Nairametrics interviewed Gaurang Shah, the Senior Vice President, Digital Payments & Labs, Middle East and Africa, Mastercard MEA, on a number of topical issues that affect digital and financial inclusion in Nigeria and Africa.
How would you assess the digital payment scene in Nigeria?
It has come a long way and a lot still needs to be done, as less than 5% of consumer payment transactions are electronic. This isn’t peculiar to Nigeria, as a recent study conducted by Mastercard found that cash still epitomizes 85% to 90% of all consumer transactions internationally and it is associated with significant direct and indirect costs. Direct costs include lost tax revenues, cash production, handling, and transportation.
But we are seeing a rapid growth as emerging markets, in particular, have increasingly identified the need to digitize their payment economies and reduce cash dependency as a way to accomplish financial inclusion.
Nigeria’s payment space has great potential for increased digitization, expansion of acceptance, and the creation of more innovative solutions to grow inclusion. Through the power of partnership with key players in this ecosystem, and innovative solutions underpinned by Mastercard’s secure and trusted technology, we believe the future is bright for Nigeria’s payment space.
Last December, the CBN reviewed some bank fees and charges and also introduced BVN 2.0, which were meant to drive financial inclusion. Comparing Nigeria with other emerging markets, what more can the apex bank do to further break barriers?
Payment digitization can be a solution to reinvigorate the economy. According to Moody’s Analytics, each 1% increase in the use of digital payments produced an average annual increase of US$104 billion in the consumption of goods and services. This represents a 0.04% increase in GDP in developed markets and a 0.02% increase in developing ones. Every contribution will count to ease the declining GDP growth rate.
Enabling financial inclusion is something we have quite some experience in doing. Five years ago, we made a commitment to bring 500M financially excluded individuals into the digital economy. Now that we have achieved that goal, we’re focused on extending our commitment to bringing in a total of 1 billion individuals by 2025 and helping 50 million micro and small merchants (MSMs) connect to the digital economy by enabling them to accept electronic payments.
By making it easier to accept electronic payments, along with greater access to other opportunities including credit, Mastercard is providing businesses with the tools they need to grow and thrive.
From our experience, everyone has a role to play, from the smallest businesses to the biggest corporations, governments to NGOs, traditional banks to fintechs, from the older generations to the youth. When you create digital solutions that are easy for people to use and fit into their lifestyle, they will adopt them easily. We live in the digital age where most people will have a mobile device by the end of the next decade, placing digital solutions in their hands with basic solutions will drive uptake.
To do this, we must understand user needs and behavior through research, in-market assessment, and cash journey mapping. Financial education is also very key, along with employing authentication technologies that respect user privacy. We must co-create and enable innovation through close engagement with regulators, and run pilots to ensure commercial viability while remaining focused on achieving scale.
CBN’s 2020 target is to ensure 80% of Nigerian adults access financial services by the end of the year. Do you think this is achievable?
Yes, but reaching that target will require a broad range of efforts, and specifically in Nigeria, it will include ongoing work on government disbursement solutions, wage digitization of private-sector workers, partnerships with mobile network operators, solutions for gig workers, scaling efforts with fintechs, digital platforms and digital wallets/apps, and solutions addressing needs of the financially vulnerable.
How has Mastercard been able to stay competitive as Africans adopt decentralized finance and peer to peer lending?
For more than 50 years, Mastercard has been transforming how people pay and get paid. Our solutions power one of the world’s fastest payment processing networks to make transactions faster, easier, more accessible, and more secure.
We invest in understanding the real needs and be close to the market as we innovate new solutions. That’s why 5 years back, we set-up our Financial Inclusion R&D center in Africa and invested in understanding the real problems in the most critical economic verticals in the African market – Agriculture, Education, SME, Healthcare, etc. and came up with solutions that we not only piloted but are now commercializing in the region.
Besides our technology, we believe that fostering a culture of innovation is critical to success. So, we hire talented people with curious minds and big ideas and then help them cultivate innovation. We’re also committed to working with developers and entrepreneurs, enabling advances in the payments ecosystem of the future.
We are passionate about innovating in Africa for Africa and we have invested in several African companies, including Jumia (a leading e-commerce platform in Africa) and Oltio (a mobile payments technology company in Africa).
What do you think the future holds for African banks in the digital payment ecosystem?
That’s a great question. Technological advancement and innovation are steering the digital financial services industry. Fintech players are becoming globally mainstream and an increasing influx of fintech players are competing with large traditional players. What was once a focus on peer to peer payments has now expanded to everything from credit to insurance to wealth management, offered through a centralized cloud-based platform.
