Why QR code payment would never succeed in Africa

Paying with QR code is so cool. All you need to do is bring out your smartphone, take a snapshot, and voila, payment is made. The simplicity and versatility are simply unparalleled. QR code payments have been adapted from in-store shopping; to online payments; to even paying for cable subscription on TV.

As much as you would love QR code, it’s not really a global phenomenon. While QR code is in use almost everywhere in the world, it’s more prevalent in China. It’s so popular in China that is regarded as a currency — it’s practically the only way to pay for anything. This is even more evident in that kids as young as four years may never have seen cash. Remember, if you carry cash around in China, people will probably think you have lost your mind.

QR, which means Quick Response, code has a fascinating background. It was invented by a Japanese company called Denso Wave in 1994 as a means of tracking vehicles during manufacturing. Just imagine robots bringing out their smartphones to snap pictures of cars. That may not have been how it worked, but you get the drift. After a while, people figured that if QR codes could be used to identify car parts then it could also be used to identify things to be paid for. Before long, it was adapted to various situations. Considering that QR code is similar to a fancy barcode, it could now be put or printed on practically any surface with a display.

However, Tencent popularized the use of QR code for payments when it started embedding it into its WeChat platform. The accessibility and ease of use made for a viral adoption and the rest, as they say, is history.

So, if QR code is versatile, cheap, and cheerful, why hasn’t it been used to transform payments in Africa? I guess it’s easier said than done.

Seeing how successful QR code has been in Asia, many attempts have been made to bring this magic to Africa. But practically each of these has failed woefully. I recall a meeting I had with one of the global payments giants in Tanzania in 2016; they wanted to use QR code to make payments in the country but failed to read the tea leaves; the Telco they were pitching put them on the next plane out of Darussalam.

It’s not rocket science to figure out why QR codes schemes never work in Africa. Some are obvious while others require seeing beyond technology into the realities of the African space.

The lack of network effect is one of the major killers of payment schemes in Africa, QR code included. Quite a number of supposedly smart fintechs naively believe their innovative products can be scaled without leveraging on others; instead of establishing a common standard, they go at it alone. And usually, watch the product die alone as well. Companies like Tencent and Alibaba who can define new ecosystems are a rarity. Majority of successful companies rely on common standards and collaborate actively with others to thrive. By the way, there is now an EMV standard for QR code, it’s too little too late.

While the sale and adoption of smartphones have been impressive for years, the reality is that Africa is still an impoverished continent where 41% of us live below the poverty line. Being poor means only 33% of Africans can afford a smartphone even if they barely made it through getting a feature phone. QR code payments depend 100% on smartphones, and where the majority can’t afford smartphones, the chance of QR scaling is zero.

The beauty and elegance of QR code payments come alive when you use it, but needs a working Internet. Unfortunately, telecoms services in Africa are shitty because of many reasons; poor investment, dilapidated infrastructure, fibre cables getting sabotaged, sometimes thieves making away with batteries and other telecoms equipment. With a patchy network, payments get stalled, and after a few failed attempts that must have taken many minutes into completing a transaction, little wonder QR codes get abandoned

And even for the few that have smartphones, they hardly leave the mobile data on. Also, though most Africans get their internet from their mobile phones, data is still costly in most parts of the continent. Consequently, savvy users turn off their data; the chore of turning it on for just payment is significant friction that has made QR code payments not habit-forming.

Lastly, payments apps in Africa have poor usability, which doesn’t exclude even the largest pan-African banks. In fact, you could almost say that app usability is inversely proportional to the size of the bank; the smaller fintechs have snazzier designs and more responsive interfaces. Poor customer experience means it takes just a little too long to bring out a smartphone, unlock it, spend minute logging in, finding the QR menu, and getting payments done. Imagine a scenario at a retail checkout where a paying customer is spending minutes fumbling with her phone when cash and cards are faster. Here comes the death of QR.

While QR has stumbled across Sub-Saharan Africa, other payment methods, which are aware of the African realities, such as USSD and STK, have made significant progress. M-Pesa processes billions of transactions each year over STK. 35% of the over 700 million interbank transfers in Nigeria in 2018 were made on USSD.

Would QR code ever catch on in Africa as the infrastructure gets better and smartphones cheaper? Maybe. Maybe not. But for the time being, it has been certified dead on arrival, needing no post-mortem inquiry

Originally written for Trium Networks in August 2019

Core banking software in Nigeria as of 2020

Core Banking Application, or CBA, is that monstrous piece of system that powers every bank, big or small. I have been tracking what each Nigerian bank uses for a few years now. As invisible as it is for most bank customers and humans, it’s a major determinant for fintechs and those who integrate with banks in one form of the other.

