“Change is disruption. And the only thing that is consistent in our times is disruption. In any fintech event there is something new to learn, technology will keep evolving. Change will keep occurring on a daily basis.”
Your vision is to make Nigeria one of the world’s leading markets for FinTech Innovation and Investment. What are the macroeconomic and demographic drivers for fintech in Nigeria?
Dr Obrimah: When you look at macroeconomic factors there is the issue of employment, inflation, exchange and interest rates, all these affect us in fintech. Nigeria has enough skills to support the sector locally. And there is also the issue of exports, we can export technology to positively affect the exchange rate. In India, for example, they are getting a lot of foreign exchange from technology. We believe such capacity is available here too. In terms of inflation people are generating good income and the government can meet its demands. GDP will increase and inflation will drop. The FinTech industry plays a major role in terms of economic development. We are 200 million people and almost 15% of these are financially excluded. This sector can only grow.
Which emerging technologies have the most potential to accelerate the growth of fintech? (e.g. artificial intelligence; blockchain etc.) You of course have held the Fintech Learning Series with the Regulators at the Securities & Exchange Commission and play a central role in helping coordinate advancement. What are the primary hurdles to implementation of changes?
Dr Obrimah: The primary tool for the implementation of change is knowledge. People resist change when they do not have information. One of the first things we did was to focus on digital transformation with SEC. Their buy-in made the roadmap ensured the success in capital markets. The first thing that needs to be done is this transference of knowledge so people can see the benefits, they can taste the opportunities.
2018 and 2019 were exciting years for fintech which continue to transform many industries especially the financial services industry in terms of breakthroughs in innovation and investment globally and especially in the African continent. How active are fintech firms in Nigeria across the spectrum of financial services (e.g. payments, money transfer, lending, personal finance, crowdfunding, etc.)? What financial services should fintech firms target next?
Dr Obrimah: Most companies in the sector right now are focusing on payment systems, only about 8% are in savings. I think that as financial inclusion is gradually achieved we should also look at micropensions and microinsurance. Those are areas where very little has been done as well as crowdfunding. With the FinTech roadmap for the capital markets crowdfunding is being addressed. So it will become more common for small projects being driven through the capital market and all this will expand the economy. There has been a lot of activities particularly talking to insurance companies for creating new business for them.
The Association has vigorously pursued its three core objectives of CONNECT, ADVOCATE and ACCELERATE as its impacts are felt across the length and breadth of the Nigerian and African Fintech ecosystem at large. Are there any unique characteristics in Nigeria (or sub-Saharan Africa) that startups and investors need to bear in mind? (For example the use of 2G networks v 4G/5G in other parts of the world.)
Dr Obrimah: Everyone within the sector should connect. It could be fintech, agritech, edtech, insurance technology, we try to bring everybody into the same space. It is about encouraging everybody to search for new technologies and new solutions. We speed up this process to drive growth within the sector by advocating to regulators and lawmakers so we can achieve our objectives. Capacity development can be achieved at a regulatory and governmental level so the industry can progress. Some areas of course have unique characteristics. It is wrong to believe that there is a high risk in Nigeria. We are 200 million people! It is a huge market. If your business plan is OK the market will cover you. Last year alone more than 100 million dollars came into the fintech sector as foreign direct investment.
For many years Africans were intimidated by foreign educations and foreigner know-how. As business, technology and the world changes through the internet this disparity has disappeared and in its place, a dynamic new generation of technology and design innovators are blazing ahead. Where is this heading and how best can we take advantage of it?
Dr Obrimah: We will either innovate or die. We must focus on technology on all levels, from government down to the private sector. We are waking up as a country after our reliance on oil. Technology is changing. Electric cars and other new shifts are what we need to look out for. Technology is the way to go for Africa as a whole.
Your Association has placed great emphasis on breeding young innovators right from school in the belief that the future of the nation rests on its teeming youths properly playing active roles in digitalizing the economy. Are there concerns over a skills gap in Nigeria? Are there any initiatives in place to address this? How active are women in fintech?
Dr Obrimah: The concerns are not so much of a skills gap but more that the educational sector does not seem very responsive to change. Schools need to change to look towards the future. A lot of work needs to be done. The world is moving faster than the curriculum. But Nigerians are very resourceful, you find people that have read agriculture as well as IT or other such combinations. When people have the desire they can do anything. As an association, we have three objectives and six elements that drive these objectives. The first is to find talent and then develop the capacity for them. We have to link them to capital and markets, ensure that there is a progressive regulatory framework and then get government support for the whole system.
Your association has engaged the Nigerian House of Representatives Committee on Information and Communications Technology ICT and many other important public and private organizations. What in your opinion is the most important message to communicate right now?
Dr Obrimah: There is a need to look for the correct regulation for cryptocurrencies. Since at the governmental level the realization is coming, the technology is coming and they need to prepare for it. There is a time when we can leverage existing opportunities and find the home grown technology to solve our problems. Government is going to buy into technology. They may be slow but all over the world government is reactive. Technology always moves faster than both regulators and governments. It is going to be a gradual process but I think that I see government very active in supporting technological developments. Change is disruption. And the only thing that is consistent in our times is disruption. In any fintech event there is something new to learn, technology will keep evolving. Change will keep occurring on a daily basis.