10 predictions for digital payments in 2019

2018 was an exciting year for payments in Nigeria. Tons of cash came in as international investments; interbank transfer crossed 700 million transactions, even mCash had a little showing. Of course, the bitcoin bubble made a loud burst with many licking their wounds.

As usual, the following are my 10 predictions for 2019. They are mostly influenced by my understanding of the industry, discussion with various stakeholders, and my penchant for foolery. While these 10 predictions could be a guide for you, rely on them at your own risk.

#1 Interbank transfers overtake ATM cash transactions
Come April 2019, for the first time ever and every month forever after, Nigerians will do more interbank transfers (using USSD, mobile, and online banking) than they collect money from ATM machines. Interbank has seen a steady 100% annual growth over the last few years and is poised to eclipse other payment methods as more bank customers gravitate towards USSD or can afford smartphones.

#2 Payment Service Banking flops
The euphoria around Payment Service Banks (PSB) is unfounded as it is more about financial inclusion than fancy mobile or digital banking. Nevertheless, the poison pill of 22% CRR and 75% deposit with CBN as Treasury Bills is marking this as dead-on-departure. While a lot have applied, only a few will launch. MTN will find that it’s a different kettle of fish and would struggle significantly.

#3 SANEF becomes a surprising success
Shared Agency Network Expansion Facility is a massive N32B undertaking by banks and NIBSS to haul in 30 million financially excluded Nigerians into the financial ecosystem. While it has been on for months with little to show apart from daily adverts by NIBSS, there appear to be unseen moves to make it a success. For example, the adoption of a common API standard for account opening would help the super agents get to the market faster. The appointment of Ronke Kuye, a veteran of payments and a co-founder of CeBIH, to run SANEF is a significant step in the right direction.

#4 A massive data breach or fraud hits some fintechs
Some months ago, someone found exposed data about Arik customers which included card details, phones, and emails. This discovery underscores how pervasive the security lapses have been for technology companies worldwide. When you hear about likes of Google, Facebook, and Yahoo having breaches, you know it’s a matter of time that a Nigerian bank, a fintech, or government agency is walloped. This time around, it would be a hit so hard they cannot sweep the stories under the carpet. By the way, some of these frauds would be done by internal teams.

#5 CBN clamps down on errant fintechs
After the embarrassing frauds and data breaches, CBN will go into a knee-jerk reaction and go after banks and/or fintechs who do not have licenses. A lot of apps will disappear with many investors dollars following the pipe into the drain.

#6 Interbank transfer becomes N20
CBN will update its rules to force banks to reduce their interbank transfer payments to N20 a pop. Bill payments and others will not change though.

#7 Micropayments become free
Part of the CBN rule would say that transfers below N1,000 should not be charged subject to a maximum of N2,000 per day to engender financial inclusion and cashless payments. Customers will rejoice, and I will throw a party (just make sure you RSVP). Before you think I am mad, just remember that CBN made ATM withdrawal free in 2013 and only put a cap of 3 free transactions when banks went begging with their grandmothers. With the cost of interbank transfer down to N20 or even zero for transactions of N1,000 and below, micropayments will explode. Now you can pay for Agege bread with N50, and you won’t get charged.

#8 International players go big
WhatsApp finally figures out how to connect your bank account (for some banks) to your app so you can now transfer funds instantly to anyone. And guess what, they will do it so well and so seamlessly that you wonder if our banks have been playing.

#9 CBN does an about-turn on the new licensing regime
The Central Bank of Nigeria recently threw some gasoline into the fintech fire when it proposed to create 3 licensing bands of up to N5B capital requirements. Since then, everyone has been snipping at CBN’s heels.

#10 Someone hacks AI for banking
A smart bank finally figures out what to do with the mess that WhatsApp banking. Instead of the rubbish flow, you will now be able to chat using natural language. I mean, if you can talk to Alexa in Ijesha accent with all the glory of “H factor” and it recognizes your voice, why can’t you chat with your bank WhatsApp and say “transfer N15,000 to Silifa” and it gets done?

