When the idea of a Non-interest banking was first broached in Nigeria in the late 90s, it was greeted with suspicion. This was probably because its more popular name ‘Islamic banking’ had non-muslim Nigerians thinking it was a ploy to eventually Islamize the country.
Two decades and several sensitization campaigns later, Nigeria’s first non-interest bank has moved from being a regional bank to a national bank, with several branches and customers.
Nairametrics company profile this week looks at this trail-blazing bank; how it has survived its first decade, while operating a system that is completely different from that of other banks in the country, yet still holds its own in the industry.
The JAIZ movement in Nigeria dates far back to 2001, when Justice Imam Muhammad Taqi Usmani and Sanusi Lamido Sanusi, both guest speakers at a seminar hosted in Sheraton Hotel Abuja, advised the different groups clamoring for a non-interest bank in Nigeria to come together under one group, if their aim was to be achieved.
In response to this advice, the Halal group and the JAIZ group united, combining influence and resources to drive for the establishment of a Nigerian non-interest bank.
Jaiz International was set up in 2003, and after almost 8 years of trying to meet the guidelines, and capital requirements of the Apex bank (amid the Soludo-led recapitalization exercise which shook the industry) and other factors, the bank received a regional license from CBN on a historic date.
JAIZ International Plc was established on 11th of November 2011, and began the long walk to the actualization of their dreams.
On 6 January 2012, operations commenced at the branches in Abuja, Kaduna and Kano. Hassan Usman, is now Managing Director of the bank, while Alhaji Dr Umaru Abdul Mutallab, heads the Board of Directors, with Alhaji Dr Umaru Kwairanga, and Alhaji Dr Muhammadu Indimi as members.
Other members include Abdulfattah O. Amoo; Alh. (Dr.) Aminu Alhassan Dantata; Alh. (Dr.) Musbahu Bashir; Alh. Mukhtar Danladi Hanga; Alhaji Mamun Maude; H.R.H. Engr. Bello Muhammad Sanni; Mahe Abubakar Mahmud; Mall. Falalu Bello; Mall. Hassan Usman; Mr. Seedy Njie; Nafiu Baba-Ahmed; and Prof. Tajudeen Adepemi Adebiyi.
In 2013, when the bank started expanding to other urban centers, it was permitted to increase shareholding capital to $92.3 million (NGN14.3 billion), and subsequently applied for a national banking license which it received in 2016. At the end of FY 2019, it had 38 branches with over a thousand employees.
Stockholding was and is still shared among Nigerian and foreign individuals, and institutional investors, while the number of issued shares as at December 2019 was 29.46 billion.
Banking with a human face
Non-interest banking is touted to be a more ethical form of banking, with less emphasis on profit, and more on societal and individual development.
Like other banks, Jaiz Bank Plc provides banking products and services like savings, current, salary, and kids savings accounts, but with slightly different terms. The bank also provides online banking, leasing, cards, bonds and guarantees, and several other investment products tailored to its principles. Customers’ deposits are used for business operations, with the understanding that the profit will be shared between the bank and customers. While sharing profit with customers, in the event of a loss, the bank tries to weather it out, since the customers’ deposits are already insured with the NDIC.
In offering its credit facilities, the bank tends to adopt a religious perspective, looking beyond an individual’s ability to repay the loan. The impact of such a business or project on the society is a priority consideration, and could be the sole reason for refusing a loan. In this regard, business ideas which go against morality or societal growth, are not given loans.
The bank also offers its loans in a manner that creates a partnership between the bank and the borrower, towards improving the society. A profit for the company is a profit for the bank, while a loss for the company is also a loss for the bank, even though steps are taken to recover the capital.
How many people will be employed by the business? How will it impact the environment and the economy? These are some of the questions considered before a loan is either granted or refused. This is why bankers in the space like to refer to it as “banking with a face” or ethical banking.
(READ MORE: Jaiz Bank Plc appoints new directors)
No matter how profitable a venture is, if any part of its operations is considered detrimental to societal welfare, it will be declined. If, for any reason, a customer is to be penalized for default, the proceeds cannot be listed as part of profits for the bank, but is ploughed into the society as charity.
Audited financials from the company shows that the company is fast growing to make up for the early years of little or no profit.
The FY 2019 audited reports show that the company declared dividends of 3 kobo per share, an improvement on previous years’ performances, where no dividend was declared. Total assets grew 54% YOY, from N108.4 billion in 2019 to N167 billion in 2019, while deposits rose 50% to N127 billion, from the N85 billion recorded in 2018.
Gross earnings grew from N8.7 billion to N14.7 billion, and Cost to Income ratio improved from 87.28% in 2018 to 80.21% in 2019, with return on assets and equity rising to 1.26% and 13.57% respectively.