A few things have happened since I last wrote about the core banking applications used in Nigerian banks in April 2011 and March 2016. 

So, if you are an aspiring payment services provider or a new switch, here’s your list as of 2020. Wishing you a mighty dose of good luck.

CBNTemenos T24
Coronation Merchant BankFinacle
FBNQuest Merchant BankFinacle
Fidelity BankFinacleFinacle
First Bank of NigeriaFinacleFinacle
First City Monument BankFinacleFinacle
Globus BankFinacle
Guaranty Trust BankBasis/BanksBasis/Banks
Heritage BankFinacleFinacle
Jaiz BankiMAL
Keystone BankTemenos T24Temenos T24
Nova Merchant BankIntellect Design Arena
Polaris Bank (previously Skye Bank)FLEXCUBEFLEXCUBE
Providus BankBasis/Banks
Rand Merchant BankTCS Bancs
Stanbic IBTCFinacleFinacle
Standard Chartered BankeBBSeBBS
Sterling BankBasis/BanksTemenos T24
Suntrust BankBasis/Banks
TAJBank LimitedSOPRA (Amplitude)
Titan Trust BankFLEXCUBE
United Bank for AfricaFinacleFinacle
Unity BankBasis/BanksBasis/Banks
Wema BankFinacleFinacle
Zenith BankPhoenixFinastra (Phoenix)

How has the software faired and now stack up?

In 2016Now 2020
Finacle – 7 (37%)Finacle – 10 (32.26%)
FLEXCUBE – 6 (32%)FLEXCUBE – 8 (25.81%))
Basis/Banks – 3 (16%)Basis/Banks – 4 (12.90%)
Temenos T24 – 1 (5%)Temenos T24 – 3 (9.68%)
eBBS 1 (5%)Finastra – 1 (3.23%)
Phoenix – 1 (5%)eBBS – 1 (3.23%)
iMAL – 1 (3.23%)
Intellect – 1 (3.23%)
TCS Bancs – 1 (3.23%)
SOPRA (Amplitude) – 1 (3.23%)

Additional Notes

  • I have updated the list to include merchant banks and the country’s Central Banking Authority (CBN). 
  • Basis/Banks lost a site when Sterling Bank moved to Temenos T24 in November 2016. The bank was also considering Finacle from Infosys at the time.

More About The Core Banking Software

Finacle is a complete suite of banking applications from Infosys, one of the largest technology companies in India.

FLEXCUBE is from Oracle Financial Services. FLEXCUBE was initially i-Flex software but the company was bought by Oracle in 2005 during one of its famous spending sprees. A bit of history: FLEXCUBE was originally developed by Citibank and was spurned off as Citicorp Information Technologies Industries Limited, an independent company. FLEXCUBE is highly regarded globally with about 700 installations in 125 countries and has won Core Banking Solution of the Year and Application of the Year from The Banker.

Basis and Banks are from ICS Financial Services, a midsize Jordanian/UK software company with about 45 installations worldwide.

Despite the fact that the Nigerian market is dominated by 2 major software from India, the core banking software business is rich and varied worldwide. To read more about other banking systems, head over to http://www.inntron.co.th/corebank.html.

Addressing Nigeria’s Overlooked Lending Opportunities


Improving access to credit has been high on the agenda of several international organizations and policymakers for many years. This is mostly because a large part of the world lives in poverty, with individuals and businesses lacking access to credit [1]. Nigeria has a high poverty rate, with about 86 million people living in extreme poverty and about 146 million people living below the upper-middle-income line [2]. These contribute to why a lot of individuals require access to credit to meet short, medium- and long-term financial needs.

Access to credit and financial inclusion are closely related [1], and they both play an essential role in improving the structure and quality of a country’s financial system, which drives economic growth [4]. According to CBN’s National Financial Inclusion Strategy (NFIS), credit has been identified as a key product to increase the country’s financial inclusion [4]. CBN has set a 2020 target of the Nigerian adult population having access to credit at 40%, which means that about 42 million Nigerians should have access to loans. We are, however, far from this, as only about 2% of the Nigerian adult population have been able to access loans from banks and other financial institutions [3], leaving a variance of about 38%.

This huge variance presents a tremendous opportunity for lenders (commercial banks, microfinance banks, Fintechs, and other lending companies). This article explores the potential credit gap in Nigeria that lenders can address, as well as the extent of value which stakeholders within the lending ecosystem can create. The article also focuses on significant challenges being faced by lenders today and ways these challenges can be addressed to effectively meet the country’s credit deficit and financial inclusion targets.

