Tuesday, February 27, 2024

Fintech: You cannot kill an idea whose time has come by Seun Awogbenle

One of the things I learned very early on in life is that you cannot kill an idea or a person whose time has come. And I say this especially within the context of recent technological advancements and what can be described as subtle resistance by the Nigerian government even when it prides itself on having a ministry whose objective is to drive the growth of the digital economy.

From Amazon, Apple, Google, Facebook, Microsoft, and others, technology has enabled human interaction and has proved to be the game-changer. I, therefore, find it curious that as a country, we are yet to embrace technology and new media in its fullness. I even reckon that most of our challenges can be solved if we tap fully into the ubiquitous power of technology and digital media. Indeed, the much-talked-about “Nigerian corruption,” which continues to rear its head like a stubborn and recalcitrant demon, can be significantly addressed with the proper application of technology.

But I hate to sound like a broken record; everything is always going to be about governance. It is impossible to isolate our lives from political outcomes, and I will continue to shout this even from the mountain top that we must get leadership right. I mean, the government determines the outcome of our lives. It determines if we get access to fair wages, access to quality education, health, utilities, and basic amenities. Businesses are also largely influenced by government policies, including even food items and other commodities.

Sometime last month, I was a guest on Rubbin minds – a weekly television show known for celebrating contemporary culture and amplifying youth voices anchored by the inimitable Ebuka Obi-Uchendu. We discussed Nigeria’s leadership gap and how we can fix it, particularly in the light of the recent clampdown on some indigenous fintech start-ups. I opined that as we approach a post-oil global economy and in the light of the already proposed ban on fossil driven cars and internal combustion engines by countries like Norway, France, the United Kingdom, and even Germany, technology enabled services, including Fintech, cryptocurrency has the potential to galvanize our economy.

Financial technology, also known as Fintech, revolutionizes finance and investment and provides digital technology access to financial services. They also help to promote the culture of financial discipline through targeted savings. FinTechs like Piggy Vest especially offer this service. One of the Fintech companies, Flutterwave, recently attained a Unicorn (a valuation of over $1bn after raising about $170m). It successfully joined three other African payment companies, notably Interswitch, another Nigerian payment start-up, on the prestigious Unicorn list. However, familiar to most, if not all, fintech companies is that they are owned and managed by a team of young people.

Through their work, they provide economic opportunities, employment, liberalizing financial services, and unlimited access that transcend the walls of traditional banking institutions. Despite this demonstrated effort, the Nigerian government appears to be bent on regulating them through the CBN. Recently, the CBN obtained a court order freezing the accounts of 4 investment platforms, namely Risevest, Chaka, Bamboo, and Trove, for 180 days.

While the idea of regulation may not be wrong in itself, regulation will help to protect customers. The way the CBN conducted itself in this and many other instances is very suspect and disturbing. Let’s agree for a moment that some of the investment platforms have run against the law. Still, I understand that empathy is a vital aspect of leadership and engagement, and consultation. I would expect that on the merit of the service they provide, the regulator would engage with them so that it does not signal uncertainty and an attempt to kill honest effort like this one. And it is difficult not to think otherwise, considering how the CBN ordered all financial institutions to stop facilitating cryptocurrency transactions and other digital assets in February. Also, in the light of the current Twitter ban, which has adversely affected many businesses – big and small.

And one would expect that in the face of the severe unemployment challenges we currently face as a nation, the government would embrace every form of innovation that helps empower young people and constructively engage them. And like I have said many times, we have over 23 million unemployed people is enough security risk that should keep the political leadership up almost all night.

Like Fintech, Cryptocurrency, and every other aspect of digital technology, the technology always has a way of asserting itself. It is, therefore, my unsolicited advice to Nigeria’s political leadership at all levels to stop this continued attempt to either resist advancements in technology or project their paranoia because it is simply the case of how no one can kill an idea whose time has come, such attempt will remain futile at best!


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