What Nigeria can do to boost digital transactions – Femi Adeoti, GMD, Routelink Group

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Mr Femi Adeoti was the Managing Director, African Operations,  Inlaks and now the Group Managing Director, Routelink Group. In this interview with FTN,  he speaks on the vast opportunities in Nigeria’s digital payment landscape, challenges and what can be done to enhance Nigeria’s cashless policy among others.

 What are some of the issues plaguing the digital payment landscape in Nigeria today? 

People still “TRUST” Cash better than using a digital payment product or channel. Some products and channels are not easy to use. The product owners must ensure ease of use and create a smooth and seamless user journey and experience. Inadequate information and education on the use of digital payment products and channels is another issue.

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Pricing has also become a deterrent to the adoption of digital products and channels. The service providers incur huge costs in the development and deployment of these products hence need to ensure that the pricing can guarantee a return on investments.

Kenya’s cashless policy has been largely successful because of Mpesa/telcos driving mobile payments. Is it time for Nigeria to try a telco-led mobile money approach?  

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The Telco-led mobile money approach has kicked off in Nigeria. Recently the Central Bank of Nigeria licensed some Telcos under a license category called Payment Service Banks (PSB). The licensed PSBs in Nigeria are to set up similar structures as that of MPESA in Kenya. This is a recent development, and we are looking forward to the expected gains and impact on the mobile money aspect as well as digital payment services as a whole.

In January 2023, the Nigeria Inter-Banking Settlement Systems said there was a 125 percent increase in the volume of mobile transactions compared to the same period last year. What is the implication of this for a country struggling to go cashless?

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The recent spike in the volume of mobile-based transactions among other things shows that Nigeria is ready and ripe for cash-less-based transactions, though the appropriate term and realistic expectation at this time should be “cash lite”.

However, while the populace is ready to adopt these solutions, we realized that Nigeria’s current banking and digital payment infrastructure is inadequate to cater to the expected growth in the volume of digital/electronic-based transactions. While we are right to celebrate an increase as significant as 125%, the failures recorded show that we could have achieved more.

So, the major implications are that we are ready to adopt cashless initiatives, but all the needed infrastructure must be in place.

It is also important that all the necessary stakeholders are well-represented, informed, and involved in all the processes leading to any new policy on the cashless drive.

Cash is king in Nigeria, and despite the CBN’s cashless policy, a lot of businesses in the informal sector have struggled. How can Nigeria go cashless? And how can it navigate its huge informal market? 

The cashless policy is good, the benefits are numerous and will provide faster economic growth. However, it is important that the policies are right, and the implementations properly executed.

To achieve a smooth transition into a cashless payment system, all stakeholders must be involved – there must be representations from different stake-holding concerns – banks, digital payment companies, telecommunication companies, government sectors/parastatals, manufacturing sector, retail business sector, representatives from rural areas, etc.

There has to be an assessment of the needs of each of the pressure groups – for example, the needs in the rural areas will be different from the urban, and the needs in the eastern part of the country might be different from that of the North. The needs for infrastructure on the bank side might be different from that of the digital payment companies etc.

There is need for collaboration and partnerships – The policies must be jointly reviewed and drafted by the critical stakeholders bearing in mind the needs and resource requirements of various interest groups. The plan should involve a process of ensuring proper education and awareness of the policies across different regions in the country depending on the identified needs. There is also the need to conduct a review of existing infrastructure to ensure adequacy before the policies take effect. It’s also important that the stakeholders have enough time to ensure that adequate resources are provided in terms of infrastructure and human support. Then there should be a continuous process of reviewing  the impact of the policies and improvements where necessary.

Nigeria recently launched its domestic card project. How will this impact the payment landscape? 

The impact is going to be largely dependent on adequate education of the populace about the card scheme and what it represents for them and the country; ensuring that all stakeholders’ interests are adequately captured in order to ensure adoption. For instance, banks will not drive this new scheme if it makes them lose their customers or generate less revenue compared to existing card schemes. Ensuring ease of access and ease of use; Ensuring affordable pricing – affordable is subjective but a survey can give an idea of what will be considered comfortable to the adopters and users. When all of these are in place, we will have a card scheme that can compete with any other domestic or international brands worldwide. We will have a scheme that will help with our balance of trade and exchange, especially when used for foreign-based transactions. It will help break the current monopoly enjoyed by existing card schemes and drive down the cost of acquiring and using the cards.