A quick look at Nigeria’s Credit Conditions

Before arriving at an estimated credit gap for Nigeria, it would be vital to consider the different types of credit and the various segments of borrowers. It would also be important to explore lending trends and conditions within the country. Regarding loan types, loans to customers are either secured or unsecured. Secured loans (e.g., mortgage, car loan, etc.) are connected to tangible collaterals and typically come with lower interest rates because of the lower financial risk attached. Unsecured loans (e.g., personal loans, payday loans, credit cards, etc.) are not protected by any collateral, and they typically have higher interest rates due to the financial risk involved. While unsecured, there should be legal frameworks and policies in place to protect lenders especially in situations where borrowers default on their loan payments.

According to CBN’s Credit Conditions Report (Q4, 2019), the availability of secured credit to households increased over the year and is expected to keep increasing in the next quarter. This expected growth in the supply of secured credit is met with a corresponding expected increase in demand for secured credit by borrowers [17], which is complemented by CBN’s directive to increase loans to individuals and businesses [8]. A growth trend is also the case for unsecured credit, as lenders expect the availability and demand of unsecured loans to increase in the next quarter [17]. This expected increase in unsecured loans to Nigerian households is complemented by a forecasted general growth of unsecured lending in Nigeria, which is mostly driven by the proliferation of digital lenders that are using data and technology to grow consumer and SME financing in the country.

Loan default rate, which represents the percentage of outstanding loans written off by lenders due to the inability or unwillingness of borrowers to pay back, or after an extended period of missed payments, has also improved in recent times and is expected to keep growing in the next quarter [17]. Lenders are, however, forecasting that loan pricing and interest rates will remain unchanged in the coming quarter. This means that a lot of lending organizations in Nigeria have not leveraged data and analytics to improve the risk management process, which can create opportunities for lower interest rates. There is the opportunity for lenders to adopt open banking, which creates an opportunity to share data using standard Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) and has the potential to reduce delinquency and make loans cheaper and more accessible.

NGN 51.8 Trillion and counting – Estimated credit gap in Nigeria

Improving access to credit to Nigerian individuals and businesses has been high on CBN’s agenda in recent times, with the apex bank unfolding measures to increase lending to consumer, mortgage, micro, and SME sectors. One of these measures is the increase in the Loan-to-Deposit ratio from 60% to 65% [8], which has led banks to give out more loans to comply with CBN’s directive. According to CBN, Nigeria’s credit gap is about NGN 1.7 trillion [9,10]. This has been estimated as the difference between loans currently being given out by financial institutions and the loan amount that financial institutions will be required to give out to maintain LDR of 65% (assuming current deposit figures). Based on 2019 figures, Nigerian banks gave out about NGN 13.6 trillion loans [8], which were about NGN 1.7 trillion short of the loan amount required to maintain LDR of 65% (NGN 15.3 trillion).

This approach to estimating the credit gap in Nigeria might not be holistic as it solely leverages LDR as an instrument to ascertain what the credit needs of individuals and businesses are. The approach has a limited view of consumer credit need, especially with how this can be mirrored to Nigeria’s working population. Also, the approach focuses on only commercial banks as lenders. It does not consider other lending institutions (Fintechs, microfinance banks, Credit associations, etc.). It is, therefore, important to make other key considerations while estimating the available credit deficit, which can be addressed by lenders in Nigeria. This credit gap estimation will focus on only consumer, micro and SME lending, as 95% of loans currently provided in Nigeria have a value of above NGN 50 million [11], meaning most of the loans are already being provided to large corporates.

According to lending data from a large commercial bank and leading FinTech, the average working adult in Nigeria takes a loan of about NGN 23,000, seven (7) times in a year], which amounts to an annual figure of NGN 161,000. World Bank has estimated the number of working adults in Nigeria to be at 62.4 million in 2019 [12]. This means that the estimated market size for consumer loans is about NGN 10.1 trillion. To ascertain what portion of the market size represents a ‘credit gap’ that needs to be addressed, we can apply the credit variance of 38%, as only 2% of the targeted 40% of the Nigerian adult population currently have access to loans [3]. This brings the estimated consumer credit gap to about NGN 3.8 trillion.

Micro, Small, and Medium Enterprises generally experience greater financial obstacles compared to large corporates. MSMEs enjoy less access to credit and other forms of external finance and face higher transaction costs and higher risk premiums [13]. This is mostly because financial institutions are often reluctant to lend money or provide financing to companies with limited or no credit history [14]. This has resulted in an MSME credit gap that lenders can address. According to CBN, the existing financing gap for MSMEs is about NGN 48 trillion, with more than 17.5 million MSMEs seeking credit and other forms of financing [15].

