Is proof of funds a fraud?

The proof of funds loan is the most important financial product to have impacted almost 100,000 middle-class Nigerians over the last two years. It has been the foundation to enable most Nigerians that have achieved the “Nigerian dream” to japa

But could this be the biggest fraud of all time? 

What is proof of funds?

This is a signed official statement of a bank account that a student or an immigrant has the funds to settle or take care of themselves in a foreign country. Embassies have been demanding this for centuries, especially the UK, Canadian and Australian embassies. 

What’s the genesis?

Let’s understand that to say our economy is battered and the country itself is messed up is an understatement. It’s expected for anyone with a shred of sense to run for their lives. Maybe if I didn’t think staying in cold weather too long would kill me, I would be running too.

The hitch is with a bad economy; people don’t have the money to provide proof of funds. Let’s think about it; If they had thousands of pounds stashed away somewhere, they might not be so desperate to run off to a foreign land in search of milk and honey. 

This is where the smart lenders entered the game. 

How does it work?

Lenders saw an opportunity to provide those with migration plans with a profitable loan product. Tons of lenders do this. They give individuals the large loan needed to show proof of funds to the embassies.

You’re probably wondering what’s stopping Nigerians from simply taking this loan and using the money to japa, never to be seen again, the same way they treat other loans. Well, the bank account containing the loan is controlled by an internal bank friend collaborating with the lender. The account is locked, so the borrower has no access to the funds. The money only belongs to you on paper.

If you take out a loan like this, you pay monthly interest in the region of 3%. So proof of funds of £20,000 means ₦20 million (yeah, a pound is about ₦1,000) and ₦600 thousand per month for six months. Good luck to all who set out on this journey.

Is proof of fund fraud?

Now let’s do a quick English language class. What exactly is fraud? The answer: a false representation of facts. The embassy has requested confirmation that you have funds to support yourself when you make the big move to their country. But you borrowed money that you definitely don’t have to prove, deceiving the authorities. 

It’s a fraud. No two names.

Take it easy; I’m not here to judge. I, too, did this when a family member was going for a post-graduate program. I used my boss’ account as a guarantee of funds. Don’t quote me; I will deny you. 

What would probably happen? 

As everything is abused by Nigerians, this would probably unravel soon. The outcry has already begun. Nigerians have started arriving in these countries with only little to their name and may soon become destitute. Many have already found themselves in less-than-ideal conditions; some have been asked to withdraw from universities because they couldn’t pay the balance of their fees. Others are homeless and forced just to lay their heads anywhere they find. 

These countries will soon find out that these guys never had the money in the first place. 

Would they ban us as the UAE did? Maybe not. But they could start doing what CBN did to those who asked for licenses (that’s a story for another day) by forcing them to either open an account in a foreign country or pay school fees and accommodation costs 100% ahead of visa application.
Although things are undeniably tough in Nigeria and many of us understand and maybe even sympathize with the japa craze, the sad reality about cutting corners like this is that those coming behind you will probably have to pay for your sins too.

Hiring is as hard as investing in startups. Maybe harder

Finding the next Facebook, Paystack, or TeamApt as an angel investor is pretty hard. I’m not the first, nor will I be the last to reiterate what you probably already know; most startup investments fail! In fact, 90% are duds and maybe only 2 out of 100 investments would be rockstars. 

Sadly, hiring, especially for startups, is no different.

Tech investment, especially angel investment, is almost like glorified gambling and the line separating both can be quite blurry. Only the obsessed stand a chance against the odds. 

It’s the same when it comes to finding talent. It’ll probably be redundant for me to qualify talent further with any fancy adjectives. Talent is just that. Talent. You’ve either got it or you don’t. That’s not to say I don’t believe people can improve themselves or that 

employers can’t invest in developing employees. They absolutely can. And they should.

I’ve read tons of how to find good talent; worked with a bajillion different recruiters. My best outcomes have been more of luck than science or any definite process. Maybe I’m the one with a problem. But when I share my pain with other founders, we always arrive at the same conclusions.

Where I found some of the best people 

I have looked at my own track record of how I found some of the best people I ever worked with in the last 5 years and I can confidently say I’m at best, gambling. There’s simply no common sense formula to how I got these people. 

Just to give you an idea where I found some of the best people I have worked with: a friend found one at a saloon, I met another on a staircase and I was introduced to another by someone I didn’t even know. They’re all so random that I’ve given up finding a pattern.

And where did I find some of my biggest disappointments?