Wondering what happened the previous years and the predictions? Read about my takes for 2018.

I hate shopping online. But for a different reason

Just like every other man, shopping in store is the very worst punishment, just next after going to hell. In fact, it can be worse than going to hell if you must do that with a woman. Much worse if you have to do that with your daughter. It’s not hard to figure out: women love good things and must check them out; men want to save money so they need to get out of the store, ASAP!

Would you think shopping online should be a panacea? That would be correct as long as you ain’t a Nigerian. Shopping online in Nigeria is hard as it’s fraught with so many problems not limited to lack of trust (will they chop my money or will the items I ordered be the one that shows up?), delayed delivery (will my emergency items come after a year), or failed payments (damn, did I just get debited and it says transaction failed?).

But then, many times when the items are low risk, or I feel particularly adventurous, I still take the plunge to shop.

Searching for items to buy isn’t even that bad. Search for anything and Jumia or Konga probably have one. It’s when you want to shop that the wahala starts. You will need to create a user profile, add different addresses for delivery, etc. At these moments, I usually give up and say, darn it! Can’t be bothered.

Friction at the point of payment is a big problem for every ecommerce venture. Those who check their analytics know that the cliff is at this junction.
By the way, this isn’t a Nigerian problem but something that is plaguing merchants all over the world. However, with Amazon capturing about 44% of all ecommerce in the US in 2017, it means almost half of all shoppers have keyed in their details on Amazon once and for all and probably now have frictionless shopping. In fact, Amazon patented the 1-click shopping experience.

Different attempts have been made to simplify but this hasn’t helped anyone. So what could be done?

I have an idea but let’s come back to that later.
Years ago, every website needed to implement its own user credentials. This was painful for the websites and even much more arduous for the users. But at the same time, social media was growing like wild vines and even my mother’s grandmother was on it. Then Google and Facebook came up with social login which allows websites to authenticate users with their Google and Facebook ID. Of course, Twitter and LinkedIn did same, but it never had the type of traction that Google and Facebook had.

When your user base is over 2 billion, you are a planet to yourself. Darling, Let’s book a SpaceX ride to Planet Google (SpaceX doesn’t fly to Facebook anymore because of data breach asteroids).

What if a similar concept could be applied to shopping online? You would say that one could login to Jumia and Konga with your Google and Facebook ID but that only works for the authentication. The real pain is having to enter your addresses and card information over and over and over again.

Let’s think local for a moment. Imagine a service which Konga, Jumia, Gloo, Payporte, etc. could integrate but that allows shoppers to keep their profiles, addresses, cards, etc. so that once a customer registers once, the information is available for all ecommerce sites that support it. And supporting it could be as simple as one line of code for popular shopping engines such as Shopify, WordPress, Magento, etc.

It could be designed such that it doesn’t take away from the brand of the ecommerce company (they care about this a lot) but customers will have complete control on what is shared, who it is shared with and see the history of activities.

This would be a 1-click experience for hapless men like me.
Sitting comfortably in my armchair, I think this will significantly remove friction from shopping and should be very advantageous for smaller players who don’t have the clout of Jumia and Konga but unfortunately, experiences a steeper cliff than others.

Customer experience is everything: How GTBank catalyzed the explosion of digital payments in Nigeria

Everyone who has played a role in payments in Nigeria can attest to the fact that the current upswing in the adoption of digital payments started around the middle of 2014 when the trio of GTBank, Fidelity, and Zenith Banks pushed out their USSD banking products.

Consequently, the number of us going to banking halls to do transactions has been falling each day precipitously. The 2017 KPMG BICSS showed that mobile banking penetration In Nigeria jumped from 20% coverage in 2015 to a vertigo-inducing 48% in 2017.

Some people, including those who talked to KPMG, call USSD Banking Mobile banking but then who cares? If customers can use a service to meet their payment and financial needs, Hallelujah!

