The bold will always boss the smart around

Recently, I was enduring a never-ending stream of ranting from one of my mentees (why don’t I ever get paid for this?) about how he gives solid business propositions, but the founder and chief executive of his company doesn’t take his advice. But then when the so call CEO made a mess, my mentee had to do the cleanup.

Of course, my mentee is super smart. First class engineering from a top Nigerian school with IQ as many as floors in the Shanghai Tower. But then, here is a broken man who obviously deserves more and yet isn’t fulfilled. He works in a company that isn’t doing too well because it’s probably poorly managed by the CEO who tells him that if he was that good, he should have started something better.

Does this scene resonate with you? Probably yes.

His story forced me to look around, assess my own life and that of many friends, families, mentees, and random agberos around me. Why do apparently smart people get stalled in poor careers and [some] dumb people become successful? Was it luck? Or business smarts?

Of course, luck plays a role, but statistically, luck should smile on as many smart people as average jones. But empirically, I see most intelligent people working for those less smart. Meanwhile, you would expect the most successful people to be smart since they can use their intelligence to exploit opportunities more but alas, probably around me, this ain’t the case.

Sometimes we talk about hard work. Yes, working hard pays and working smarter pays better. But of what benefit is that if you are working smartly for your dumb bosses and you don’t get any of the upsides and only all the downsides? Most of the hardest working smart people I know work for less-smart bosses, and they rant about it so much my ears bleed. I need to see an ENT.

One thing that seems to be consistent with many founders is that they are bold. Successful founders come in all intellectual shapes and sizes and in various forms of dedication to the hours. But what you won’t take from them is their ability to charge headlong into whatever they believe. They are bold enough to make the leap, not sometimes of faith but many times out of the sheer ballsiness of it. The bold veer towards the edge of insanity to the right, conmanship to the left, inability to access limits to the top, and sheer audacity to the bottom.

I have seen guys walk up and promise delivery of certain products and services without a shred of where and how they would do it, sign the contract and then scamper around to deliver. Sometimes they fail, but when they succeed, maga pays!

And what do the bold do? They employ the smart “you” and “me” to make their dreams come through.

We ain’t all born bold – either because we lost our balls somewhere or we never even came with them. Therefore, we compensate by reading, become thought leaders (whatever that means), get multiple degrees and useless certifications. And when things get really awry, we skip town like Andrew to the US as illegal aliens or to Canada to freeze dry our brains in the name of greener (and extremely cold) pastures.

By the way, it’s not a crime not to be bold; if you don’t have it, you can’t do anything about it. Or maybe you can. I once heard that pretending to be brave and being bold are the same.

But to my many friends and mentees, if you think you are smarter than your boss, just suck it up and spare me the rant. Either you grow your cojones or zip your lips.

Credit bureaus are holding back digital lending in Nigeria

I was at a recent event organized for alternative lenders, mostly digital lenders serving individuals and SMEs. The engagements were eye-opening even though I was already conversant with most of the issues raised.
Nevertheless, one of the nagging problems kept nagging me after I left that day.

Everyone was complaining about how difficult it was to get access to credit bureau data. Yes, they exist in Nigeria, and about 3 of them (FirstCentral, CRC, and CreditRegistry) have been licensed for operations by the Central Bank of Nigeria. They even have an association, Credit Bureau Association of Nigeria (proper parapo).

I wouldn’t jump the gun to blame the credit bureaus, but the complaints that kept coming from different actors (banks, MFBs, individuals, etc.) were so many they cannot be without some attributions. There ain’t no smoke without fire.

Here are some of the critical issues that lenders raised.


The cost charged per record by the credit bureau is so high as to make it useless except for the high ticket transactions. Meanwhile, digital lenders lend from the low thousands, and when you aren’t giving credit to everyone you check, the cost becomes a runaway train.

On the flip side, credit bureaus get this data from banks and lenders for free then turn around and sell at an exorbitant price per check. This doesn’t make sense to me or anyone else for that matter.

If digital retail lending will ever explode in Nigeria, the cost of checking credit bureaus has to be so low that it is marginal. Probably in the region of N20 to N50 per call. Do that for 10 million calls a month, and you have a N6B business a year.


Without APIs, there is no credit bureau intermediation in digital lending. APIs must be simple to integrate with, extremely stable, and always available. In a modern digital finance world, APIs should take a few seconds and not days to apply for. There should be a sandbox to test without having to contact anyone.

