Ofodile Onyeka Ekene, the managing director of Fortis Mobile Money LTD, in this interview with GODSGIFT ONYEDINEFU disclosed how Fortis Mobile Money is developing innovative solutions deepen financial inclusion in Nigeria and help the country meet set target. Excerpts:
There were conversations in the times past about the relationship between Fortis Mobile Money and a defunct Microfinance Bank of the same name, are they the same?
They are not. Fortis Mobile Money is a FinTech Company doing business with a Mobile Money license. We do not have a Microfinance bank license in the past or in the present. If there are plans in the future, I think that would be up to the shareholders. However, we are doing quite well with our mobile money license and we are comfortable with our business.
Speaking of doing well, there were discussions that Fortis Mobile money is partnering with organisations and institutions to deepen financial inclusion. What are the dimensions of this partnership?
Yes, our focus is on how to leverage our license to deepen financial inclusion through innovative FinTech solutions. We have one of the best IT teams in the business and they have made it easier for us to look at emerging propositions from the government and development organisations, design solutions around that issue and help them solve it. So far, we have enabled Federal Government, Development Organisations and Humanitarian agencies reach the hard-to-reach through cutting-edge FinTech solutions. We are working towards doing more in this area and demonstrating in numbers, how Fortis Mobile Money has helped advance financial inclusion.
What role do you think Mobile Money can play in the advancement of the financial services system?
I think Mobile money and the broader FinTech space can do so much to drive the objectives of the financial services system especially in the age of technology.
For one, FinTech has been the chief driver of financial inclusion and the development of financial access the way we know it. For instance, the POS you see all over the place these days took the imagination of FinTech providers to turn that from payments collection tool to a mini-bank powering millions of Nigerians. Fortis Mobile Money is one of the FinTech providers using innovation to push financial inclusion.
You had mentioned that your core is Finance. How is that different from Digital Payments and how has it influenced how you drive business in Fortis Mobile Money?
Finance is at the root of all business. It is always about creating and capturing value. I think at the basics, it is simply about keeping your costs down and your revenues up and netting as much profit as you can which you will then return to the shareholders as value. With this background and with this in mind, my role so far is applying same in the projects we undertake and the solutions we provide and who we provide those for.
It will not make sense for the shareholders that we spend a lot of money solving problems that no one has or building solutions that no one needs.
In the past three years, we have invested in solutions that solved the problems of linking the underbanked to the formal financial services stream and we are excited that the government is beginning to regularise and standardise some of the solutions we have build and deployed within sandboxes.
Can you mention some of the solutions?
I may not be able to share all but I can mention that Fortis Mobile Money has tested QR and NFCs within a sandbox and has partnered with a commercial bank to provide a solution that allows financially excluded people to have bank accounts and debit cards seamlessly. This solution is being tested and used by thousands as at today. We will scale them.
What do you see in the future for Fortis Mobile Money?
In summary: Quiet Dominance. We are building a company organically and we are still building it. We are building a future where the industry will suddenly realise that we are an iceberg and there is a whole lot of mountain beneath our submerged peak. We are looking at capturing the financially excluded market through partnerships and innovation. There are over 70m Nigerians who are financially underserved. Our solution and business model is to build the kind of product they would use and our partnerships with NCTO, Save The Children and International Committee of the Red Cross has enabled us learn from these segments on a very intimate basis if I May use that word. So we are fairly certain that we have the answers to the problems.
What do you think about the potentials of FinTech to drive financial inclusion in Nigeria?
We have been excited by the results we have seen in the agency banking sector and the numbers published by SANEF with regards to number of agents in Nigeria. Yet you can say that the jury is still out on whether the accomplishments have helped us reduce financial exclusion. I know we are aware that we missed the financial inclusion target we had set. So we can say yes that FinTech has helped us move the needle but we are still far from where we need to be.
Fortis Mobile Money is moving towards this segment with purpose. Like I have said, we have some solutions and partnerships to try out some really interesting ideas. For instance, we believe that we can leverage our cash transfer programs with the federal government to drive financial inclusion.
One major complaint people seem to have with Agent Banking is Charges, what do you think about the prices vis-a-vis customer satisfaction?
The truth is that people may have to pay for the convenience of accessing FinTech services which comes at a huge cost to the infrastructure providers. We believe that our services add value in both cost savings and sweat savings. If you look at some of the costs we carry, the overheads are huge and as a business, you are expected by shareholders to deliver returns on those investments.
So, while we need to check the activities of usurious agents who place unconscionable charges on the last mile user, we need to understand that quality FinTech services will have costs and the user may have to bear it. That said, CBN has guide to charges and tariffs that is fair enough to the FinTech providers if they focus on volume and that is what Fortis Mobile Money uses.