Combining the credit gap for consumer and MSME segments, lenders can address a credit gap of NGN 51.8 trillion through secured and unsecured loan products that will help to boost financial inclusion and economic growth. However, it is also vital to note that very excessive credit growth, coupled with high inflation and default rates, can lead to a financial crisis [6]. Strong growth in credit has preceded many episodes of financial instability in the past, resulting in the materialization of systemic banking crisis [7]. Hence, it is important to not get carried away while implementing measures to address Nigeria’s credit gap and drive credit growth. There should be a focus on ensuring credit growth is not too excessive that it leads to a national financial crisis. Further studies and statistical analysis can be carried out to measure excessive credit provision in the economy and identify optimal interactions between Nigeria’s credit demand and supply factors, towards ensuring credit growth is not too excessive that it leads to financial instability.

Impact of the estimated NGN 51.8 Trillion Credit Gap

The credit gap, which is characterized by limited access to credit for individuals and SMEs, has led to hampered growth in financial inclusion and, consequently, stunted economic growth. Limited access to consumer credit also hinders consumer spending and consumption [1]. This directly impacts the ability of consumers to meet their immediate, medium-term, and long-term financial needs. Some of the practical issues being faced by Nigerians include limited ability to conduct an upfront purchase of assets (cars, houses, phones, etc.) and make upfront payments for experiences and services (travel, education, rent, etc.). This had led to Nigerians mostly having to save to meet financial targets, which can be very difficult.

Furthermore, limited access to credit has led to limited growth for MSMEs, as a lot of these companies do not have the required financing to scale the business and invest in appropriate resources and capabilities (people, technology, processes, etc.) [18]. MSMEs are vital to the development of any economy as they provide opportunities for employment generation, the advancement of local technology capabilities, economic diversification, development of local entrepreneurship skills, and forward integration with large-scale industries [16]. Hence, it is very crucial for participants of the lending ecosystem to develop the right capabilities to improve access to credit for individuals and MSMEs.

Other benefits to be derived if the credit gap is addressed include improvement in the country’s manufacturing and agricultural industries [19], increased opportunities to improve health, education and innovation, and general improvement in the quality of living [20].

Major challenges faced by lenders and other participants of the lending ecosystem

  • Poor credit reporting – One of the key processes within lending is the management of credit risk. Nigerian lenders currently combine customer information with credit reports from Credit Bureaus to ascertain customers’ risk and determine creditworthiness. This is not holistic, and it may leave out key information about a customer’s financial health, which could be crucial to determining what the customer’s risk profile should be. This also limits the extent to which lending organizations understand potential borrowers, as well as keeping loan prices and interest rates high.

Also, the traditional credit scoring process does not serve MSMEs well [14]. Often, one single piece of unavailable information about the MSME can prevent the assessment and consideration of the organization. Due to this limited access to rich customer data, lending organizations mostly provide loans to individuals and organizations that have adequate credit information history, thus leaving out potential borrowers with ‘thin-credit-files’ (potential borrowers with limited or no credit history).

If we consider a real-life scenario, a Credit Bureau API check costs between NGN 200 – NGN 500 and obtaining a transaction statement for a loan applicant from NIBSS’ mybankstatement service costs NGN 400 for a JSON file and NGN 250 for a pdf. If we assume a lender assesses 1,000 potential borrowers, that’s already a cost of about NGN 500,000 on just conducting credit checks, and there is no guarantee that all the loan applications will be approved. If the loan amounts are small, the lender will only be able to pass on a maximum of 1% of the loan disbursed to the borrower which would not be enough to cover the cost of processing.

  • Limited collaboration between participants of the lending ecosystem – Participants of the lending ecosystem (commercial banks, Fintechs, microfinance banks, credit associations, other non-bank lenders, credit bureaus, regulators, etc.) play different roles across the lending value chain. There currently is no standard framework (such as open banking) that drives collaboration within the ecosystem. Data currently exist in silos, with each participant having a fragmented understanding of each customer, as opposed to a holistic and detailed understanding, which would be the case if participants adopt full collaboration and standardized data sharing.
  • Inadequate technology infrastructure – Some lending organizations in the country have invested in technology capabilities (applications, infrastructure, network, etc.) to automate the lending process and ensure efficiency and speed. Interactions with multiple lending organizations in Nigeria have, however, shown that there is limited reliance on relevant digital and emerging technologies to support the end-to-end lending process (loan origination, credit risk management, loan disbursement, loan performance monitoring and loan collections). Also, these technology capabilities are not nimble enough to cater to the growing availability and demand for secured and unsecured lending. Many financial institutions also lack robust technology platforms that seamlessly integrate risk modeling with reporting [22].

