africans, starting with Nigerians, access to credit that would create a powerful long-term, consequently expanding our economy significantly in the coming years.

And this approach isn’t strange. We’ve seen the humble WordPress power 37% of global web pages despite large content owners like CNN, WaPo, etc. Shopify and Etsy power global e-commerce despite the might of Amazon and eBay. Lendsqr will power thousands of lenders who want simple, affordable, and smart but invisible tech to lend to millions of Africans.

Over the last couple of years, Lendsqr has helped hundreds of thousands of Nigerians have access to credit while helping lenders reach at a scale that is unprecedented and with technology previously found with only the highest funded VC backed lenders. But starting from March 1, 2022, Lendsqr would be making the same technology available to lenders for free. Any lender can sign up and start disbursing loans to their first customers within 5 minutes. The team has done the magic of hiding all the madness of being a digitized lender behind a single click. 

I’m excited to be part of this ecosystem of lenders, partners, data providers as we begin our journey to use technology, data, and partnerships to guarantee credit for every man and woman in Africa and beyond.

Fintech growth hindered by inability to collaborate

By Adedeji Olowe and Ifunanya Ezeani

Confidence in the Nigerian digital payments and Fintech industry is rising. And this is best exemplified by the rise of the African Fintech unicorns, three of which are based in Lagos. Their rapid rise is so unprecedented within the African context that It’s not uncommon to hear whispers about how Nigerian banks would be obliterated in a flash because they are slow and antediluvian.

Ironically, these Fintechs have leveraged their very existence on the core infrastructure built by these banks. Furthermore, most Fintechs continue to exist and attract investors anchored on the assurance of access to these payments infrastructure.

Even more ironic is the fact that while banks have collaborated in ensuring interoperability and fostering collaborations, Fintechs struggle to collaborate and build any enduring artifacts beyond a smattering of commercial partnerships.

Built by Banks. Used by all.

Take the Bank Verification Number (BVN) for example. Faced with a perennial lack of  credible foundational identity systems and the inability of the Nigerian Government to build one, the Central Bank of Nigeria, in collaboration with all Nigerian banks launched BVN, a centralized biometric identification system. The BVN gives each customer a unique identity across the Nigerian banking industry that can be used for easy identification and verification. The BVN consequently enabled seamless verifications that allowed Fintech to get millions of customers at scale. Who built the BVN? The Nigerian banks.

Nigeria Interbank Bank Settlement System (NIBSS) drives more than 90% of all interbank transfers through the NIBSS Instant Payment (NIP) network. (NIBSS) was founded and owned by all licensed banks including the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). Every Fintech offering account transfer service routes that through NIP directly or indirectly through a bank who then routes that through NIP. Who built the NIBSS and the NIP? The Nigerian banks. 

Super agents and mobile money agents have found success with last-mile agency networks that are powered by NIBSS and SANEF networks. Super agents are driving almost N100b a day in transaction value. Who built the SANEF? The Nigerian banks.

To avert the risks of systemic failure in the financial system, nine Nigerian banks in partnership with Dun & Bradstreet, a global provider of credit information products and services, and IFC formed Nigeria’s Credit Reference Company in 2007. The largest Nigerian digital lenders desperately depend on the data from these credit bureaus to guide the underwriting of the multi-billion loan portfolios. Who built the credit bureaus? The Nigerian banks.

Interswitch was founded as  a national ISO switch for cards and ATM switching. Interswitch consequently grew into bills payments and a mass of various API services. The company routes a significant portion of traffic for super agents and web payments companies. Who funded Interswitch at creation? The Nigerian banks.

Banks compete. Banks collaborate. Banks win.

There are twenty-two (22) commercial banks in Nigeria that serve the 70m Nigerians with financial access. The sheer size of the Nigerian banking industry is partly attributable to the mad pressure it places on its employees to open and drive deposits in their bank accounts. Yet, Nigerian banks are experts in collaborative competition. They go aggressively after the same customers but understand the power of an ecosystem play.  They have learned that collaboration creates a multiplier effect and allows everyone to reach their destination faster. Their collaboration reinforces users’ trust in the financial system, discouraging fraudsters from exploiting the system. 

Distrustful competition. Negative synergy.

The Nigerian Fintechs industry is young and growing. Being in the early growth phase, there is this tendency to compete rather than to collaborate. Yet, it makes more sense to collaborate; your competitor isn’t your enemy.

Take digital lenders, most of whom get shafted every day by bad borrowers but never share data or with credit bureaus. They are so bitter about their losses they would rather other lenders suffer the same fate. But guess what, the bad borrowers continue to rampage them while the market struggles to grow. Increasing interest rates to cover the losses only exacerbates the vicious cycle of adverse selection

Web payments collections are another example. Nigeria is rife with fraud of bad actors using stolen identities to raid victims’ accounts and subsequently have the funds usually moved through Fintech digital wallets. While banks typically have a BVN blacklist and actively help each other with account blockage and funds recovery, Fintechs don’t work with each other. Subsequently, the same gangs of fraudsters go around marauding the Fintechs while life-threatening chargebacks are levied against them.

Lastly, while banks routinely band together for collective bargaining of common services or products (POS, ATMs, etc.), the Fintechs continue to undermine each other with pricing. Subsequently, every time there is a downward trend in pricing, the Fintech partner to banks takes most of the commercial haircut. Why are they not able to agree on a common industry price and hold their own?

I’m smarter than you. I can do it alone.

There is this tendency for the Fintechs to want to go alone, each trying to outshine the next rather than share data and lessons to aid one another to succeed. This could be due to the developing market and the fact that the success of one or two Fintechs naturally leads to the creation of tens of similar Fintech, subsequently competing for the same market share. In Paytech, there are three popular players but their successes have led to over 30 businesses getting approval or approval in principle to operate similar businesses. So, it’s conceivable for the few that have succeeded to refuse any collaboration. 

Rethink the game. Collaborate.

Collaboration creates synergies that are hard to individually pull off and this should be obvious to the Fintechs within the Nigerian and African ecosystem. Fintechs could learn from established markets like the US where Paypal’s success was due to its widespread adoption and partnership with eBay. 

The time has also come for the emergence of big-picture and open-minded thinking among Fintechs.