Mastercard’s approach towards encouraging collaboration between fintechs and financial institutions is by offering solutions that connect the two. Mastercard’s technology enables our digital partners to take control of their consumers’ digital commerce needs, interactions, and experiences. By focusing on the provision of multi-use, omnichannel digital payment solutions, Mastercard is enabling its partners to improve their operational efficiency, diversify, future-proof their revenue, and transition seamlessly into digital commerce.
We continue to invest in those technologies, platforms, infrastructures, and the right fintech partnerships that enable us to provide single platform capability across multiple use cases to our partners, as we have done with the traditional banking industry for over 50 years.
With the acceleration of digital, driven by needs arising from the current pandemic, every institution in the financial payment space needs a Digital First platform and proposition and that’s what we are enabling for all our partners. As part of this proposition, we not only enable payment capabilities leveraging multiple Mastercard platforms, we are also facilitating the inclusion of capabilities offered by multiple fintechs.
What are the challenges of pay on demand adoption in Nigeria and Africa?
Some of the common challenges that stakeholders may need to address are barriers to internet access. Another is the slower speed of internet data in Africa compared to other continents. Factors such as the high cost of 4G-enabled devices and delays in assigning 4G spectrum to established service providers have been responsible for the low adoption of 4G. Along with speed, affordability, and availability of internet access which also affects use is key. Across Africa, the average cost for 1GB data is 7.12% of the average monthly salary.
On the supply side, Pay on Demand providers need to rely on many factors to scale and offer their products to more underserved populations. There are some challenges to this, irregular market conditions and unavailability of Pay on Demand solutions close to the customer results in slow consumer adoption. The overall infrastructure deficit has resulted in poor connectivity, which also affects Pay on Demand adoption. Compliance-related challenges, unavailability of effective payment solutions, and unattractive finance rates can all contribute to this.
In addition, with technology changing at a fast pace, Pay on Demand providers must continually adopt newer solutions. Ultimately, digital inclusion drives financial inclusion. The challenge is not that consumers or small businesses do not want to spend. The issue is related to the availability of funds to prepay for services for long periods at a time or invest in the full cost of a product or service upfront.
The availability of credit is almost non-existent in the absence of credit history. Hence the need for low-cost Pay on Demand solutions with small ticket values, just as 98% of mobile talk time and data worldwide are pre-paid in small-ticket purchases.
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To enable this, four major stakeholders need to work together – the device manufacturers will provide the capability to lock and unlock a device in real-time based on the status of payments – Payment service providers will enable consumers to use existing payment credentials to easily pay on demand in small values, while also being ready to lock or unlock a device in realtime – the device distributors, such as multinational organizations with a large market footprint need to make devices available easily to consumers – and Financers need to lend competitively and digitally.
At Mastercard, we have created solutions to address these concerns. We’re able to connect with device manufacturers to integrate real-time lock/unlock instructions on devices. We have also developed an inclusive payment solution that works on both smartphones and feature phones and allows for very small to large payments, auto-debit instructions, and cards that address consumer data connectivity issues and missed payments.
Also, we just launched one of such partnerships with Samsung, Airtel Africa, and Asante Financial Services Group. Through Samsung’s affordable pay-on-demand mobile devices and Asante’s insight as a leading provider of digital financial services, the innovative platform provides effective handset loans for consumers. Pay-on-Demand users will also be able to access digital payments through Mastercard’s virtual card and Mastercard QR functionality on their Airtel mobile money app, enabling them to make digital transactions across the face to face and online merchants.
Several Pay-TV subscribers still have difficulties in renewing their subscriptions using their mobile phones. Does Mastercard have a product that speaks to this?
Mastercard is driving growth in digital financial services through digital partnerships with telcos, fintechs, banks, and e-tailers.
We have developed several payment solutions that our partner financial service providers can adopt to address this. Mastercard’s secure technology enables our digital partners to confidently address their consumers’ digital commerce needs, interactions, and experiences, which is how we enable mobile network operators to also become non-traditional financial service providers.
By focusing on the provision of multi-use, omnichannel digital payment solutions, Mastercard enables partners to improve operational efficiency, diversify revenues, and transition into digital commerce.
Several SMEs were affected by the COVID-19 driven economic lull, as most of them still battle with payment. How well can they benefit from the ‘SME in a Box solution’?
The ‘SME-in-a-Box’ solution is a low-cost payment solution that enables small business owners to move their businesses online and accept a range of digital payments from their customers.
The unique offering enables business owners to access a wide range of financial services quickly and easily through a single intuitive app compatible with all Android mobile devices. The app’s functionality supports contactless payments, QR code payments, and has the ability to generate e-payment links for remote payments. Acquirers can also access a white-label app to rapidly take the solution to the market.