Profit before tax shot up 135% from 898 million in 2018 to N2.1 billion in 2019, and earning per share grew to 8.29 kobo from 2.83 kobo in 2018.
The recently reported Q2 2020 unaudited reports show that in spite of the COVID-19 challenges in the country, the bank had a fair outing in the second quarter of the year, with a clear improvement across all indicators in comparison to Q2 2019.
JAIZ Bank Plc is fast-growing, achieving much in good time, although Nigerians are yet to fully understand this system of banking. There is also the supervision of the Advisory Committee of Experts (ACE), which ensures that banking operations are done in line with the dictates of Sharia law.
The bank includes non-Islamic employees in its workforce, a point to back the claims that it is not religiously inclined, though more needs to be done in its board composition to fully corroborate this, and show the public that it is a bank that accommodates all religions.
Cloud services are your safest bet against data and intellectual breaches – Adejumo, Cloudflex founder
The rule of keeping data within the country of origin allows Cloudflex to collaborate rather than compete with international players.
The Twitter community went up in flames last year when the official accounts of notable personalities like Donald Trump, Elon Musk, Jeff Bezos, Bill Gates, and Barack Obama were hacked by individuals who managed to rip some followers of their cryptocurrency. Those accounts were suspended for some days pending investigations but what this did was to alert the world to the need for heightened cybersecurity in countries.
In Nigeria, particularly, where cybercrime has been on the increase in the last couple of years, cybersecurity is a touchy topic; especially since global laws expect that customer data should not be stored outside the company of origin and most of the cloud services companies are international. There is, however, a local cloud company providing cloud services for Nigerians in Nigeria.
Cloudflex was founded in 2016 and has focused on providing cloud support infrastructure and services for companies away from the company premises. Founder and CEO of Cloudflex, Remi Adejumo was a guest on Nairametrics Business Half Hour recently, where he explained that the company was created to provide tailored solutions for clients in the Nigerian space.
Having worked almost three decades in several institutions, the last of which was EcoBank Nigeria Plc where he was in charge of IT Infrastructure, Adejumo saw the opportunity to create a Nigerian-built cyber-security solution, “that is fully Nigerian and run by Nigerians.”
“This is not a service where one size fits all. We have our peculiarities as a market and we are designed to serve the Nigerian market. If you want to get a foreign cloud service, you could wait 6 to 8 weeks, but if you want to get one from Cloudflex, you could have it in 24 hours.” Adejumo explained.
When companies were making several adjustments to fully activate the remote-working policy at the peak of the coronavirus pandemic lockdown, the importance of cloud services became more obvious. Companies needed a round-the-clock server from where the staff could access data from their homes and still work seamlessly.
The rule of keeping data within the country of origin allows Cloudflex to collaborate rather than compete with international players like Microsoft Azure and Amazon’s AWS, and use one another’s platforms.
There are a lot of security concerns about cloud services which some people think is not safe enough, but cloud-service providers would still insist that they are the safest option.
“The cloud platform is far safer than your own private server because your private server is on your premises and everyone knows where it is. From experience, 70% of breaches are done by the staff of your own organisation, and having a third party manage your own platform, means that you and your staff don’t know where it is. There is a protocol in giving access from the service provider, so security is higher. The data breach is not just financial, it is also intellectual. You can secure a building as much as you want, but as long as there is a door, somebody can still go in. That is the limit to your physical server in your office premises,” Adejumo explained.
There are also advancements in predictive learning, analysis, and reactive security, that allows the cloud systems to detect and flag activities outside the patterns until it is confirmed and validated.
Like most other startups in the tech space, funding remains a challenge. Adejumo recounts that the company started off solely on his savings and proceeds from the sales of some assets. Nigerian investors appear to still be sceptical of the tech startups and the result of this is that a lot of investment in the tech space comes from outside the country.
Cloud services will play a major role in the future of cybersecurity and Cloudflex is poised to take a space in that scene. According to Adejumo, the company is in the process of securing funds for expansion, although crowdfunding is not one of the options being considered.
Interswitch: The story of one of Africa’s earliest unicorn companies
Interswitch has come a long way, pioneering the Nigerian digital payments system.
One can hardly switch from the years of carrying large volumes of cash around to the years of using a card for financial transactions in Nigeria, without mentioning Interswitch.
Like the name suggests, the company uses a ‘switching’ infrastructure to connect the different banks in Nigeria and provides the technology now used for ATM cards. From a time when the company had only 3 banks on its network, Interswitch has grown in the last 19 years and now has 11,000 ATMs across different banks on its network.
How the journey started
A young graduate working in Telnet, Mitchell Elegbe was worried by the several inconveniences Nigerians had to go through to carry out financial transactions. From making long and stressful journeys to the banks, waiting in long queues, missing transaction deadlines, and increased loss of cash to criminals, that was certainly not the easiest of times to be an adult. Some opted for bank drafts to avoid carrying cash to travel, and I remember accompanying my mother to the bank a couple of time to buy a bank draft to pay my school fees.