Lenders will need to invest in digital and technology capabilities (core lending applications, predictive analytics, omnichannel experience, etc.) to remain agile in the provision of tailored loan products and services to Nigeria’s credit market.

  • High default rates – According to the CBN’s credit conditions report, loan default rates are expected to reduce in the coming years [17]. However, due to limited access to customer information across the financial ecosystem, lenders currently don’t have a full view of customers’ financial health. Hence, it is difficult to accurately identify and separate potential borrowers that will have difficulty in paying back their loans from those that won’t. This has led to an automatic reduction of the potential credit market size and has also kept loan prices high, as lenders tend to price loans high enough to cover the risk of loan defaults.
  • Inadequate legal infrastructure – The legal infrastructure in place to protect lenders, borrowers and other participants of the legal ecosystem is not adequate to drive credit growth. There are a lot of cases where borrowers are easily cheated or have to pay very high risk premiums to access credit. There are also cases where lenders are exposed to financial loss when borrowers are unable or unwilling to repay loans. In cases like this, the cost of debt recovery can be very high and most times, lenders have to let go of these defaulted loans. An adequate legal structure should provide the relevant protection to ensure lenders and borrowers are not hesitant with providing and accessing credit.

Initiatives to address Nigeria’s Credit Gap

  • Improve credit risk management and reporting. Borrowers shouldn’t know more about their financial situation than lenders do [22]. Lenders should have sufficient information about potential borrowers and have the right tools to conduct a detailed risk assessment to understand customers’ financial health and risk profiles, even more than the borrowers understand themselves. Lenders should integrate alternative sources of data, leveraging concepts such as open APIs, blacklists, etc. to improve credit reporting.
  • Explore new and innovative loan products to address the needs of Nigerians. In essence, Nigerian lenders need to be creative to develop loan products and services that are tailored to the needs of Nigerians. Due to the availability of data, lenders can fully understand their prospective and existing customers and develop custom offerings that will meet their needs. An example is how Flipkart, an Indian ecommerce company, commenced the provision of loan products to consumers and sellers on its platform to increase consumer credit growth. Another example is Branch, a Fintech organization, providing loan products to merchants based on their sales history and financial projections, which are available online. Other examples include how lenders can price loans differently for customers based on the result of their credit assessment and risk profiling.
  • Increase lending to underserved borrower segments. While addressing Nigeria’s credit gap, lenders should also focus on underserved borrower segments, such as thin-credit-filed customers and potential borrowers from the untapped informal sector of the country. For these segments of customers, lenders can build risk models that consider other forms of data (social networking data, telecommunication usage data, sales data, etc.) in other to gain a detailed understanding of each customer and ascertain if they’re creditworthy. Lenders can also implement channels (mobile, online, agents, USSD) to provide accessibility and convenience to these customers.
  • Governments and Regulators should create an enabling environment and policies to drive credit growth. While the CBN has taken some measures (such as the LDR directive) to improve access to credit, additional steps should be taken to ensure that both lenders and borrowers are protected. Governments have also made some steps to increase access to credit (TraderMoni, MarketMoni, FarmerMoni, National Collateral Registry, etc.). Governments should continue to contribute to developing and implementing policies that will create an enabling environment for credit growth.
  • Transformation of lending operations – Traditional lenders, need to undergo digital transformation to transition into agile lenders. Lenders will have to deploy a robust technology platform with seamlessly integrated capabilities to support risk modeling, reporting, loan origination, loan performance management, API management, etc. Lenders will also need to provide an omnichannel experience to individuals and MSMEs to ensure that they have access to loans, at any time, and on any channel of their choice.


Nigeria has an estimated consumer and MSME credit gap of about NGN 51.8 trillion. This presents a very huge opportunity for lenders, but closing the credit gap will require significant effort from private institutions, governments, and regulators. Lenders will need to develop key capabilities that will make them more agile and positioned to meet the needs of customers. They will need to implement sound business models that will adequately serve the different segments of individual and MSME borrowers. Governments and regulators will need to create the enabling environments that will improve access to credit, while also contributing significantly to economic development and job creation.