‘SME in a Box’ offers a low-cost acceptance service that can also run on smartphones and is powered by Mastercard Payment Gateway Services (MPGS). It also delivers speed and simplicity with remote digital onboarding services from Mastercard’s StartPath partners.
The ‘SME-in-a-Box’ solution is powered by Mastercard’s payment technology and that of its fintech partners, including payments and agency banking solutions company SmartPesa – a Mastercard StartPath partner. StartPath is our global startup engagement program and a springboard to help the best & brightest later stage startups maximize their opportunity for success. The solution will aid small and micro merchants across the region in expanding their customer base via digital platforms and enable sustainable revenue growth.
In addition, through its Simplify Commerce offering, Mastercard will enable SMEs with a plug-&-play e-commerce store builder with instant online checkout. These capabilities have been packaged as a bundled solution combined with special incentives to drive adoption and support business owners to tackle challenges during COVID-19.
How I rode on passion to win multiple-awards in a self-taught career – Shola Animashaun
Turning down an employment offer at 25, to take a gamble his passion seems to have paid off for Animashaun.
There tends to always be a bias towards motivational speakers, who give the “follow your passion, and money will follow” advice and they are mostly chided for giving advice that is not applicable to all climes.
But then comes Shola Animashaun, multi-award-winning visual storyteller, who proves that even in Nigeria, it is possible to follow your dream and make a lot of money out of it.
While serving out his youth corps year in 2002, Shola discovered his love for visual storytelling – an art that keeps memories and tells stories using still and motion pictures. He had gotten a camera while working in Ilorin, Kwara state before going for the service year, but then discovered that there were people willing to engage him to capture their memories in pictures and videos, and pay for it as well.
After the year in Ilorin, he abandoned the hobby which he regarded as a pastime and started the job-hunt, hoping to clinch some white-collar job with mouth-watering remunerations, but over the next three years, it became an endless search until he eventually got a job with an accounting firm based in Abuja.
Recounting his experience in the Nairametrics Business Half Hour show, Animashaun said; “I was offered employment and I was supposed to travel to Abuja to start work there. By the time I got home, I packed my bags to leave Lagos for Abuja. But one of my siblings held me back. He said if I don’t end up pursuing the passion I had in visual storytelling as a business, I may never end up doing it.
I listened to him, the next day I went to return the N5000 I had been given to take night bus to Abuja to start work as an accountant. At the time I turned down that job, I was 25 or 26 years old, and once you can’t get into a white collar establishment in your early 20s, it would be hard for you to do that. so when I was turning down the job, I knew that I had burnt my bridge literally. I knew that the decision would be difficult to take back, so I had no option but to be successful. ”
Turning down an employment offer at 25, to take a gamble on one’s passion is not what many would advise their siblings to do, but it did pay off.
Over the next few months, Shola focused on building a portfolio of editorials, documentaries, videography and related productions, and within three months, Animashaun’s income had quadrupled the offer he got from the accounting firm.
With referrals, he soon got his first big offer – the Globacom campus storm – which took him travelling around the country with the likes of Basketmouth, Jimmy Jatt, and Ruggedman.
“It is very important to have a portfolio because even when people refer you for the right jobs, they would always want to see what you have done before then. A little talking and more showing, and the results that you seek will come,” he said.
Animashaun also focused on building a good interpersonal relationship with his clients, to build more rapport and attract more referrals to sustain the business. He also got a deal as the in-house photographer for Nigeria’s number one urban lifestyle and music magazine, Hip Hop World; and has since then worked with several concerts, magazine covers, blogs among others.
At different times, Shola covered the Eyo Festival, Lagos Carnival, Nigerian Tourism Expo in Atlanta Georgia and Barbados respectively.
None at all, Shola says.
“There was never a time I regretted my decision. I love the freedom of time, the freedom to take up a job I want. I am always excited but when I was looking for a job for years, that excitement died totally and I started feeling like I was not good enough. Returning to the camera brought back the excitement and that is what I need to fuel my energy.”
The accounting graduate, now turned visual storyteller, has churned out hundreds of productions over the years and gotten several awards and recognitions. Despite starting out as a neophyte and learning through multiple trials and errors, Shola has now become one of the most notable names in the industry. He has executed several jobs within and outside the country and continues to stun the world with better and better productions every single time.
He was recognised Best Model Photo of the year, Nigeria Photography Awards 2011, and again in 2012. Shola also won the Best Wedding Photo of the year, and the Best Event Photo of the year, Nigeria Photography Awards 2012.
Shola Animashaun was 2nd runner-up, EyeEm We Are One FIFA14 World Cup Int’l Competition 2014; and the Visual Art Winner, Creative Industry Awards 2015.