Some people have argued that the country’s communication backbone isn’t strong enough to carry increases in the volume of financial transactions. What are your thoughts on this? 

In the wake of the implementation of the CBN cashless policy and naira redesign, there is a need to transition to mobile and online transactions, and this has unarguably caused unrest in some parts of the country as the transition to the mobile transaction has also been a bit of a problem because the country’s communication backbone which includes the bank’s network and infrastructure was not able to accommodate this change.  Volumes of mobile transactions have increased astronomically, and the available infrastructure has not been able to meet up to the volume. This can be mitigated by improving the infrastructure and communication backbone in the country.

E-commerce boomed in 2020 as many businesses became digital. Is this a trend that has persisted? 

Yes, the boom in E-commerce was evident during the pandemic and has extended beyond then because of the awareness it created for the availability of other means of carrying out financial transactions other than total reliance on cash. The lockdowns and physical store closures caused rapid growth in online shopping, making it the number one sales channel for many around the world. It also caused an increase in peer-to-peer transactions as most open market sales and other exchanges are now being completed by “transfer”. Many businesses have gone digital as a result of this to partake in this trend and capture the digital audience. Its success can be attributed to factors such as the convenience of shopping from anywhere, accessibility to these stores online, changing consumer behaviour, improved user experience, increase in the use of digital payment and mobile adaptability allowing for rapid adoption of smartphones, and affordable access to technology. This trend is surely going to persist, and this new cashless policy would further enhance its growth and success.

Cyber fraud has grown with increases in online transactions. What can the payment landscape do to increase fraud protection? 

In a bid to improve customer experience in financial services and online transactions, a lot of measures were taken to ensure that transactions are done faster and more seamlessly, however this has led to an increase in fraudulent activities and cybercrime. There is a need to increase fraud protection and prevent fraud by implementing strong security measures, that is,  improve on the use of technologies like encryption, two-factor authentication, and tokenization to protect sensitive financial information and prevent unauthorised access to accounts. Also, data analytics and other tools can be used  to monitor transactions for suspicious activity and flag potential fraud. Identity verification and biometric authentication can be used to confirm the identity of users before allowing them to access accounts or complete transactions.

Employees  should be educated and trained on the importance of fraud prevention and how to detect and prevent fraud. This can help ensure that there is a primary focus on fraud prevention in the entire company. Then, it is important to Stay up to date on the latest fraud prevention techniques.  Fraudsters are constantly finding new ways to commit fraud, so the payment landscape needs to stay on top of the latest digital payment trends and techniques in fraud prevention to stay one step ahead. And customers  should be kept informed. Periodic publications and messages should be sent to customers to inform them of the need to be security conscious.

Mobile Virtual Network Operators (MVNOs)are soon going to become a thing. How will they change the telecom space? 

MVNOs are carriers that don’t have their own wireless network but instead, they piggyback off another carrier’s platform for coverage through their cell phone plans. It is a new license category in Nigeria and the ultimate beneficiaries are the subscribers as it would translate into lower costs, more service options and better quality of service.

Nigeria is still largely shut out from the part of international commerce that allows local online entrepreneurs and start-ups to earn foreign exchange through the sale of their goods and services. What can be done to improve this situation?

Nigeria’s economic potential is constrained by many structural issues, including inadequate infrastructure, tariff and non-tariff barriers to trade, obstacles to investment, lack of confidence in currency valuation, and limited foreign exchange capacity, regulatory barriers, and export constraints. In the bid to remove these constraints, the following strategies can be employed: – Deliver Strong Offerings – this will create the needed attraction for our products and services in the international markets;  Research the Market Opportunity Extensively – Innovation will create the needed awareness and turn attention to us. This will create adoption and usage of our products and services;  Build Strategic Local Partnerships – There is no need to reinvent the wheels especially when a system, product, or service has been proven to work, the right partnership will fast-track the development and deployment of such services here in Nigeria. Stay Up to Date on International Law – we need to know and understand how things are done in the developed world so that we are aware of the kind of legal standards and expectations obtainable over there.

