Digitization unlocked many pros for the banking industry – George Manuwuike, CEO, Nibox

Digitization is helping to deepen financial inclusion in Nigeria, yet the problem of long hours in queues in banks and ATM points continues to persist.

As a solution provider, Nibox, a self-service kiosk company in Nigeria, said it is offering a multi-platform payment solution that provides access to financial transactions.

In this interview with Nairametrics, George Manuwuike, CEO, Nibox, talks about how the startup is creating opportunities for many Nigerians, trends in the industry and the future of Payment Service Banks in Nigeria. Excerpt:

Why should Nigerians use Nibox?

Nibox is Nigeria’s pioneer and leading kiosk deployment company that has provided Nigerians with a first-of-its-kind cash-to-digital payment platform designed to make the payment process easier and faster. The Nibox kiosk is a unique one-stop payment platform that functions as a mini bank branch, PoS, ATM and pay point for government services. Our approach is to provide payment services through last-mile access points that meet the needs of Nigerians from the grassroots level and upwards.

We currently have kiosks deployed & operational in various locations around Nigeria in cities like Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Kaduna, and Nasarawa. A designated agent chosen through our online application and vetting process operates each kiosk. Nibox agents can apply for two programs, “Buy-to-own” or “Lease-to-own,” which determines the type of commission they make from the business.

The significant difference between a Nibox agent and PoS is that self-service kiosk hardware fully automates cash acceptance, and agents don’t need to operate as a cashier. Nibox kiosks add a lot of convenience for agents, especially those who want to focus on their primary business and use Nibox as a complimentary service or an additional source of income.

We are currently beta testing our agency model and will announce the official launch soon. When completely implemented, the Nibox payment ecosystem will offer all the conventional PoS services and more, giving our clients the freedom of payment choice. Presently, some high-traffic locations earn monthly commissions of above N150,000 per kiosk.

How do you intend to stay competitive given the entry of MTN and Airtel as PSBs in the agency banking/mobile money space?

Nigeria is a vast market with many unbanked and underserved people who are clamouring for financial services. We will continue to enhance and bring new payment innovations around what we have established to guarantee that Nibox stays the preferred payment platform for everybody. We have plug-ins for telcos and are constantly exploring the extension of our services. Nibox is a financial marketplace where financial institutions, telcos, logistics businesses, insurance companies, and healthcare providers can integrate their services to provide last-mile payment services to many customers.

Are there plans to introduce the e-Naira into the payment system?

Yes, given the reasons for the eNaira’s launch, which include promoting and facilitating financial inclusion, enabling direct disbursements, facilitating diaspora remittances, etc.  The e-Naira project is in line with the Nibox initiative, which aims to make payments more manageable. We’re looking into collaborating with a few service providers to implement the e-Naira payment system on Nibox.

What gaps are you trying to fill in Nigeria and Africa?

About 45% of Nigeria’s 105.5 million adult population is financially underserved, and the numbers worsen when you look at the younger population. Factors contributing to this include inaccessibility, a lack of proper infrastructure, and illiteracy.  In the last few years, we have learned a lot about consumers’ concerns, and we are dedicated to addressing their challenges with payment. To do this, Nibox has built a safe and reliable infrastructure solution to allow people to access essential financial services without a smartphone or a bank account. Our mission is to solve the behaviour around digital finance by creating accessible, reliable, and inclusive payment platform for every Nigerian.

It’s also essential to add that the inclusion will not happen without an adequately managed channel, and this is where the agent comes in. An agent is the owner of the Nibox kiosk who takes care of cash management, promotes customer awareness, and keeps the kiosk operational. Nibox provides a suite of products that create a complete lifestyle shift for the agents. Our kiosks are equipped with a monitoring system, solar-power modules, full software/technical support, and other added-value services. These help to ensure our agents reach optimal performance levels.

How does the company hope to capture the unbanked and under-banked?

Through our self-service kiosk infrastructure, Nibox intends to reach out to the unbanked and underbanked in Sub-Saharan Africa’s urban and rural areas. Our goal is to become the quickest and most convenient way for customers to make cash payments for various specialized goods and services in the public and private sectors. This is made possible by a solid IT infrastructure and the provision of last-mile services via the Nibox kiosk infrastructure in all 774 LGAs and over 3,500 villages across Nigeria. The Nibox kiosk is already providing payment services for some MDAs, Utility Companies and many financial institutions in Nigeria who appreciate the unique features of our financial service ecosystem.

What do you think is the future of PSBs in Nigeria?

PSB license is an excellent opportunity for telcos to set their foot into the mobile money territory. Nibox is interested in extending its partnerships with PSB license holders from airtime/data into MoMo services. The ecosystem has one mutual goal: to broaden the financial inclusion of Nigerians. And since we are all working towards one goal, the competition then falls into who will provide better services. Nibox is in a distribution business, and we don’t see PSB players as competitors but rather as partners.

What’s your take on the ease of doing business in the country?

There are, of course, a lot of obstacles, but there are an equal amount of opportunities. Nigeria is a 60-year-old nation that is putting its foundation in order, and we don’t expect a country to have everything figured out. Building a hardware company is already challenging, but you can imagine doing it under infrastructure constraints. Unstable power grid, lack of moulding factories, logistics issues, maintenance, etc., are all part of the problems. We have to create everything from scratch, but these barriers to entry are where the opportunity is.

Can you highlight the pros and cons of tech in the banking industry?

Interesting, but what problems do you see created by tech? Technology is not necessarily creating issues but rather its misuse. Digitization unlocked many pros for the banking industry: core banking, electronic transfers, digital payments, and data-backed credit — made banking more efficient and affordable. Digital money is more secure and user-friendly than commodity currency or cash. The negative that I see is the accessibility of financial services for the mass market. Technology always takes a top-down approach — first, only the upper classes can afford/access it, then it transitions to the masses, and Nigeria is no different. At Nibox, we are on the mission to democratize financial services to all Nigerians.

Which companies do you partner with at the moment and what is your plan towards partnering with more firms in the future?

We are working with many local stakeholders — let me name a few. Our first significant partnerships were EcoBank, MTN, Interswitch, and Remita. Remita was one of the first believers in the vision of Nibox at an early stage and opened up a lot of opportunities for us. From Remita, we span out into partnerships with many MDAs as we shifted our focus to government services. Currently, we service NIMC, FCT Waterboard, CAC, and several states (that I can’t mention yet) to provide various payment services. In terms of partnering with new companies, we are working on an API that will allow anyone to access Nibox infrastructure within hours. We are not building this infra for ourselves but for the whole ecosystem to access and launch products on our offline rails.

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