The APIs currently provided by credit bureaus are so poorly implemented – they are buggy, slow, and takes forever to integrate. You can imagine these credit bureau struggling with modern technology. It is interesting to note that none of the credit bureaus has any reference to APIs on its website; so if you want to see developer documentation, you are on your own!


Information should be simple. In the US and other countries, a combination of names and other demographic info are used. In Nigeria, there should be a standard use for BVN. It is unambiguous; it’s simple, it’s fast

Reduced cost for contributors

Credit bureaus should give credit of say, five free checks for every record of the contribution made by lenders. It offers incentives for lenders to contribute information. The more they update, the cheaper their operations are. It’s a win-win for everyone.

Partnership with fintechs

It’s possible that these credit bureaus have dinosaur backends and find it difficult to serve the fast-paced digital lending world. They could partner with fintechs (hungry for revenue) to build smart API front ends and developer portals which alternative and digital lenders can connect with. Revenue share is a way to make everyone happy. Any takers?

What happens when these are done

Lenders get to trust the system, and it becomes self-reinforcing. The better the system is, the higher the chances of blocking bad actors. When bad actors are getting barred, anyone (like my cousins) with a propensity to go rogue becomes serious because they can see consequences. Then default rates go down which makes interest rates go down as well. More credit flows. Maybe Nigeria can be great again.

Fun facts

Of the three credit bureaus in Nigeria, two are led by ladies. Amazing Amazons

Why Nigerian banks will never lend you a dime

We all go broke at different times, and the natural thing would be to turn to our bankers. After all, we have been putting our meager savings in there for a while; and one good turn deserves another, right? Wrong!

You are probably rolling your eyes now because we all know that Nigerian banks hardly lend to individuals no matter how compelling the case is. Yes, I know a few connected or lucky souls get loans that don’t come from your account going into debit because of SMS alerts. I also know a few banks, such as Access Bank, will readily give you loans under 30 seconds. These are outliers, and 2 trees don’t make a forest. The official numbers paint a grim picture.

According to the National Bureau of Statistics (yes, they keep tabs!), loans to individuals, which averages N88,000, constitutes just 0.7% of all loans while the ones to awon baba alaye of N1B and above is 82% of all credits Nigerian banks have advanced.

We can both see that it would be easier for a polygamous camel, with its harem of fat camel wives with luscious humps, 100 baby camels, and 3 side-chicks camels, to stroll through the eye of a needle than for you and me to walk into a bank and walk out with our loans.

Everyone who’s got least a D in Economics knows that credit is the grease of every economy and the cogs are the individual spenders, while SMEs are the backbone. So why are bankers bent on keeping Nigeria from attaining great heights? I guess this is the reasons why bank CEOs get bashed at every turn for the poor state of the economy. It has become unpardonable as they deliver multi-billion profit year on year.

It seems the bashing, name calling, and mudslinging doesn’t work on the bank CEOs anymore. They just don’t care.To rub salt into injuries, the few times banks want to give you a loan, they demand so much documentation and collateral that people are stumped “if I had this much collateral and documents, I wouldn’t even come for a friggin’ loan!”.

So, let’s go get our pitchforks and deal with these evil bankers! Not so fast; there are at least two sides to every story.

Let’s do a walk back and ask ourselves, why does anyone even set up a bank in the first place? To make tons of cash! Shareholders ain’t Father Christmas. Nobody goes through the pain of setting up a bank for charity.
And the way banks make money is simple. They take money from those who have excess cash or who want to save and lend part of it to those who need money. The gap between the interest they pay the savers and what they charge the borrowers is their profit (after paying off your cousin’s salaries and the cost of the ATM withdrawal you made at another bank’s ATM).

If banks only make money when they lend, why ain’t they lending to me and you yanfu yanfu? Obviously, if the money won’t come back, they can’t lend it because if they can’t pay the savers when they come for their money, kasala go burst.

There are two critical things lenders look out for when thinking of handing over cash to you; ability to pay and willingness to pay.