Hold on to your hats for this one. You’d think the random strangers I met “off the streets” would have been the ideal candidates for disappointment. That was not the case. Many of those who fell short of my expectations (or just common decency in some cases) were those who graduated with a first class, had high CGPAs and came highly recommended. This category of people are exposed and present themselves properly. I fell for it. But learnt very quickly there was a whole lot of fluff in the mix. 

Ironically, a significant proportion of those who scale through the recruitment process are those described above. As we’ve established, recruiting is nowhere near a science but employers can keep tweaking the process to get better results. Assessment tests, where applicable, to establish competency levels from the jump is a step in the right direction.

Disclaimer: I’m not a hater. I have nothing against this class of smart people. Many of them go on to do great things. The ones I’ve met have just shown me “shege”. 

Despite the gambling, some things stick out

Despite the fact that my best efforts have come from random encounters, some things do stand out more and make all the difference. Good people are smart, relentless and determined. They are also loyal and can keep their word. Perhaps my favorite thing about them is how responsible they are. They own their sh*t with their chests and don’t deflect blame to others.

Some things are also perplexing

Some of the best people aren’t especially smarter than others. Oftentimes, they don’t even have the right answers. But what they do have, is the right attitude. One can’t give up because talent is now the most important thing. Let’s not even get into how globalization and the wave of newly funded startups are rapidly changing the hiring game. 

As a tech leader, seeking and grooming talent, one must have an infinite capacity to take the pains and disappointment. You must know when/who to nurture or simply let go. Not everyone can be groomed; and definitely not everyone can grow fast enough. And not everyone wants to have that growth pain with you. 

It’s even pretty bold of you to assume that everyone wants to grind and hustle for success. Some people were born to just seek the “soft life” and that’s okay too. But not with me.

Investors take a risk on startups and hope the company takes off. Recruiters take a risk on people and hope they don’t run the company into the ground and take off. To each his own pain. 

To the leaders and recruiters seeking rockstar employees or discovering diamonds in the rough, good luck! 

Being poor doesn’t make you a bad borrower

There is a general belief among top bankers and armchair experts that the poor don’t pay back their loans, and therefore there isn’t any basis to even let them have access to credit.

The arguments are many, and having fought with unmatched vim in many of these arguments, and I wonder how I have escaped without a black eye most times.

In a country where over 90 million people are below the poverty line, and many just want a chance to move up the ladder (those who wait for the Government to move them shall wait forever), then it is elitist and dangerous to jump into these conclusions without an adequate assessment of the realities.

The poor don’t have money to pay back

Well, yes, this is true. One of the 4 Cs of credit is capacity, which is a core tenet of credit; it’s only sensible to never lend to anyone beyond what they can pay back and to structure it in a way that doesn’t keep them in a financial chokehold (na money dem dey find, no be say they kill  person).

It is equally as important to note that loans should also be tied to productive activities that are sure to yield enough return to pay them back. Being poor does not disqualify one from being productive. Someone who hawks Gala on the streets of Lagos with N0 to his name, taking a N10,000 loan in the morning to sell in traffic, has a higher chance of paying it back than a fat banker who took a loan to buy business class tickets for himself and his side chick to Dubai (we know your stories).

The poor have a history of not paying back

Nigeria is replete with tons of stories of government interventions where nobody paid back their loans. It makes you wonder when loans and cash gifts became synonymous. One might think this to be true until you discover that most of these loans were run by syndicates who arranged for most loans to be disbursed within their networks. These people saw an opportunity to share the national moi moi and divide the national cake.

While this narrative seems to have taken over, on the flip side, I can point you to thousands of lenders who extend daily credit to market women around Nigeria. These market women pay back consistently and reliably. Chimamanda couldn’t have said it better; beware of the dangers of a single story.

The poor have no credibility

Everyone assumes the poor would lie to get a loan. Yes, Nigerians lie to get loans, but this isn’t a problem of poverty; it is a character problem. Poverty does not directly translate to a lack of credibility, and neither does the Nigerian elite starter pack come equipped with credibility (selective amnesia for AMCON defaults still?) The quantum of the bad loans in the Nigerian banking system, powered by borrowers with zero character, was for the rich and mighty.

The lack of character is a personal problem, and this is due to the torn national value fabric, which is on its knees begging for mend.

You can’t catch the poor if they don’t pay back

But are the rich not still running?

Someone owes you N20,000 in unpaid loan; you spend N10,000 in locating their place; what would you do when you get them? Nothing! In all honesty, I concur that pursuing a poor person who hasn’t paid is a waste of effort and resources.

Unfortunately, almost the same applies to everyone except the middle class. The rich guys owe banks trillions, but they are the ones suing their creditors. A tale of the tail wagging the dog.

