Financial inclusion is generally the target of fintechs and other firms in the financial ecosystem and this is even more so for Awabah, a startup focused on getting financial services to the unbanked. Speaking during the Nairametrics Business Half Hour, Co-Founder of Awabah, Tunji Andrews said that after a decade of driving financial literacy, he decided that the time was right to take financial services to the last mile.
“It was always frustrating that the financial product people wanted was different from the financial services available, and after years of educating people, I thought I was in the right position to provide the services I know people need but are not getting in the local areas,” Andrews said.
From being a concept 2 years ago, Awabah was launched in 2020. The financial inclusion target meant that they would either go into micro-insurance or with micro-pensions to get the rural dwellers to make financial plans for the future either through insurance schemes or pension schemes. Both schemes are not considered natural to the average Nigerian or unbanked person, and that explains why financial institutions had difficulties with general reception in the past, even though these products are essentially meant to reduce poverty by distributing wealth and risks.
Andrews decided to start with micro-pensions since the unbanked Nigerians typically make no plans for a time they would no longer be able to work, and instead hope on their children to cater for them in old age. Launching the product in 2020 had to come with a lot financial education and enlightenment in those areas to help them understand the importance of a pension plan and how to better plan their money.
“Aged poverty isn’t a number we track in Nigeria because, by the stats, we have just about 5 million people 65 years and over. But can you imagine the poverty effect when the 25-45 years join that age group, especially if we don’t actively push for retirement savings?” Andrews asked.
Since Awabah is not licensed as a Pension Fund Administrator, the startup partnered with Leadway Pensure in late 2020, to handle the micro-pensions funds administration while it continues the drive into the market. Though the products are also open to other self-employed persons and business owners who want to be a part of it, the business model focuses on the people at the grassroots.
PENCOM had already extended the micro pension to the informal sector for a while now, but it had yet to gain traction due to a poor understanding at the local level.
“Every financial product we see also exists at the local level, it is not just at the level we have it in the formal sector and it is not regulated. For the informal sector, it is self-contributory, done daily, weekly or monthly, and they decide how much they want to contribute. This is quite similar to the esusu or the ajo system. So we use what they understand and identify with to explain it to them. We let them know that in this case, they don’t pay for it like it is done in their local system, and instead they get some interest on their money,” Andrews explained in the show.
As against the regular system where the locals seem intimidated by the suits-and-tie agents from the banks, Awabah uses the local agent network to build trust, employing the help of people in the locality whom they already know and relate with. The tagline “this bah, nah your bah, nah my bah, nah Awa-bah,” in itself passes across a feeling of comradeship and communal goal that they would want to be a part of.
Since it is easier for them to trust the system when one of their own is involved in the collection process, this system has seen Awabah achieving impressive results within months of operation. After getting them to sign up, the next point to get them to access more financial services is teaching them to adopt the USSD options since most of them do not have smartphones.
Though Awabah is still less than a year old and has had to grapple with the manpower and logistics challenges resulting from the coronavirus pandemic, the founder has big dreams of matching the current number of people holding micro-pensions in Nigeria at the moment within the next year. There are also plans to roll out its financial products across Africa in the next decade, to help more people access financial services, and eventually get out of poverty.
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How managing your business can be easier and better with Pennee Tech – CEO
Pennee’s core target is to help business owners become more business savvy, make better decisions and have the resources to actually grow the business.
With the hundreds of thousands of businesses that the Corporate Affairs Commission registers annually, the Nigerian economy and the GDP should be booming, but this is not the case. Statistics suggest that about a third of these businesses crash within the first 18 months, and another 20% crash before they clock 5 years.
Several others struggle for years, hardly growing from micro and small businesses to become the medium-scale businesses that the economy needs to advance. Still stuck at the micro-level, most of them do not get to the point of employing people and paying them well. It is to help businesses like these that Pennee Technologies exists.
Co-founder and CEO of Pennee Technologies, Mejero Emmanuella Kunu, was a guest on the Nairametrics Business Half Hour and explained that Pennee had sprung up to provide support to small and micro-businesses and help them advance to a point where they survive, grow and create better employment opportunities for others.
No economy can survive on just big businesses, or small businesses, so there is the need to push and support the small businesses to become medium businesses that can make some significant impact on the economy. Kunu and her Co-Founder started Pennee in 2019 to provide this much-needed support.
What kind of support can small businesses get when they decide to sign up with Pennee?
One complaint common to small businesses is the inability to access much-needed loans to scale and grow their operations. Pennee is solving this by giving them asset-based loans and overdrafts.
“We don’t want that kind of situation where someone presents the business to secure the loan, and spend it on something else. Any loan we are giving has to go straight into the business, buying assets, restocking etc, and our target is to improve your productivity so that you can easily repay,” Kunu said.
Sales and inventory management is also part of the package Pennee offers. With Pennee, small businesses can automate accounting, store transaction history, and download financial statements. This takes the huge burden of organising the books off business owners so that they can focus on running the business. Pennee also provides them with a mobile wallet for transactions, backed by Providus bank, and allows them to receive payments via transfers and cards.
“You might not be able to open a corporate account due to stringent requirements but you can open a corporate wallet with Pennee easily, and over time, have access to loans and overdrafts. You can save in your NUBAN assigned wallets and earn interests,” she explained.
Another critical support the business owners get is business intelligence and analytics which equips them to make better decisions. They can understand where their customers are coming from, where and when they make the most sales, how to target their ads, what products need to be purchased in larger quantities; and make decisions based on these, instead of randomly guessing their way through and groping in the dark.
There is also customer relationship management where Pennee helps businesses acquire customer information and use it to better manage the customers. They also get access to lots of resources that guide them through everyday business challenges.
“The core target is to help business owners become more business savvy, make better decisions and have the resources to actually grow the business.”
The money story
When Pennee started in 2019, the loans for business owners were sourced via peer-to-peer funding, where those with excess money supported those in need. In spite of the COVID-19 challenges of 2020, this model remained solid and most business owners adapted to the new normal quickly, moving their businesses online and selling items that were in high demand.
To support the peer-to-peer model, Pennee also keeps a decent 80:20% ratio on wallet deposits and transactions which is used to give asset-based loans and overdrafts to these businesses.
The company is also currently raising a seed round to get more funding and Kunu says, “Sustainability and scalability are some things investors look out for, and we have proven that we can execute what we are saying. I think this is what investors will be looking out for. We are also on the lookout for investors that really get our vision and want to be a part of it.”
Pennee intends to be serving 1 million businesses across Africa within the next five years since the small business challenge is common to developing economies.
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