Ability to pay refers to the capacity of your cash flow to pay back according to the repayment schedule, the probability of your business to grow as to generate enough revenue to pay, etc. This is where complex models are used to check you out. For example, it’s a standard practice that you must not use more than 33% of your monthly salary to pay back loans because irrespective of the sincerity of your heart, anything more could impair your day-to-day ability to pay back. Therefore, when banks ask for your statement of account, payslips, invoices, contracts, blah blah, this is what they want to calculate.

If you ask for much more than a bank think you can pay back, they will reduce it or the bad ones will kick your scrawny ass out of their office.

Willingness to pay back loans is a big deal, and it is so fundamental to credit that if you get this wrong, you are dead. I mean deader than a joint of beef. If the ability to pay back is impaired, a loan can be restructured, and it happens every time. However, when borrowers don’t want to pay back, hell boils over.

Willingness to pay back is a function of a working society and I ain’t sure if Nigeria can be classified as working, per se. In other countries where individuals get easy access to cash, you are in so much trouble if you don’t pay back. In fact, nobody needs to warn you to respect yourself. In places like Dubai, it’s even a criminal offense not to pay back: you skip your loans, you find yourself a lovely prison studio apartment.

Nigeria, being a place where law and order is an illegal alien, banks go around this issue by demanding collateral, things they can sell on Jumia or Balogun market if you don’t pay back. And not only do they request these, they do extensive checks on the documentation to ensure it actually belongs to you and that you haven’t pledged it to another bank. Stories of fake documents used for loans are twelve a kobo.

Crosschecking validity of documents in Nigeria is extra difficult as our governments are not automated. Just try to confirm land titles and vehicle authenticity and you can have an idea of the stress.

Since these processes are painful, long and super annoying, Nigerian banks quickly wised up to save their energy for higher ticket loans. Why spend 2 weeks on documentation for a N100,000 that you only make N2,500 on when you give someone for a month at 30% per annum? It would take precisely the same efforts to document an N1B that you make N2.5M at the same rate.

Of course, loans go bad for small and big borrowers. While we hear of the bigger boys with bad loans, the percentage (count) of smaller loans going bad is higher. Banks can afford to get a Senior Advocate of Nigeria to go after the big boys to get their money back and trust me, lawyers are not cheap and don’t do promos. What is the cost-benefit analysis of sending lawyers after a N75,000 loan when the amount in question isn’t enough to even pay the lawyer for a day’s job?

The good news is that fixing willingness to pay, that is to make it extremely painful and expensive for borrowers to default, can be easily fixed. The bad news is that it takes so many political balls only few would attempt it because it would hurt a lot of politicians. We don’t even need the FGN to do any law, there should just be a regulation between banks, backed by the CBN, that if you don’t pay your bills, you should be banished from the financial system. No need to take you to court or send lawyers after you.

If that happens, expect banks to start lending easily without going through too many documentations. They know you will pay back. Easy credit will allow people to have access to good things (consumer spending) while paying back over months. Mortgages will become available. Builders will build more and cheaper as there is a ready flow of buyers. Suppliers of labor and materials to builders will sell more.

Multiply that for every sector of this damned economy and you can only imagine how we will rule Africa.

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.

For want of a shoe the horse was lost.

For want of a horse the rider was lost.

For want of a rider the message was lost.

For want of a message the battle was lost.

For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.

And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

Online Banking without Offline Annoyance

The drumbeat for payments and all things digital has been beating loud and long (and annoying, almost like a banshee!). At face value, this seems to be one thing customers and banks can agree about.
Banks don’t want customers in the branches anymore (because it cost more to serve them in-branch) and customers don’t even want to go to the branches to do transactions. It cost more to get there; the tellers aren’t as pretty as before; you could spend the last years of your life stuck in traffic and lastly; woe betide you if your favorite branch got robbed, a junior thief could use your pot belly for target practice.
Unfortunately, while it seems there is an agreement, almost every bank seems to struggle with getting customers online.
Many issues are to blame.
The processes are designed by sadists who don’t understand what customers want or able to even let the customers know what needs to be done online.
Even when the processes can be decrypted by the CIA and NSA, it mostly involves a trip to the banking hall.
But then, good news is, sadists are getting a change of heart and banks are seeing the light. Hallelujah.
Curiosity killed the cat
In the age where Zenith, Wema, etc. let you open an account with your USSD code, I was wondering if these banks won’t let me have internet banking without seeing their shops. So huddling with a friend, we trolled banks to find out the current processes of getting customers to register for Internet banking (hey, we didn’t touch mobile, don’t beef!) and whoa, we have an intriguing result.
Out of the 21 banks surveyed, 57% or 12 of them allow you to start and end your registration for online banking. However, most would want you to view just your balances. You must still ferry your backside to a branch to get token.
Of the lot that really understand the perspective of the customer, 50% of them allow you to complete the end-to-end enrollment and start doing transactions without any branch visit. Kudos to their product management team – you guys have balls!
Full Data