The poor have no credit history

The poor indeed have no credit history. And they won’t have a credit history because of two critical reasons:

One, most Nigerians have never gotten a chance to get a loan before, and if you never had a loan, you can’t have a credit history … but you need history to qualify for most loans (which came first? The chicken or the egg?)

Two, the cost of access to a credit bureau for the small lenders that only do microloans and serve a small portion of the market is unbearable. Imagine racking up credit bureau costs for 1,000 loan requests when only about 100 would qualify for loans and even less will pay back (when next you see the owner of a small lending business, hug them and then squeeze 50k in their hand, those guys are trying).

Why do we need to kill these narratives?

It is dangerous to use intellectual laziness to block over 1 billion people in Africa and 90 million people in Nigeria from credit simply because we can.

Our inability to find a working model isn’t the fault of the poor but the fault of those who may not be putting enough effort into solving these problems. The truth is, if we don’t solve these credit problems, Africa won’t grow, and the poor will one day rise against the rich (#eattherich).

Previous narratives based on elitism have been proven to be false. They once said phones aren’t for the poor, but today, the same poor are the source of life for MTN and others. They once argued that the internet wouldn’t be affordable, and today, Africans are addicted to the internet. I wouldn’t even call it a lack of wisdom. They know the truth. But the gods forbid poor people to have access to the same things as them (gatekeeping 101).

Some banks and fintechs are already changing these narratives

Don’t be alarmed yet; all hope isn’t lost. We’re already seeing the rise of lending-as-a-service tech companies such as Lendsqr, Indicina, Evolve credit, etc., creating cheaper and scalable lending stacks for small-time lenders, which allows them to reach the mass market more cost-effectively.

Some banks, such as Sterling, Access, and FCMB, are at the forefront of mass-scale consumer lending. These banks are giving loans to Nigerians who are not their customers as they understand that consumer credit is the future.

Disclosures: I’m the founder of Lendsqr, and I work there.

It’s destructive for lenders to punish good borrowers

Loans in Nigerians are quite expensive and it’s due in one part to the high-default rate but also  because of what I would describe as  lenders destroying their chances of developing a good business. You’re probably wondering why I would say this, so if you would be so kind as to allow me do you a favor and relieve you of your rose-tinted lenses .. 

This is how lending in Nigeria typically goes…

Lenders know how profitable solving the credit problem can be but they also know a significant portion of their borrowers won’t pay back. Oh please there’s no surprise here anymore, Nigerians have taken it upon themselves to always treat loans like an inheritance from their grandparents. At this point, you might be tempted to play the devil’s advocate and argue that the poverty level and weak economic conditions pose a significant hurdle to repaying loans for the average Nigerian, I won’t argue with you but I will say this; beyond the financial factors that may affect loan repayment, at the core of default is generally Nigerians questionable demeanor towards loans – zero character! The causal relationship between hardship and defaulting on loans is not as airtight as one might like *chuckling in AMCON seizures*.

So what happens? Lenders increase the interest rate on the loans to cover these losses they envisage because of these bad actors and the income to cover these defaults would be paid by those who are “foolish” enough to pay back. Ohooo!

Here’s the fallout 

Lenders might believe this manner of conducting business is foolproof in that as long as it takes care of the bottom line, nothing else matters but instead of solving the problem, it makes it so much worse.You see, those who are good for the money and actually intend to do business in good faith, see the crazy interest rate, say “your fada!” and just forgo the loan. Guess who’s left to do business with? 

The desperate and the wicked. 

Those who are desperate have no option but to take the loan but we all know where desperation takes anyone and then you have the wicked who have no intention of paying anyway and so don’t even mind the interest rate and proceed to take the loans (Lagbaja, nothing for youuu).

Where does this leave lenders?

So after all is said and done, the reality for lenders is that:

High interest rates push away those most likely to repay their loans (because they care the most about what to pay back). 


High interest rates mean nothing to those who won’t pay back anyway (talk about a double-edged sword). 

It’s pretty obvious the tactics have to change, if not these lenders have no way of succeeding. The only way that a lender would do well is with an appropriately priced interest rate

What happens to the risk of default? 

Wouldn’t the lender be wiped out?

The best way to build a sustainable lending business is in the Risk Acceptance Criteria (RAC), the technology, and the loads of data to go with it; that’s how to really address the pain points associated with lending.

Anything else, such as raising interest rates, is completely destructive and there is no way out of it; it’s like a cobra eating its tail.

In what world does one put a band-aid over a headache and wait for relief?

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!)