  1. Velpuri M, Sharma M, Maringanti C, Pidugu A and Velpuri J Improving Access to Credit in Property Markets Using Blockchain – FIG Proceedings (2017) [online]. Available: https://www.fig.net/resources/proceedings/fig_proceedings/fig2017/papers/ts01i/TS01I_velpuri_aman_sharma_et_al_8515.pdf
  2. World Bank Data [online]. Available: http://povertydata.worldbank.org/poverty/country/NGA
  3. EFInA Access to Financial Services in Nigeria 2018 survey
  4. Sulong, Z. and Bakar, H.O., 2018. The role of financial inclusion on economic growth: Theoretical and empirical literature review analysis. J Bus Fin Aff7(356), pp.2167-0234
  5. Access Bank [online]. Available: https://www.accessbankplc.com/pages/Media/access-news/Access-Bank-Hits-over-N1Billion-in-Digital-Lending.aspx
  6. Lang, J.H. and Welz, P., 2017. Measuring credit gaps for macroprudential policy. Financial Stability Review1.
  7. The theory-based household credit gaps in this special feature are based on the methodology and results in Lang, J. H. and Welz, P., “Semi-Structural Credit Gap Estimation”, mimeo, 2017
  8. Fitch Solutions: formerly BMI – Nigeria Banking & Financial Services Report, Q4 2019
  9. A Lever for Consumer Lending (This Day), 2019 [online]. Available: https://www.thisdaylive.com/index.php/2019/08/28/a-lever-for-consumer-lending/
  10. Can Retail Lending Change in Nigerian Banks? (Business Day), 2019 [online]. Available: https://businessday.ng/technology/article/can-retail-lending-change-in-nigerian-banks/
  11. National Bureau of Statistics (NBS) – Selected Banking Sector Data: Sectorial Breakdown of Credit, ePayment Channels and Staff Strength – December 2019
  12. World bank data [online]. Available: https://data.worldbank.org/indicator/SL.TLF.TOTL.IN?locations=NG
  13. Beck, Thorsten & Demirguc-Kunt, Asli, 2006. “Small and medium-size enterprises: Access to finance as a growth constraint,” Journal of Banking & Finance, Elsevier, vol. 30(11), pages 2931-2943, November.
  14. Big Data, Smart Credit – Closing the SME finance gap through artificial intelligence and machine learning. White Paper (2018)
  15. Nigeria’s small businesses suffer N48 trillion funding gap (Guardian), 2019 [online]. Available: https://guardian.ng/news/nigerias-small-businesses-suffer-n48-trillion-funding-gap/
  16. Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Development Finance [online]. Available: https://www.cbn.gov.ng/devfin/smefinance.asp
  17. Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) – Credit Conditions Survey Report Q4 2019
  18. Oaya, Z.C.T., 2017. The impact of SMEs financing on business growth in Nigeria: A study of Keffi and Mararaba metropolis. International Journal of Innovation and Economic Development3(2), pp.44-55.
  19. Aina, O.C. and RTP, A., 2007. The role of SMEs in poverty alleviation in Nigeria. Journal of Land Use and Development Studies3(1), pp.124-131.
  20. Lederle, N., 2009. Exploring the impacts of improved financial inclusion on the lives of disadvantaged people (Doctoral dissertation, Heriot-Watt University).
  21. KPMG – Ten key credit risk & lending challenges, 2017 [online]. Available: https://advisory.kpmg.us/content/dam/advisory/en/pdfs/top-ten-credit-challenges-brochurev5.pdf
  22. World Bank Group – Improving access to Finance for SMEs, 2018
  23. Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) – Guide to Charges by Banks and other Financial Institutions in Nigeria [online]. Available: https://www.cbn.gov.ng/out/2017/fprd/guide%20to%20bank%20charges%20circular%20to%20all%20banks%20other%20financial%20institutions%20and%20mobile%20payments%20operators.pdf

Visa buying Interswitch would upturn Mastercard’s game

In December 2010, Helios Investment Partners led an acquisition of a majority interest in what is now Africa’s first fintech unicorn – Interswitch. A decade later, Visa’s $200M funding confirms the hope of every investor in the first 10-12 years of their investment, an exit – Initial Price Offering (IPO) in this instance. What is more interesting is that Visa has been strategically acquiring fintech assets over the last few years and now has investments in 3 of the top fintechs in  Nigeria – Flutterwave, Paystack, and Interswitch. 

However, this strategy could go in more interesting ways and not always how you expect. I promise I’m not a conspiracy theorist – stay with me. 

Interswitch’s market dominance in Nigeria is nearly impregnable. Visa on the other hand, despite being a global leader, continues to play third fiddle in Nigeria, Africa’s biggest market. A little bit of history; Visa allegedly used to own 40% of ValuCard, now Unified Payments Services Limited (UPSL) but exited the company in 2012. At the nascent age of card payments in Nigeria, Visa was the dominant Chip and PIN card and the Visa Electron, its flagship. Card payments were quite unstable and domiciliary accounts were non-negotiable if you wanted to shop abroad with your debit card. The credit card was unheard of and even when they called some credit cards, they were 100% cash-backed. Talk of absurdities.

Enter Mastercard. 