Many reasons have been given for the sudden rise. Many experts and thought leaders (whatever that means) have adduced this as evidence of innovations from banks and Fintechs. Others feel it’s a natural progression of things.
Armchair pundits, especially my humble self, think that the ubiquity of USSD, the simplicity of use and the cost of access were significant factors for the transformation. And em, cough, the branding, and money GTBank poured behind *737# Simple Banking ensured that even the dead heard about it. It was a winner from day one.

Some even feel because of the biting and nasty recessions, tellers and customer service officers earn less to buy makeups. Nobody wants to waste money on a trip to banks just to see ugly girls. I digress.

But I was wrong. Or maybe not 100% wrong.

I was fortunate to have been a part of this game for the last five years, but I now have a contrary opinion of what made the change to happen. While I would give credence to the value of innovation in payments and other digital thingamajigs, the fundamental products being pushed weren’t inherently new (many apps wear pretty faces though with poorly applied lipsticks).
The most significant reason has been the customer experience when getting on with the services.

I have spent my life railing against sadistic banking processes that prioritizes “Control and Compliance” over customer experience. Get me right; I’m a stickler for control, processes and risk management. But many of our control and compliance procedures appear to provide cover while in fact, they hurt customer acquisition and when the real attacks come, they can’t even cover the banks’ backsides.
So how did this happen?

Before 2014, most services by banks require a visit to a branch, completing a form and hoping it gets done on the system. Usually, your password never gets to you, and the processes were just full of pain and misery.
GTBank led the pack by daring the gods of control and compliance. They designed the USSD banking process to have you input your bank account and then use your last four digits of your card number as the PIN. It was daring, maybe a little foolish but it was groundbreaking regarding customer experience.

Signups exploded. The market noticed.
Luckily the transaction types were simple, and transaction limits were truly limited. Being able to get on a digital service without worshiping an idol at the local branch was a boon.

How GTBank influenced digital payments
The rapid and immediate success of GTBank’s *737# Simple Banking made it difficult for other banks to offer something “more secure” for the onboarding process and their approach was a justification for hapless product managers to force approval of comparable products at the copycat banks. At Fidelity Bank, my “village” sense wouldn’t allow me to implement last four digits of PAN though; we settled for good ‘ole PINs.

One of the large banks waited years before launching their USSD Banking because of “risk,” but in the end, the market forced their hands to do self-service USSD and live with the risks. Unfortunately, they lost out on the massive income they could have made between 2014 and 2016.

Alat is transforming the next wave
Wema Bank, despite facing branding and perception headwinds, launched Alat Digital Bank into the market last year (2017). The Naysayers are already adding pepper and sauce to their words in anticipation of making a meal out of them – the service has been very successful. Unconfirmed figures point to about 200K users in 8 months with deposit north of N1B.
The curious thing is, Alat offers nothing more than a standard savings account with 10% interest but with everyone broke in Lagos, that can’t be the most important reason.

What Alat has done well is the ease at which anyone can open a full-fledged Tier 3 account and even have the debit card delivered (free as of the time I did mine) without touching a sheet of paper or visit a bank branch.

That ease and experience are what the other banks, who started online account opening a million years before Alat/Wema Bank, have not been able to pull off. Ask any bank how many accounts get opened online, you will be very embarrassed for their CEOs.

There are bears in the wood
I would be very foolish to say that there are no risks to self-service in banking. Banks and hapless customers get shafted by the day, and a bank that isn’t vigilant could get cleaned out.
However, the smart banks have figured out that a well-designed process flow and fraud monitoring can thwart an average fraudster. Even with SIM cloning, the most dangerous digital evil on the prowl, customers can be easily protected when intelligent backend analytics are applied to customer transactional behaviors.

Fraudsters count on banks and FinTechs not talking. It’s killing digital payments!

