May 19, 2020

Banking the unbanked in Nigeria

Atlas Mara
Bizclik Editor
4 min
Banking the unbanked in Nigeria
Entrepreneurs look at the world in a different way to mere mortals. They do not see just problems, they discover opportunities and solutions to obstacles most have thought insurmountable.

Tayo Oviosu is one of those people. One of the founders of Pagatech, the group with a vision to enable a cashless society and bank the unbanked throughout Africa, has had a sparkling career which has spanned the past dozen years. His experience takes in a variety of technical and business roles in hi-tech and private equity plays, including his most recent role before Pagatech as vice president of Travant Capital, where he executed the firm's investment strategy in West Africa. He's also had spells at the sharp end of Cisco Systems in California, and with Deloitte Consulting.

With a CV like that and a Masters degree from Stanford University, it's no wonder Tayo has gone on to launch his own business in Pagatech. He launched the group, with his two co-founders Aisha Bashir and Jay Alabraba, in early 2009 and the first product to market is well on its way. It's called Paga and Tayo describes its incredibly useful purpose better than any business writer could.

"My biggest frustration living in Nigeria is the fact I have to carry cash everywhere," he explains. "There are few ATMs available in the entire country and those there are are in Lagos. Also debit cards are not accepted in most outlets, only 20 percent of the population has a bank account with only 5 percent of those being active. Also financial transactions over the internet are tiny as only 2 percent of the population is online."

Tayo then, makes it clear that cash is king in Nigeria and much of Africa. But carrying cash around with you everywhere, even sending cash to your family by paying a fee to the local bus driver, clearly has its limitations not forgetting security issues. To many this is a problem ingrained in Nigerian society, too deep to tackle. But not for Tayo and his team. What Pagatech has struck upon is the proliferation of Lagos in the country and throughout the continent. Surely this mass take up of mobile devices, however basic those handset may be, offers a chance to solve the cash carrying problem.

"As I dreamt about some ideas," continues Tayo, "I realised mobile phones can become the primary means of financial transactions in Nigeria and throughout Africa.

Almost everyone has a mobile and ownership of them is expected to go up 10 percent year on year over the next five years. So what Paga does is look at the mobile phone in the same way that Paypal looked at the internet."

What Paga does is to turn the mobile phone into an electronic wallet. At launch, customers can use Paga to send cash, purchase airtime credits, or pay bills from their mobile phone. Paga supports all phones, even the most basic SMS-enabled phone. Customers will also be able to transact on Paga via USSD, over the internet, and via the Paga mobile application which will be made available for java-enabled devices. But whatever your phone, however basic, Paga will work on it.

Tayo says: "What Paga has is an agent’s network. Customers with a mobile phone can go into their local convenience store where customers can deposit cash as a deposit on their mobile phone Paga account. At launch we're targeting 300 agents and within three years we'll have 15,000 agents and five million customers. We'll give everyone in Nigeria the opportunity to pay for their purchases via their mobile phone. We are banking the unbanked."

Pagatech already has plans to offer basic bank account services such as savings and credit facilities. You will also be able to transfer cash to your loved ones safely over your mobile phone rather than trusting the bus driver at the depot.

For example, a successful day trader can now, instead of keeping his or her cash under their mattress, put their money in a savings accounts opened at a Paga agent. After a period of regular savings they will then have access to credit facilities. Launching Pagatech hasn't been easy. Tayo points out Nigerian banks still have a lot to learn when it comes to supporting the entrepreneur with a brilliant start-up idea.

"For entrepreneurs in Nigeria there are two critical things," says Tayo. "We need to create a new generation of entrepreneurs to expand our businesses and to create jobs for people. Second, we need to ensure there are the facilities to provide credit facilities for the micro businesses starting up. At the moment we only have a fledgling credit bureau and raising any finance is hard. You need money to make money.

"Nigeria is a very entrepreneurial country but the challenges are finding access to capital, finding good talent with the right business skills and creating an enabling environment for small businesses."

Despite the clear obstacles Tayo is optimistic that the real entrepreneur can overcome them.

"The key thing is not to be held back by the lack of resources available to you," he insists. "Don't spend all your time on your business plan, forget that. Think of the things that will take your business forward. Do the groundwork and you can make a success of your ideas."

Share article