While Visa card users were struggling, Mastercard swept into Nigeria and partnered with GTBank and Interswitch to launch the Naira Mastercard. Before anyone could say Jack Robinson, other banks had jumped on the train and Mastercard was crowned the Nigerian King of Cards. Overnight, everyone could shop abroad without hustling for FX; the pain of online payments became a thing of the past; banks earned revenue like bandits. The Mastercard international game was so profitable it accounted for 75% or more of profits declared by digital banking teams. 

Fast forward to the present day. 

Of the 60m cards in Nigeria, Mastercard is about ~43% of the lot while  Verve accounts for ~45%. The rest are Visa cards. Interswitch is a big player in this space, I mean, you can’t be worth $1B if you are playing around. They drive 100% of Verve transactions, about 25% of Visa and 95% of Mastercard. 

But what would happen if the dynamics change? What if Visa’s $200M investment in Interswitch leads to further investments before or after the IPO that then makes Visa the majority equity holder in Interswitch? 

If and when that happens

A  number of things could significantly change the face of payments in Nigeria. For starters, Verve cards would be accepted globally on the Visa network, suddenly giving the brand the legs it has tried to have for the last 9 years. Visa would probably convert all Verve cards to Visa, immediately putting Mastercard and Visa percentages at par. 

Should this happen, Mastercard will not siddon look, after all, they did not come to Nigeria to count bridges. It would be extremely unstrategic to let your biggest global competitor carry 95% of your traffic in the largest market on the last frontier.

What then could Mastercard do? 

The folks at Mastercard are probably thinking about the same thing. At this stage, it’s best to rapidly de-risk transaction transport. The alternative would be to back another switch and/or processor in Nigeria. Unfortunately, Paystack and Flutterwave cannot help with this; as sexy as they are, they are just Payments Services Providers. The game to become switches isn’t for the faint-hearted and it takes a gazillion years to connect a switch to every bank. If Mastercard decides to hit the ground running, they could acquire an existing switch or processor that is connected to every bank and is able and certified to carry Mastercard traffic. That leaves just Network International (NI), Etranzact, and 23-year-old Unified Payments in play. 

Mastercard already owns 10% of NI, which processes most of the credit cards in Nigeria. Using NI remains a viable option to drive Mastercard traffic in Nigeria but I’m not sure that NI as a company has what it takes to play the Nigerian game; it has been struggling for a piece of the pie for years and Mastercard’s 10% isn’t enough to give it the teeth it needs to take a good bite out of the chunk. Etranzact, on the other hand, is listed with a public valuation which makes acquisition easier and more transparent. They also have about 5 licenses covering processing, mobile money, etc.

United Payments might be an old workhorse but has previously processed Mastercard for Access Bank. The company also has a rich set of licenses to play toe-to-toe with Interswitch (Visa) and is currently the largest processor of Visa transactions in Nigeria. 

Should this sequence of events occur, there is no telling how regulators will react; the Okada ban has taught us this. While they love competition, they have always supported local standards like NIP and Verve. Mastercard and Visa going toe to toe further solidify a duopoly of global card giants in Nigeria. This does not mean it won’t be approved however both companies will likely come under increased scrutiny.

Banks so far haven’t liked dominant players as they create imbalance and stifle innovation and pricing. Visa and Mastercard will be caught in the middle trying to please banks. I expect Mastercard to win this round as they already have a history of understanding bank needs and creating the right alignments with incentives and programs. Or how do you think they won the market?

The fintech ecosystem will develop as both Visa and Mastercard would bend over backward to win players over. As usual, they will naturally be drawn to the card network with the more receptive team and better terms of engagement and Mastercard must remain this. 

While the Interswitch play looks interesting, and a Mastercard could buy either of UPSL or Etranzact, the three targets lack a good API play which is dominated by the duo of Flutterwave and Paystack. Knowing that API is the next big thing in payments and banking, the next contention would be to shore up the traditional ISO play by acquiring any of these as an icing on the cake. How this would play out would be an interesting game to watch. Pass me the popcorn. Visa and Mastercard are both investors in Flutterwave while the former has a stake in Paystack as well. Knowing how VIsa throws cash around, I wouldn’t be surprised if it buys both of them, mash them together, and layer them like fondants on Interswitch. 

But then, for all we know, nothing may happen beyond this investment.

10 Predictions for Digital Payments in 2020

2019 was an interesting year for payments globally, and our dear Nigeria wasn’t left out of the parte. But 2020 would be even much more exciting as many of the payments food that got on the fire last year would be served piping hot at the start of the new decade. 2020 would be lit!

As usual, I would be trying out my hands in seeing the future even if I desperately need a pair of glasses to see the tip of my pointy nose in the real world.

