Nigerians need knowledge to benefit from innovations in financial services

Dr Segun Aina

Amidst several challenges plaguing Nigeria’s financial services, Dr Segun Aina, the chairman, Fintech Associates Limited, who has distinctively held various leadership positions at very levels, in this interview with BERTRAM NWANNEKANMA, spoke on how innovations in financial technology (fintech) could mitigate the sector’s challenges. He also spoke on the national Fintech Conference slated for January 24-26 in Lagos and how Nigeria can benefit from his recent appointment as the chairman of the Global Banking Education Standard Board.

The FinTech Forum and National Fintech conference seem to have gained acceptance in Nigeria; what is the magic?
We are witnessing unprecedented level of revolutionary activities in innovation especially in financial technology (fintech) and all stakeholders have normally shown great interest.

To enhance and sustain this interest and benefit from the potentials, there is the need for knowledge enhancement and knowledge events such as the National Fintech Conference series initiated by Fintech Associates Ltd with the 1st edition held in April 2017 – hugely successful, very well attended and a lot of take homes by all relevant stakeholders.

Since this is the second in the series, what should stakeholders expect from the conference?
The National Fintech Conference which started in April 2017 was a programme conceived by Fintech Associates Ltd in partnership with other local and foreign institutions to bring all players in the Fintech ecosystem together to discuss current and emerging developments and challenges including designing a road map and agenda for way forward.

It is focused on practicalities and not theory or a talk shop. Even though it is called a national conference, the first edition which was for only one day actually attracted speakers, subject matters experts, thought leaders and participants from twenty countries across the globe, so it was really and indeed an International Fintech Conference in all respects.
The 2nd National Fintech Conference is coming up between 25th and 26th January. Unlike the first that ran for only one day, this event will run over 3 days from January 24.

January 24 is dedicated to side events, which are strictly by invitation – including the African Fintech Enablers Roundtable, the African Fintech Council Initiative and another engagement, which is the third engagement with the Nigeria Stock Exchange. Other private activities and meetings are scheduled for the 24th including the startup coaching clinic hosted at the CcHub.

The main conference runs on January 25 and 26. Globally recognized fintech leaders from FintechStage, our foreign partners and other institutions and panelists numbering 72 have been lined up and various subject matters that are bound to change and affect our lives such as Artificial Intelligence, Augmented Reality, Blockchain Technology – Cryptocurrency, issues in regulation and policy, Diversity matters, Financing Inclusion via technology, creative funding models fintech opportunities for Nigeria, people issues in fintech, entrepreneurial stories and other important matters that would be value adding to all and sundry are up for discussions.

New additions to the programme this year will include the Fintech Award and Recognition, a revitalized pitching exercise at the startup challenge, discuss on the African Fintech Council initiative with delegates from various African Countries.

Fintech companies have been described as disruptors in the global financial service sector. Looking at the Nigerian environment, how true or otherwise is this?
The advent of the mobile phone in Nigeria in 2001 engendered a seismic shift in the business landscape, giving rise to about 150 million subscribers in a country where the penetration rate of fixed lines had stagnated at about four hundred thousand landlines in 2001.

The advent of Internet has also reshaped the environment and Nigeria is listed among the highest internet users. The combination of mobile and internet have provided the platform for disruptive and enabling digital technologies.

The disruption has led to banks moving from using technology as a back-end service to moving it to front-office and market facing as an enabler of financial services. My prediction is that in less than ten 10years time from now, banks and bankers will operate more with the skill sets of tech companies and not as banks as we know it today.

Banks may actually not exist the way we know it today and many fintech banks would emerge and other players will have incursion and play financial intermediation roles.

Industry watchers believe many of the innovative services in financial technology that have come along in the past 10 years are not coming from banks. How have you as a stakeholder tapped into this?
This is very true, but that is changing. Smart banks realise that technology is now the backbone of their businesses and many banks are partnering with and acquiring players and startups in innovation driven technology companies.

The future direction should be for banks to leverage their financial capacity into innovation labs, tech hubs and startups. Banks need to think more like tech hubs and have the creative mindset of startups and create that digital and innovation mindset in the workforce.