Increasing the availability of credit to local businesses – this will aid the process of research and development that will in turn lead to creativity and innovation. Innovation will bring about products and services that add value to life and this itself will create the needed attraction from the international world. And also, we need to simplify regulation.

What is your assessment of the infrastructure base for digital payment transactions in Nigeria?

Ensuring an adequate infrastructure base for digital payment transactions in Nigeria is still a challenge. For digital transactions to be successful there is a need for reliable and cost-effective infrastructure that can be accessed by the majority of the population.

Also, security vulnerabilities in online payments via the available infrastructure have hampered trust and confidence Hence there is a need to be intentional about improving the infrastructural base for digital payments to build trust and reliability.

After leaving Inlaks as the Managing Director,  you went to start the Routelink Group. What is the Routelink Group about?

The Routelink Group is a company that some of my friends and I started, and I am the Group Managing Director. The company has three subsidiaries – Routelink Telecom, Routepay and Routelink Enterprise. The three companies play at major intersections between payment, telecoms, and enterprise IT.  There were some gaps we identified in these areas, and we were sure we could make a major difference as regards key areas of innovation and customer service. We have enjoyed some tremendous goodwill since we started. We currently have a payment license from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN). In addition, we have four different licenses from Nigerian Communications Commission (NCC) among which is the Mobile Virtual Network Operators’ License (MVNO).

MVNO is a new mobile license in the country, and we are one of the companies that have the license based on the perception of what we are set to do in the market. We are excited about the opportunities that abound in the Nigerian marketplace, and we are determined to make a major difference as regards quality of service and innovation.

Despite the huge number of service providers in Nigeria’s financial technology and digital payments space, a lot of financial exchanges are still done via cash, what do you think is responsible for this low rate of adoption? And how is RoutePay planning to enhance digital transactions?

Financial transactions are still done via cash and preferred by some persons due to factors such as poor digital infrastructure, poor internet availability and connectivity, lack of robust digital payment interface, lack of ICT knowledge, non-availability of ICT, fear of online fraud, cost of internet, unreliable networks, ICT phobia, and poor banking habits.

At Routepay, we are intent on enhancing connections in the payment space, providing solutions and infrastructure that will make payment possible and available without hassles, and driving digital payment transformation in a changing and demanding world thereby building more trust in digital payments confidence and usability. We will engage the digital space with our omnichannel products and services and ensure that all demography is served. We have deployed solutions that address various concerns and pain points in the industry.

Security is at the heart of e-payment. How does RoutePay intend to tackle the issue of fraud and build confidence among users?

Protecting our customers is one of the chief decisions we took right from the onset of our business. We are aware that the issue of fraud is one of the reasons that people do not trust digital payment platforms, so we invested in world-class security infrastructure to ensure that our customers’ transactions and data are safe with us.  We have deployed systems that monitor and prevent fraud from happening and have conducted proper analysis of events that could lead to fraud and fraudulent practices. Our systems are proactive and very reliable as it is our mission to ensure that our transactions are safe.

How is RoutePay going to improve service delivery?

One of our core objectives is customer satisfaction. In a bid, to achieve this, we have taken the following steps: Simple and seamless registration and onboarding process; Adequate education on our products and services ; Provision of easy-to-use products and services riding on a secure digital payment platform to create a satisfying customer experience;  Proactive support systems for our customers. We meet them right at their points of convenience.  Efficient and effective customer support system – 24/7, multi-lingual customer support availability. Periodic survey and intelligence gathering to take feedback from our customers on their satisfaction and expected areas of improvement. Periodic products and solutions reviews based on feedback from our customers.

 

Feedback from users is key to satisfactory service. Is RoutePay leveraging technology to capture feedback from users and manage their expectations?

 

We always ensure that our customers are satisfied with our products and services. To achieve this, we deployed an intelligent system leveraging technology that captures data showing their experiences. Experiences like; time to complete a transaction, transaction success rate, time to close a dispute, etc. are captured by our system and these are used to improve our service rendition.