SeerBit is providing innovative technology solutions to bridge payment gaps in Africa – CEO
One of SeerBit’s strengths is our ability to scale and innovate within our current markets amidst distinctive government regulations.
As more people adopt the online method of running their businesses, processing payments has become a challenge. As an e-commerce or online business owner, if you’ve successfully gotten a customer to the point where they are about to purchase a product on your website, integrating a safe and secure payment process where the customer can complete their online purchase is very vital. Without it, you won’t be able to securely charge your customers when they purchase items from your website.
Benefits of having a payment gateway
Integrating a Payment Application Programming Interface (API) is the safest and most professional way to deal with financial transactions online because it enables eCommerce sites to:
- Process credit cards
- Track orders
- Maintain customer lists
- Protect merchants from fraud and information breaches.
Many startups in Nigeria have come up with innovative ways to solve the problem of payments during checkouts. One such company is Seerbit. In an interview with Omoniyi Kolade, CEO of Seerbit, he explained how they are bridging the payment gaps in Africa.
What was the inspiration for founding SeerBit?
Over the last decade, Nigeria’s payments services witnessed an evolution spurred by growing commercial activities and the digital boom (increased internet usage and smartphone penetration). According to a 2021 report published by Data Reportal, about 50% of Nigeria’s population are using the internet and approximately 90% have access to mobile phones. This is an indication that half of Nigeria’s population have been digitally included, which is the backbone of online and real-time electronic payments systems. Other African countries are seeing the same shift too.
However, there is a huge gap in the market which doesn’t gain as much attention as it should. If 50% of Nigeria’s population have digital access, how are the majority of transactions in Nigeria and the rest of Africa still happening offline?
This is the gap SeerBit was created to solve. To create a truly digital ecosystem, we chose to create payment solutions that bridge the gap between online and offline usage, with innovations that defy boundaries. For example, the majority of Nigerians still transact in cash; how can we make sure that digital products are still available to this class of people, with convenient payment options?
This problem not only affects the cash-based customer but also the online merchants who could lose out on the billions of dollars happening in the offline market. SeerBit exists to plug these gaps, as our payments solutions are always geared towards creating opportunities for everyone to thrive.
In a nutshell, what does Seerbit do?
SeerBit is a pan-African enterprise payment platform developed for both online and offline businesses, banks and other marketplace companies. We enable fast, seamless, inclusive and secure payments for leading local and global companies present on the continent.
Apart from acting as a payment gateway, are there other services you offer?
SeerBit is more than just a payment gateway. We are in the business of using technology to address the fragmentations and frictions of payment on the continent. Our current service delivery is our payment gateway and we will soon release our payment solution targeted at offline merchants and customers.
What makes you different from Paystack and other leading payment gateways in Nigeria?
What sets us apart is our focus on the underserved and excluded segments of the market in Nigeria. We want to seamlessly connect the online and offline market in a way that removes friction for both consumers and merchants. As a consumer, SeerBit helps you to buy what you want and pay however you want, conveniently, and the merchant is empowered to reach a broader market because we have removed the barriers along the way.
You are operational in Nigeria, has government regulations affected SeerBit in any way, and how did you adjust to this?
One thing to note is that for every African country, there are unique sets of rules and regulations governing the sector of payments. There are 54 African countries, which means that there are 54 different rules for payments in Africa.
One of SeerBit’s strengths is our ability to scale and innovate within our current markets amidst these distinctive government regulations. We tailor/model our solution to work within the country’s license requirements whilst still solving real problems. Regulation is everything in this business and we make it our utmost priority to understand the local payment rules and regulations.
SeerBit has been in operation for over a year, how many merchants do you currently have?
Within 18 months of operation, SeerBit has over 1,000 merchants spread across 8 African countries (Nigeria, Ghana, Kenya, Senegal, Côte D’Ivoire, Uganda, Tanzania and Burkina Faso). SeerBit’s decision to focus first on East and West Africa is because we understand the fragmentation in these regions.
How successful has SeerBit been in other countries where it has a presence?
Success to SeerBit is measured by the following:
- Being able to scale/expand into new markets (in terms of merchants and office staff).
- Being able to understand the locality and customer type in each country to provide tailored solutions.
- Being able to innovate locally amidst the unique regulations in each country.
- Seeing the results of the SeerBit solution and how it impacts sales for merchants.
Looking at the aforementioned, SeerBit has enjoyed a good amount of success in the markets we operate in and are keen to add value to more merchants in our existing markets and also new markets as well.
Are there any future fundraising plans?
At this time, SeerBit’s focus is to continue to build out our solution and grow organically. Our priority is to create the utmost value in payments for Africa’s online and offline commercial space.
We are, however, open to the idea of fundraising and look forward to this happening somewhere in the near future.
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