Today, we have digital Banks called neobanks and challenger banks coming up strong and taking businesses away from conventional Banks. That trend will continue. Regulators will be under significant pressure to be able to be on top of the situation because generally regulation lags behind innovation. Financial services regulators will need to up their game and create digital regulatory road maps with input from stakeholders.

Block chain and Financial Inclusion Artificial Intelligence have become nomenclatures in financial services sector. What are their benefits to Nigerians and how can Nigerian government harness the potential for economic development?
Blockchain technology and Artificial Intelligence or Machine Learning or Deep Learning all have significant potentials towards reshaping how we work, play and live.

We have seen blockchain technology applied in cryptocurrency operations as well as medical records, land records and other areas. Artificial Intelligence is basically use of robots and machines to do mostly, repetitive works that human beings do today.

Financial Inclusion technology will ensure that more people in the system have access to financial services and thus enhancing prosperity and improving the local system. All these will ultimately benefit the economy.

What is this concept of the African Fintech Enablers Roundtable and the African Fintech Council Initiative which you are championing?
A lot of innovation is coming out of Africa. Africa as they say is the last frontier for development. We have very vibrant and large youth population in Africa. Countries are doing their own things in the digital world with no real effort at providing Africa wide coordination, policy, and self regulation.

There are opportunities for Fintech players to learn from each other, exchange ideas in a formal organised setting, create Africa wide market access, have a bloc group to engage with relevant institutions at the continental level.

These are what has informed the initiative to bring African Fintech leaders and enablers together in a roundtable in Lagos on 24th January 2018 to discuss these and other issues and hopefully the conversation will lead to thr birthing of African Fintech Council or Network.

In what specific ways do FinTech contributes to economic growth? Are you satisfied with regulation in Nigeria?  How can we grow the FinTech ecosystem in Nigeria?
Fintech has been and will continue to contribute to the national economy through efficiencies brought about by innovation, employment creation, huge inflow of foreign investments, potential to export Fintech solutions developed in Nigeria leading to foreign exchange earnings, creating a new crop of mostly young entrepreneuers. I can continue and continue as the potentials are huge.

As for regulatory environment, our interaction with regulators in recent times showed that they are focusing a lot on creating conducive and supportive environment that encourages innovation and of course have to ensure compliance and management of the inherent risks and fallouts. The policy environment by government is also positive and supportive so far.

You are popularly referred to as the Nigerian Fintech Envoy and also a well sought after conference speaker within the global Fintech community, please share your journey to this status with us.
I have genuine passion for technology and the financial services, especially due to the ability of the former to improve customer experience and journeys.

The world is witnessing multiple revolutions in technology and the organisations that will remain standing will have to move ahead of the curve and be proactive in their adoption approach and rate. This is what feeds my passion to be a Fintech evangelist and thought influencer.

Outside full time banking I have incubated successfully a number of tech startups in Nigeria and the US, two of the great success stories are Vatebra Ltd and Splashers Technologies now Venture Garden Group- both of which today are great companies operating in Nigeria and internationally.

I set up a financial technology solution and advisory company, Fintech Associates Ltd in 2004 – a time when nobody ever imagined that the word “fintech” will be a buzzword for innovation and entrepreneurship globally as we are seeing today. I sort of predicted the future correctly.

I have pursued elevating Nigeria to Africa Fintech Leadership and also for special recognition in global fintech world map and have been and continue to be consulted and contacted on my thoughts on emerging technologies by different countries, fintech hubs and organisations and invitation for speaking roles.

How have your illustrious banking career impacted your exploits in the Fintech space?
I came into the banking profession before the advent of technology as we know it today and experienced the transition from manual to machine to mainframe computers and then towards technology-driven banking especially digital.

I was an early adopter and technology enthusiast who established and led teams that introduced innovative tech focused solutions in two different Banks and set up one of the first innovation driven, revenue generating tech business unit that developed to a full technology pledged subsidiary within the Nigerian banking sector in 2002 or so. As you probably know Fintech is derived from financial technology – the meeting of finance with technology.

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