Technology is making doing business a lot easier the world over, and services that make money transfer from one business house to another just as easy, is a welcome idea. After over 20 years working in telecommunications, Adia Sowho’s expertise is helping to bring that dream to manifestation in Nigeria. Interview by Bukola Idowu
You have to challenge yourself to find your limits and find opportunities to grow…
I think that transitions are
a part of life. You have to challenge yourself to find your limits and find opportunities to grow. I have been at 9mobile for eight years. It was just a case
of, from that vantage point, what was the next opportunity and I saw that within financial services and specifically within Mines as a company that
was well positioned. I try to convert that opportunity into something real for Nigerians.
I saw the massive opportunity in consumer financing…
Mines was founded in
2014 by a small group of computer scientists working
on an artificial intelligence research project at Stanford University. Having grown up
in the developing world and understanding how difficult
it is to get a loan, credit card,
or even a month-to-month apartment, we decided to direct our energy and expertise to solving one of the great social challenges of our time: access to finance. The founders are Nigerians, the product was born in Nigeria but the core technology came from Silicon Valley. I had the vantage point of where the opportunities
are in Nigeria and I saw
the massive opportunity in consumer financing. Along
that line I met Mines which happened to be very interested
in that space and I pretty much took the opportunity to join and make a positive impact.
There are more people with mobile phones than there are bank accounts in Nigeria presently…
Mines has a credit-as-a-service platform. Basically, we allow big companies like banks, major retailers and mobile telecom companies’ offer financing to their extensive customer base. For instance, if you look at our banks, there is a handful of people that can receive loans
at the moment and it usually involves coming to the bank, filling out some forms and doing the normal know your customer routine. But what we offer is a platform that allows you to do that digitally. The same goes for retailers. Imagine you go into a big supermarket and you’re trying to buy something and instead of being limited by the cash
in your pocket, you are able
to pay with credit card. There are more people with mobile phones than there are bank accounts in Nigeria presently. What our platform does is to allow operators create financial services on the back of the phone that allows us to drive financial inclusion.
We are the platform in the middle of the business…
A lot of people describe us as the middle B in business to business (B to B) and business to commerce (B to C). So, in
a case where our banks have
customers or retailers have customers, our telcos have customers, we are the platform in the middle of the business that allow customers have a better reach.
There is a benefit to borrowing responsibly… We have loans as low as N500 and N1, 000 and there are people that started borrowing very small amounts a year ago that are borrowing N100, 000 today. There is a benefit to borrowing responsibly.
What we do is to partner with institutions like banks…
One of the brilliant things about our platform is that; unlike developed markets that have a single form of identification, in Nigeria,
we have multiple forms of identity held by multiple institutions. So, what we do is to partner with institutions like banks so that we can use bank verification number (BVN) and the telcos, which gives us access to subscriber identification module (SIM) registration.
Somebody we know and trust can recommend… Like I said before, some people are getting loans as low as N1, 000. So it’s just about finding an entry point. Another thing for instance is that you know, perhaps, madam here was
able to get a loan. If she takes a loan and pays back, she
can recommend your phone number so that in a case where we don’t have your digital footprint, somebody we know and trust can recommend you as a trust worthy colleague and we’ll put in their number and recommend. Then, these are the things that help include you in the network.
The terms are customised…
We have many ways for payment. You can go into a bank and pay cash or use the ATM. You can also choose
to pay online through your phone using your debit card. The typical tenure is 14
days but you can extend it to 30 days. We will modify the terms again but at the moment, the terms are customised for you and
your relationship with the platform.
Expansion will be including many more different businesses…
I can’t speak for other
fintechs (financial technology companies) but for us, what we are trying to do is create
a platform that allows any institution that wants to provide financing to do just that. So for us, expansion
will be including many more different businesses into our network and spreading that capability of being able to offer credit in as many forms as possible.
We have processed a million loans…
So far, we have processed a million loans. We have raised $13 million so that we can build our teams, both on the technical side and locally, so that we can continue to reach out and touch as many more Nigerians as we can.
Anybody in Nigeria who is on any of the networks can dial the code…
If the person has a phone and can dial the code, you can get the loan from anywhere, it
is not limited geographically
at the moment. Anybody in Nigeria on who is on any of the networks can dial the code and at least check for themselves.
We want to make sure
that everybody has access to money everywhere, anytime…
I keep thinking about the 100 million adults in Nigeria and how many of them cannot get a loan without having to rely on a family member, without going through a difficult, maybe almost embarrassing process of explaining themselves just to borrow and that’s who I think about trying to meet. We want to make sure that everybody has access to money everywhere, anytime.
A lot of people know me by my laugh…
I do take a lot of quiet time.
I also exercise, I do yoga and also teach yoga as a part of unwinding. My family is around and I spend time
with them quite a lot and I have some close friends, we just go and relax and laugh somewhere. Usually a lot of people know me by my laugh.
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