So, here’s the third annual prediction of the payments ecosystem in Nigeria. My predictions are always on point: most of them would never happen, and I’m no better than a new age Babalawo. But then who cares?

Let’s dive right in!

#1 Despite CBN’s push, commercial banks won’t crack retail credit

If you didn’t skip Economics 101, you would know that retail credit drives consumption within an economy. Our Nigerian bankers know as well, but maybe they just don’t give two flying horse legs. The CBN has been pushing them with stringent regulatory measures but you can’t give what you don’t have. Our bankers are mostly of the Shashe type and there isn’t a shred of retail DNA in their body. Come December 2020, the drive for retail credit would only have been marginal with banks turning their backside to collect the cane that the CBN would be using to whoop them for not expanding credits

#2 Account-based payments explode. Rapidly overtakes card payments online

Card payments suck in Nigeria, and it isn’t a secret and using accounts to make payments for services have been the mainstay of Instagram and Whatsapp commerce in Nigeria for almost 5 years. But automating and wrapping this around with some beautiful APIs would go mainstream this year. It would touch at least 50% of all card payments. How we will confirm if this prediction is accurate or not is anyone’s guess.

#3 MTN gets a PSB license. Trouble ensures for bankers

MTN has been dancing around financial services for as long as chicken lacked teeth. Last year they got the super agents license and they are already doing something with it but it seems their PSB license application has more dust on it than all the sands at Eleko Beach. But give it to MTN, they don’t give up easily, so expect that somewhere and somehow, they would meet the requirements and get their PSB license. Then trouble ensures for all bankers.

#4 Monthly interbank transfer hits 300m/month and it would be fueled by cheap low-value transfers

Last year, I predicted that interbank pricing would crash; the CBN didn’t disappoint. Now that you can now do transfers as low as N10 a pop, start seeing crazy emergent behavior where it’s now way cheaper to use your app or USSD to send N250 for bread and moin-moin than taking Keke Marwa to the nearest ATM. 

#5 Opay will be one of the top ten banks in Nigeria

Everyone seems to be screaming about how the Chinese African juggernaut has ridden roughshod over GoKada and Max.NG. What they haven’t paid attention to has been the massive growth of the payment infrastructure backing it. In 2017, the first thing Opay did was buy the derelict Paycom mobile money which has now grown from nothing to becoming the seventh-largest player on the interbank market. In 2020, Opay will push massive retail credit, offer better rates for investments, and their size means money stays within their ecosystem than move out. Expect them to get a seat at the Banker’s Committee soon. And if they ain’t invited, they would buy one of the commercial banks.

#6 CBN kickstarts Open Banking

APIs rule the world and the last walls erected by banks against the onslaught customers integrating their bank services into other apps are crashing down with open banking APIs. Nigeria has been slugging it since 2017 but this year, CBN will back it with a directive and possibly adopt the standards being done by Open Banking Nigeria (disclosure, I’m a trustee at Open Banking so this is as much as a prayer and as a prediction)

#7 Agency banking becomes successful as the number of agents hits 600K

My good friends at SANEF had an amazing 2019; they did multiples of what they started the year with. The growth of adoption would see agency banking exploding to over a million agent touchpoints. The vast agent banking network would drive the emergence of new payment products and business models from fintechs. But but but, don’t dance too fast, this would be dominated by MTN as they are pushing more infrastructure and agent recruitment spend that all other super agents, combined. Those guys don’t play around!

#8 A heavy hitter launches a digital bank, eclipses all the struggling existing small players

Many players have tried to crack the digital bank nuts, but it has been mostly eggs thrown at walls just to pull it down. If you call yourself a digital bank in Nigeria today, you are probably too small to be just a little over insignificant. But come this year, someone (probably not a Nigerian entity) puts money down to end this argument and launches the Monzo of Nigeria. But it wouldn’t be any of the players we have now.

#9 A prominent international player buys a major fintech (think Flutterwave, Paystack and not Interswitch)

Visa just plopped $200m to get 20% of Interswitch but doesn’t own it and would have to share the crumbs and strategies with other institutional investors. This year, however, a big hitter would come for any of Flutterwave, Paystack, or even some of the lesser-known but kicking-it fintechs.

#10 Whatsapp decides to launch the next payment play in Nigeria using Facebook Pay, trouble starts for all fintechs

Whatsapp would land forcefully in Nigeria as it’s first foray to own payments within the African ecosystem. After all, if the only massive growth potential left in the world is in the SSA, why not start from the palace of the king of Africa?

#11 The one prediction 100% to come true

Most of these predictions are at best an educated guess at what could happen, which isn’t better than a bunch of bananas trying to eat a monkey.