Segun Akintemi is the CEO of Page Financials, a fintech company that provides quick online loans without collaterals. Page Financials is among the 100 fastest-growing SMEs in Nigeria recently selected by BusinessDay for recognition.
In this interview, he speaks on his firm and how government can rev up small and medium businesses in the country.
Tell us about yourself and business.
I consider myself passionate about life, family and creating value for the benefit of many. This passion has driven several of my antecedents since starting Page six years ago and through my banking career which spans over 31 years. Although I have a background in technology, I am service oriented and find that the delivery of excellent service to customers, exemplary leadership and optimal returns to stakeholders are important elements of growth and sustainability in business. These have become my pillars as an entrepreneur. Page Financials represents empowerment and opportunities to our customers and we hope to extend this to other Nigerians. We realise that access to finance is sometimes the difference between a great idea and its actualization. Whether it is getting a post-graduate degree, moving homes or expanding a business, we are here for well-meaning Nigerians who can achieve these targets and settle their obligations over a convenient period of time. At Page Financials, the focus is offering our products through the most innovative, convenient and speedy platforms and processes. Customers can easily get access to finance under three hours by applying through our website or mobile app, sending an email, calling our contact center or even visiting the office. We understand that people sometimes make financial decisions that require an urgent need for cash, and we ensure they get what they need, right when they need it. We offer two categories of loans: Personal loans to salary earners and business loans to support SMEs. We offer loans of between N200,000 to N5 million to salary earners in Lagos and Ibadan. Subject to approval, disbursement time is in less than 3 hours. We also have an investment plan where investors can get up to 20 percent return on investment (ROI), depending on the amount they invest with us and the tenor. Our customers also use our mobile app to pay bills and transfer money to any bank in Nigeria at a zero-naira service charge. This means you get to save transaction charges any time you transfer money or pay bills with our app. We are one of the first fintech companies to embrace the ₦0 on transaction charges while performing financial operations.
How is the Nigerian business environment impacting your business?
The small and medium enterprises (SMEs) account for a large proportion of the total employment growth in many countries. In the developed economies, SMEs and micro enterprises account for over 95 percent of firms, 60-70 percent of employment, 55 percent of GDP and generate the largest share of new employment. In the case of developing economies, the situation is not very different. For instance, in Morocco, 93 percent of firms are SMEs and account for 38 percent of production, 33 percent investment, 30 percent export and 46 percent employment. In Nigeria, SMEs contribute about 76 percent of the workforce, with contribution to GDP at about 50 percent and contribution to exports at 8 percent. The SME business culture in Nigeria is entrenched in our values as a people, although now gradually evolving beyond societal idiosyncrasies and adopting global best practice in certain areas. In the SME sector, we still grapple with issues such as accountability, timeliness, short-term focus, and gender bias, among others, and these limit the growth opportunities of businesses, especially when combined with prevailing infrastructure and regulatory constraints. However, there are many reasons to be optimistic as Nigerian entrepreneurs are becoming more aware of the need for structure and policies that guide business operations. The fintech community is somewhat peculiar. A lot of the inspiration and activities that happen in that space are based on global trends, hence, there is more adoption of creative and innovative values which are required to survive and flourish in the sector. More so, many of the players in the field are either millennials or have a large portion of their teams as millennials who are more exposed to the ‘global village’ and pursue goals beyond the dictates of their local environment. These factors have played a major role in the rapid growth of the sector and it is without doubt that the Nigerian fintech space will be competing globally in the very near future.
What are the most critical problems your industry faces?
The industry has evolved well, although a lot of companies have gone under in the process based on their focus, target market and many other factors. The government is trying to encourage investment in the sector as one of the major issues in this space remains funding. The government has been very proactive with the provision of N220 Billion MSME Fund focused on the development of SMEs disbursed through microfinance banks. The Bank of Industry (BoI) has also been active in lending to the real sector, thus supporting its growth and development. These are the factors that are going to help us in terms of growth. But there is still a lot more to be done, particularly in terms of regulations. The regulatory framework is evolving in line with the realities of today, with the aim of building more resilient and robust financial institutions. So, I see the industry evolving and developing as the deposit money banks (DMBs) have in the last decade. The ease of accessing financial services has also increased significantly with the use of ATMs, POS and the USSD technology which does not require smart phones. This has further propelled growth in the sector, but the potentials and opportunities remain huge and can only be fully tapped with very innovative thinking.
Can there be any end to the constraint of financing for SMEs?
One of the biggest measures of growth for an economy is your consumer credit ratio to GDP. If you look at the advanced countries, their rates are averagely above 70 percent while Nigeria is barely 20 percent. If you do not drive consumer credit, which in turn grows the economy, then we can’t witness improvement in our GDP growth. What we should be doing as an entity is to identify how to further empower and enrich our consumer credit culture so our SMEs have access to credit and the average Nigerian too. Naturally, it is a way of infusing growth and driving the velocity of money, which is what propagates the growth of GDP.
Do you think the existing policies and regulations are sufficient to ensure proper functioning of the SMEs in your industry?
The government is putting in efforts to ensure that SME businesses in Nigeria in general function properly. However, there is still so much room to do more.
What policies and regulations do you propose should be introduced to support SMEs?
Government should intensify intervention programmes that aid growth of MSMEs by making affordable financing options available. Additionally, more attention and support should be given to knowledge acquisition through access to requisite trainings and apprenticeship systems based on global standards. Local businesses now have to provide goods and services that compete with foreign products. With international exposure through robust trainings and apprenticeship models, these local businesses can learn value-adding techniques that improve their processes and standards. Lastly, government should focus on access to credit. From a recent government survey, about 85 percent of capital for SMEs is sourced from personal savings and family, with loans from financial institutions amounting to just around 5 percent. As regards MSMEs struggle with tax harmonisation, government must support by offering tax rebates/holidays, and grant pioneer status, especially to tech start-ups. This would further aid in addressing the ease of doing business for companies in Nigeria. Page International Financial Services Limited will continue to seek opportunities to work with stakeholders such as the government, regulators and other players in the industry to ensure growth in the financial services sector and especially for accessibility to credit by well-meaning Nigerians who have the capacity and willingness to repay such facilities.