Bank End-to-end self-enrollment? Self-enrollment allows transactions? Authentication method
Access Bank Yes No Valid account number to register; an activation code is sent to registered email and mobile number via SMS
Diamond Bank No Not applicable Download and fill form and submit at branch
Ecobank Yes Yes Valid account number to get OTP via SMS
FCMB Yes Yes Use valid account number, use Debit card information to validate
Fidelity Bank Yes Yes Use account number to get OTP, fill online form, use debit card information to validate, download a token app and start doing transactions.
First Bank No Not applicable Call FirstContact to begin registration or visit a branch
Guaranty Trust Bank No Not applicable Download and fill form and then submit at branch for activation
Heritage Bank No Not applicable Register online, print and take to branch for activation
Jaiz Islamic Bank No Not applicable Download and fill form and then submit at branch for activation
Keystone Bank No Not applicable Download and fill form and then submit at branch for activation
Providus Bank Yes Use valid customer ID, OTP sent via SMS
Skye Bank No Not applicable Register online, print and take to branch for activation
Stanbic IBTC Yes Yes Use valid account number and phone number; set up secret questions, OTP is sent via SMS
Standard Chartered Yes Yes Use Standard Chartered ATM, Debit or Credit card information to validate to get OTP sent via SMS, alternatively get
Temporary ID (Received via Email)
Temporary Password (Received by SMS)
Sterling Bank Yes No User valid account number and Phone number
SunTrust Bank Yes User customer number, identification number, e.g., Passport or National ID card, date of birth and branch name
Union Bank Yes No Use valid account number to get OTP via SMS
United Bank for Africa Yes Yes Use Valid account number, use Debit card information to validate, use OTP to consummate instant transactions
Unity Bank No Not applicable Download and fill form and submit at branch
Wema Bank Yes No Use valid account number
Zenith Bank No Not applicable Download, complete, and submit request form at any branch or via email

TGIF but one last thing
I know the stories won’t hit the headlines but banks still get shafted, once in a while, by fraud. However, I’m very sure that the ease of onboarding, the rapidly ramping revenue from transactions and even the demand for modern banking would force everyone to be at parity within the next 2 years. Mark my word, time would come when the last bank to get onboard self-enrollment would be beaten up by the horde of irate customers.