Many people had to join long queues at the banks on Friday evening to withdraw enough cash for the weekend, and this naturally meant that weekends became work hours for criminals. The most frustrating part of it was that the bank branches did not have any software connecting them, so customers had to continue withdrawing money from the exact branch they opened the account, even when they needed to make long business trips. Even the highway became a playfield for robbers.
The young Elegbe who had only worked two years after his National Youth Service Corps, came up with the Switch idea, but the plans did not materialise as many traditional players were not interested in buying the switch software.
Not deterred by this little glitch, Elegbe went ahead to establish Interswitch, an organisation which would use the Switch software to address the problem. This time, he got the support of Accenture, and also got buy-in from some banks to raise a part of the start-up capital. Getting a Chief Executive to head the company was the next hurdle to be crossed, as Elegbe recalls that most of the capable hands then available were expatriates “who expected to earn more than the company’s capital”.
In search of cheap labour, he had to take up the task even though he had very little experience thus resigning his job at Telnet. The shareholders and the sponsoring company (TELNET) had their concerns at first, but they gave Insterswitch a shot and under Elegbe’s leadership, the company pushed through the uncertain years to become what it is now. Eight years later after starting Interswitch, the company was valued to be worth N26 billion (over $170 million), giving massive returns to early private equity holders. The company’s network grew steadily from 7 banks to 13, and then an ATM consortium and Globacom, a mobile telecommunications provider, up till this point when it has almost all Nigerian banks and 11,000 ATMs on its network.
Though Elegbe had no shares at the outset, his impressive performance earned him and his team some equity in the company in the coming years.
“So you have somebody who invested N10 million in this business going away with N2.6 billion after eight years. That to me was real value,” Elegbe said. When you help solve big problems, Mitchell says, you’re bound to be well rewarded.
Mitchell Elegbe is now the Group MD & CEO, Akeem Lawal is Divisional CEO, Switching & Processing Group while Mike Ogbalu is CEO, Verve International.
In 2019, Visa bought a fifth of Interswitch at a valuation of $1billion, making Interswtich Africa’s first fintech unicorn.
Interswitch is the owner of Verve, an international debit card and Nigeria’s most used payment card which is said to account for over 70% of the 25 million cards in circulation in the country. The company also owns Quickteller, an online payments platform; Retailpay, a mobile business management platform; Interswitch S&P, the first Nigerian in-country interbank transaction switching and third party processing for all card brands; and Smartgov, an identity management and e-payment infrastructure for state governments. Interswitch now serves almost all the state government of Nigeria, and is present in several other African countries including Kenya and Uganda.
Just last month, the group announced the launch of Quickteller Business – a new comprehensive corporate solution focused on empowering businesses of all sizes, to facilitate payments and manage transactions from anywhere in the world– through one, simple integrated platform. The platform added to its launch offer, a three-month zero transaction fee incentive for SMEs that sign up immediately.
Buy-ins, acquisitions and buy-outs
Interswitch has had several achievements over the years, and some more distinct than others. Two-third of the company was sold to a consortium led by Helios Investment Partners in 2010, and barely a year after, Interswitch took a 60% stake in Bankom in Uganda.
In 2013 the payment processing company entered into an agreement with Discover Financial Services, and in September 2014, Interswitch acquired a majority shareholding in Paynet Group, an East-African payments provider.
In 2015 Interswitch launched a $10m investment fund for African start-ups in the payments sector, and has since then, strategically invested in other African startups in the payments services.
Interswitch has also acquired VANSO, a mobile-focused technology provider to banks. This new acquisition has VANSO’s mobile banking, SMS and security business lines being fully integrated into Interswitch’s digital commerce and technology operations in Nigeria, and across Africa.
The IPO that never was
It was in 2016 the Interswitch first hinted at an Initial Public Offering (IPO) on the London Stock Exchange and /or the Nigerian Stock Exchange as part of options to create possible exits for its backers, but that listing never happened due to “unfavourable economic situation”.
By July 2019, it was reported that Interswitch had resumed its IPO plans and enlisted JPMorgan Chase & Co and Standard Bank Group to work on the potential IPO that was expected to value the company between $1.3 billion to $1.5 billion. This listing was expected to come through by 2020, but it is believed that the COVID-19 pandemic and other economic issues which plagued 2020 may have altered the company’s plans.
A recent statement from the CEO says that Interswitch will continue with alliances in line with its growth plans, but an IPO might not be in immediate view. According to him an IPO may be considered when private equity investors want an exit out of the business.
In place of the earlier expected IPO, the company announced the listing of N23 million bond on the Nigerian Stock Exchange (NSE) in February 2020. The bond is to run at a fixed interest rate of 15% for a tenure of 7 years.
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