By Ayo Alonge ( [email protected] )
Samuel Oladimeji is the Managing Director/ Chief Executive Officer of Fortis Mobile Money Limited, a company that deals on competencies in digital payments and e-business.
In this interview, Oladimeji harps on the nitty-gritty of digital finance products and services, while emphasizing that the future is bright for digital payment in Nigeria, despite the corresponding challenges.
There seems to be a strategic shift in business within the payment industry, how does this rub-off on your organization?
By this strategic shift, I will assume that you mean the players in the mobile money sector are tilting more towards payments than the core mobile money business. Of course, there is something of a scramble within the space as MMOs have abandoned the major mobile money value proposition due to poor numbers and unimpressive return on investments. Cash In/Cash Out transactions have been low and MMOs have been forced into an unhealthy competition with the banks as they try to maintain profitability. Fortis Mobile Money has not really changed. Of course, there’s a lot of pressure to delve fully into payments, but we are holding on to the potential of mobile money as witnessed in Kenya. We want to play the mobile money, so we don’t need to compete with major banks. Our agency recruitment is as vigorous as ever, and we are still disbursing via mobile wallets and having our customers cash-out at their convenience. It’s a solution we have deployed for the Federal Government recently.
How would you assess the uptake of mobile money as a payment option in Nigeria?
It has been low; really low. I have mentioned earlier that some MMOs are delving into payments, while banks have more or less embraced the USSD option without its mobile money aspects. Fortis Mobile Money still sees a future in mobile money and we will lead the battle from the front to reestablish value in the mobile money industry.
There are over twenty mobile money operators in Nigeria. What would you say is the influence they have all made in the country’s payment system?
Fortis Mobile Money is unique, because it has long positioned itself as the only mobile money operator that is passionate about financial inclusion of the base of the pyramid customers. We deliberately sited agents in remote rural and peri-urban communities. Though transactions trickle in and the counts may be uninspiring, we have long held on to the faith that when mobile money adoption hits its heights, we will fully exploit the investments, having agents in more than 20 states and our positioning for the future. Therefore, when NCTO came calling to do their due diligence, we had enough resources in the project states to actually deliver.
Speaking for the Federal Government, the Senior Special Assistant to the Acting President on media, during the Democracy Day broadcast, specifically mentioned Fortis Mobile Money as one of the mobile money operators contracted to facilitate Conditional Cash Transfer to selected beneficiaries in line with the Federal Government social intervention initiatives. What does this portend for your company?
Yes, we are delighted to be recognized as one of the organizations that have helped the Federal Government to achieve its aim of ameliorating the sufferings of the poor and the vulnerable. What this means is that our capacity in the industry has been working and noticed by the Federal Government. The National Cash Transfer Office which has been tirelessly working with us to ensure that beneficiaries get their funds would attest to our professional acumen and most importantly our know how in the field of Conditional Cash Transfer. Due credits should go to the NCTO too for trusting our capacity and asking us to deliver. So far, it has been a decision they have not regretted as we have delivered optimally, confirming that mobile money can work.
What do you think the future holds for mobile money as it makes efforts to validate its utility in the digital payment space?
The future has a lot of value in it. We are growing fast, almost exponentially. We have over 2,500 active agents in about 20 states in Nigeria, processing an average of N1.8bn in value per month. In 2017, we have migrated to the highest version of our operating platform that guarantees our subscribers and agents a lot more flexibility because it is more robust. We are investing heavily in technology and have a team of young, creative minds who think digital for all payment scenarios. It took Kenya seven years for people to know about mobile money. I am seeing a future of dominance, where mobile money and Fortis will be nuanced. The future has actually started already as we have had so many organizations asking to partner with us just in 2017 alone.
In your years in the business, what has been the most challenging for you as an individual and Fortis Mobile Money?
I think the challenge is the same. I have been in the e-business and digital payment space for more than eight years and we still grapple with the same issue, which is adoption. Adoption of digital finance products and services has been really low and that has held the industry back. Cash is still king here in Nigeria and its reign is tyrannical sometimes. Sensitization and advocacy have to be more aggressive and policies from regulators have to be firmer; otherwise, the road is still very far.
How has the present economic situation affected your business and what is the response from the board?
Businesses are complaining. Most businesses actually. I read the papers daily and oftentimes I encounter organizations downsizing. The banking industry has sacked more than 6,000 workers in recent times. We are playing in the same space with these people and recession has been with all of us. That said, we have reacted to the economic crunch positively; we have reviewed our product pricing further downwards to ensure that our customers can still afford our product offerings without undue stress. There is other restructuring we have done in-house to ensure that we are comfortable without losing any of our valued staff. The board has been very supportive and they are the motivation behind mobile money. They make sure everything works and that our customers are serviced well.
Could you explain how your company was founded, especially at the stage of licensing and market integration?
Fortis Mobile Money is one of the leading mobile money operators licensed by the CBN in 2010. While we were licensed with other twenty mobile money operators, we are unique because we have carved a niche for ourselves as the leading mobile money operator in financial inclusion. We are strong and hardworking in business. It’s this reality that has got us the partnership with EFINA (Enhancing Financial Inclusion and Access), a Bill and Melinda Gates organization. We deployed a unique, groundbreaking project, mobile microfinance through which we were able to reach and provide financial access to 400,000 economically active poor women. By the end of the project, which started in 2014 and ended in 2016, we delivered real value and established a solid network of agents and subscribers who have kept us in business.
Therefore, we see ourselves as a unique MMO focused on delivering value to base of the pyramid customers by advancing flexible and affordable payment solutions to them. This fact was what informed the confidence we enjoy in the industry from our partners and stakeholders that include the CBN, the NDIC, the Federal Government, the NGOs and other corporate organizations. As a result of this confidence, we have hit our peak in transaction volume and value, processing a volume of N3.2bn with over 40,000 transactions.