Fraud plagues Nigerian online transactions. Nigeria lacks centralized fraud prevention services, with the recent CBN watchlist being limited. A global fraud repository could aid but requires robust risk management and quality assurance. Collaboration is vital to combat fraud and ensure a safer digital environment.

Electronic fraud is a significant reason why many Africans especially Nigerians, including highly educated middle-class, don’t want to do transactions online or use digital products. While a lot is being done with efforts such as Two Factor Authentication, customer opt-ins, etc., frauds still go on because banks and payment providers don’t share information with each other.

Fraudsters are still having a field day because of one thing – evil thrives in darkness.

Recently one of my friends running a payment company called to find out what we could do to some people who did fraud on his platform. As a matter of practicality, I told him nothing.

Think about it, what if he went to the police? Unless the fraudsters were so brazenly sloppy, the Police probably can’t investigate to catch them. He will spend the next few months going back and forth like a poorly installed pendulum, some random arrests could be made, but in the end, just like others, nothing would happen.

So, he did what every payment company or bank has been doing since – improved his systems, licked his wounds clean and moved on with life. I’m dead sure he’s silently cursing them under his breath.

But my gut feelings told me these bad guys didn’t just start with him – they have been on this less than illusory career for long. And that is the crux of the matter.

In South Africa, the banks, payment providers, and just everyone came around to form the SAFPS (Southern African Fraud Prevention Service). If you did a bad thing and your name strolls into their list, trust me, your transactions will continue to fail, but you will know why.

International internet service providers also use large crowd-sourced databases of spammers (SPAMHAUS) where source IP addresses and domain names of spammers are logged. If you spam and your name goes there, your emails will never be delivered again (to those who use the database for filtering spams). Major companies in Nigeria, including almost all banks, use SPAMHAUS to protect their email infrastructure.

So why don’t we have the same thing in Nigeria? I am very sure if my friend had a service, he could check transactions against, the boys who scalped him may have been stopped from getting their loot. And let’s say he was their first port of call, if he reports them, they won’t be able to hurt anyone again.

The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) and Nigeria Electronic Fraud Forum (NEFF) did the right thing recently when the CBN watchlist was inaugurated. My banks have been sending me warning messages not to misbehave because if my name should enter that list, my own don do.

This list is limited to only banks and BVNs alone. However, we know that fraud surface area covers extend to emails, phones (those spammy BVN update alerts), IP addresses, etc. Another challenge is that many frauds happen on platforms beyond banks. For example, fraudsters routinely log into wallet systems to defraud hapless customers.

A centralized global repository of fraud information, accessible and non-partisan would go a long way to instill confidence, and just allow everyone to snore longer at night. The cost of transaction also goes down as cost attributable to fraud losses would not be overlaid on transaction fees anymore. However, without this repository and other means of squelching fraud, innovations from smart Fintechs may never reach that critical level as payers will always be frightened to go online.

If they could pull this off in South Africa, why not Nigeria? It would be to everyone’s benefit to collaborate and crowdsource information.

Nevertheless, crowdsourced fraud information comes with risks as well. What do I do if a payment provider maliciously put my name on that list and my transactions get flagged? What if someone takes them to court and asks for $1B damages for failed transactions?

A shared repository of fraud information doesn’t remove the requirements for proper risk management – which much FinTechs lack. I mean, risk management is as boring as hell, no place in the awesome sexiness of a startup. True? False! Adhering to regulations, PCI-DSS, ensuring that changes follow maker/checker processes, logging everything that moves, encryption, hashing before and after changes, etc. guarantees your neurons are used for product development, not recovery efforts.

You can’t underestimate the need for testing. Quality assurance is another major area of lack for Fintechs and this is probably responsible for 70% of the holes that the fraud lizards crawl through. Beyond normal happy path, regression, a double-blind ethical hacking can pinpoint gaps that need plugging.

Beyond all these, collaboration and information sharing will go a long way to keep the bad boys at bay; Christmas is around the corner, and everyone wants to hammer.