Getting them high: Challenges of onboarding customers to digital services

Digital services, which include cards, online banking, mobile apps for finances, USSD for transferring money you don’t have, etc., are essential services. In fact, financial inclusion has been elevated to the level of fundamental human rights. However, unlike things we derive joy from using – Whatsapp, Tinder, Facebook, to mention a few, digital services are like toothpaste; nobody gets too emotional about them – you just want them to be affordable, available, easy to use and then get them out of the way before you lose your mind. That is if you have a mind to start with.
Challenges facing purveyors
But then, the horror eating at digital bankers, the unloved purveyors of FinTech (Ok, I want to stop using this buzzword, it’s no longer cool) products and other financial thingamajigs, is the low onboarding or usage rate despite a captive market. When I say captive market, I’m talking about banks with large customer bases but whose customers just don’t sign up for electronic services. You would think customers love going to those crowded and nightmarish banking halls. Hell, freaking no! They continue to complain about having to visit branches to get things done. To make matters worse, even the tellers in the branches aren’t smiling or friendly, so what’s the point?
What customers want
I know quite a bit about what customers want with digital services because I’m one of them. As crazy as it sounds, I’m a customer, so I’m speaking for the hordes of ill-served and hapless customers.
The average user isn’t a techie, but yet products and services are designed such that you need to be a professor to figure things out. How to get the products is never clear; the screen flow is more complicated than flying a space shuttle, and the error messages leave you scratching your head. I can imagine how hard that is going to be for bald customers. For example, the password instructions about using special characters, upper, middle and lower cases, etc. can drive even the most patient Moses impersonator to tears. Why can’t I choose a password I’m more comfortable with? After all, if I use a complicated password and my money gets stolen, the bank still won’t be doing a refund.
By the way, using passwords such as Password123, for example, is like painting a big fat red ‘X’ on your back and then taking an evening stroll through a war zone.
Customers want convenience so asking me to visit a branch to request internet and mobile access is just, pardon my language, insane. Until someone explains why Facebook and Whatsapp never set up offices to sign up users, but my bank has to force me to endure the unfriendly Customer Service Officer, I won’t ever understand this. The pseudo-professionals talk of security and risk management, I only see mental laziness. While the risks have not disappeared, banks have launched USSD services, virtually all via self-enrollment, and the world is yet to end. Why the same approach can’t be used for all other electronic services baffles me.
My accounts have simple ten digit numbers, but the various digital banking services require different profiles and credentials. The multiple systems don’t talk to each other or even know my preferences. Does it make sense to have a different username and password for the internet and mobile services? Why can’t I manage my cards within these applications?
And the most annoying thing ever? – Even after I have taken Keke Marwa to visit the branch, endured the overzealous security guard, prayed through 10 chapters of Psalms that the branch doesn’t get hit by robbers on the day I visit, complete a form that stretches over a thousand pages, made to fill all my information over and over again, sign in 10 different places and then, oh, the customer service officer says “you have to come back to get your token as we have to make a request to head office.” Darn it!
Why digital initiatives and products have failed
Of course, customers aren’t idiots, so they rebelled against the products, come to the branches to cause trouble and continue to add to the blood pressure of digital bankers when they have to explain their weak numbers at monthly performance meetings.
My opinions on why things failed are few:
It starts from the top. Senior management and executives don’t understand the retail customers. In their rarefied offices, they practically get everything done for them. If you don’t walk in your customers’ shoes, you can’t get things done for them. In fact, let’s take a bet; if you work in a bank and 50% of your senior management use digital products regularly, I’ll give up my salary for next month.
Many products are developed by techies, who obviously have orgasms making complex products than serving dumb customers like me. The world has moved beyond digital products being hobbyist items; experts in customer experience and human computer interaction need to work on the flows and processes that are simple and a joy to use. Banks and FinTech (oops, I used the word again!) have to start doing product management and not product delivery.
Risk management is essential but isn’t everything. Every business has an element of risk; if you don’t want to get bruised, don’t play games. Many of the processes and product requirements are designed by sadists who think risk avoidance is the same as risk management. Not to be hard on them, if you have ever seen a massive fraud once in your career, you could be worse than them. Trust me, EFCC cells don’t have air conditioners.
Data practice is poor, and customer information is scattered everywhere in database silos. The silo data means the customer’s phone number on the card management system is different from the one on that of internet banking; the address filed on the mobile app request form was never updated into the core banking application; the madness goes on and on.
Making life easy for everyone
It’s not all doom and gloom. The strides made by some banks, especially those leading the USSD trail (GTBank, Fidelity, Access, Zenith, etc.) have shown that when the right mindset is applied, magic can happen. The simple workflow and self-service options for USSD banking have been so successful that it has led to over 200% growth for interbank transactions in 2016 alone.
Banks should develop integrated products or make efforts to integrate what they already have. Let the ATM know that I have the mobile app; let the mobile app be able to change my card PIN (yes!), set limits and allow me to make requests from my phone.
Processes that involve branch visits should be streamlined; Forms should be designed by humans (not sadists) and for humans; requirements should be clear and reasonable.  For instance, setting up a company online banking profile, with various mandate instructions remotely, will always be difficult but not impossible. At least, that process shouldn’t be an attempt at mental genocide.
Banks should clean up their data and also implement a single-source of truth. It’s never going to be done in a flash, but the process can start now.
FinTech and banks should understand what risk management is. Instead of making things too loose (FinTech) or too hard (Banks), elements of quantitative and qualitative risk assessments should be applied, and banks should learn to set a portion of income aside for fraud and loss compensations.
Things can change
The frenetic pace of changes over the last few years is an indication of things to come. I honestly believe that many of the issues outlined above can be resolved. After all, we didn’t get here in one weekend.  Additionally, the regulatory demands of Cashless would drive the banks, financial service providers and the average Nigerian towards more robust digital services.