How can players in the financial tech ecosystem improve the process of reconciliation and reduce waiting time?

There should be improved relationships and partnerships between the operations and players in the industry, this will help reduce the time wasted in resolving disputes and reconciling transactions. The current processes of reconciliation should also be fully automated, and the reporting format standardized so that information and data from one party to another can be easily consumed and used.

Users/consumers are getting more aware, and the expectations are getting higher and more ambitious. They are asking for more beyond what is presently obtainable and available. How does Routepay hope to satisfy these yearnings?

Service improvement is a way of life in RoutePay. Meeting the increasing needs and customers’ expectations require constant and continuous service improvements.  At RoutePay, we ensure that our R&D team is adequately funded and well-exposed to international best practices. This ensures that we are always a step ahead of the needs and expectations of our customers. Our intelligent survey and data gathering system helps us to capture the needs and expectations of our customers from time to time and we ensure that these needs are scheduled and deployed.

Pain points differ by business segments, user base, providers, etc. Some are general and peculiar to the entire industry like issues of the reliability of channels. There are specific issues like Trust- Some are concerned about the commercials and the cost of using the payment channels, what is RoutePay doing differently?

Taking cognizance of the various pain points peculiar to different business segments, what RoutePay intends to do differently include; Deployment of adequate and efficient infrastructure that enhances the ease of digital payment processes;  Ensuring that our systems, products, services, and infrastructure are safe and secure for our customers and their customers to transact business with us;  Leveraging technology to deploy products and services with reduced cost implications on our side thereby enabling us to offer our products and services at reduced prices compared to the industry;  Assisting businesses by removing the challenges associated with other means of payment via POS, and USSD;

Creating diversities in payment methods to ensure that businesses can accept payment whether they have a mobile app or e-commerce presence;  Deployment of offline-based payment solutions that limits the number of interactions and iteration before a transaction is completed; and Creating innovative ways of settling transactions funds to respective merchants even faster than the regulatory window.

Can you tell us about your business and some of the challenges you face? How does RoutePay intend to drive digital payment transformation in a changing and demanding world?

RoutePay Fintech Limited is licensed by the Central Bank of Nigeria as a Payment Solutions Service Provider. We are licensed to provide solutions and intervention in the financial services industry leveraging the use of technology. We provide digital payment products and services across all channels ensuring the same efficient experience regardless of your channel of choice. Our drive to ensure optimum service delivery means that we have to continually innovate on products and services which has huge cost implications but gives us a lot of fulfillments given the feedback from our customers’ satisfaction survey.

We focus on addressing Pain Points and challenges by ensuring Excellent Customer Experience end to end (from transaction initiation to completion).  We are making digital payment products and services available to all and sundry regardless of their exposure and technology awareness, location, age, affluence, education, etc.

We are achieving these through the following: Industry partnerships where needed;

Adoption of tested payment services models;  Intervening with considerate pricing models; Multiple transaction routing systems to achieve high TSR (Transaction Success Rate); Secure and trustworthy payment infrastructure and processes; Fast transaction processing;  Periodic surveys to take feedback from users; Continuous service improvement; Continuous check and compliance with regulatory requirements; and fast resolution of disputes and disputed transactions.

Recently, the CBN implemented its cashless policy, and this increased pressure on the country’s banking system. How would you say the banks are faring, and what can they do better? Do we have the payment infrastructure to support the increase in volume? 

Following the CBN implementation and adoption of the cashless policy, the banking system experienced a higher-than-expected increase in the volume of transactions which has in turn hampered service delivery. System downtime and failure have been the order of the day.  The banks must improve their infrastructure and services to be able to accommodate the new move to a cashless society. In RoutePay we are constantly looking at the best and most efficient ways to serve our customers and assist the Central Bank of Nigeria in the drive for a cashless economy. Essentially, we are focused on ease of use, accessibility to our products and services regardless of limitations, and ensuring the same efficient delivery of our services across all channels of engagement. To achieve all of these, we have deployed and built capacities to accommodate the expected volume of transactions.

 

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