Chief Executive Officer at VoguePay, Michael Femi Simeon, a strategic and relentless thinker, who leads VoguePay with over 21 years of business experience, mainly in the property investment sector, and online projects in this interview with AYOBAMI ADEDINNI speaks on the Finance Technology disruption in the nation’s finance sector, regulatory bottlenecks and sundry issues. Excerpts:
Fintech companies have been described as disruptors in the world’s finance service sector. Looking at the Nigerian environment, how true or otherwise is this?
There are more than 100 Fintech companies in Nigeria and industry professionals believe they could potentially redefine the finance services landscape in Nigeria. However, for Fintech company to have real impact on the society there has to be an enabling environment. The regulators need to be open-minded to innovation and allow room for Fintech startups to thrive.
If you compare Nigeria to other advanced economies, our regulators still have a lot to catch up.
Industry watchers believe many of the innovative services in finance technology that have come along in the past 10 years are not coming from bank, how have you as a stakeholder tapped into this?
I agree that majority of innovation in finance services are not coming from bank because of their monolithic approach. Despite this, it is important to note that banks are still a significant part of the finance ecosystem, therefore, they are still relevant for any finance services to be delivered.
The future is bright for Fintech. In fact, banks should be more positioned to partner. Smarter Fintech startups are partnering banks to deliver unique banking experience for their customers while disrupting the archaic banking experience that traditional banks are known for. At VoguePay, we have banking partnership that enables banks to offer better experience and provide new channels to serve their customers.
Data security is an issue regulators are concerned about because of the threat of hacking as well as the need to protect sensitive consumer and corporate finance data, do you think the Fintech industry in West Africa is competent to meet these challenges?
Data security is important in the finance industry. While new Fintech solutions, like bitcoin and cryptocurrency in general might still have loopholes, it is time to start discussing frameworks for security that does not impede innovation.
Regulators can enforce all players to provide sandbox environment where new technology will have access to dummy data before going live. For example, in London, Financial Conduct Authority (FCA) runs a sandbox programme that allows innovators to test new finance products in live market.
Also, security requirements should be progressive. As a payment aggregator, VoguePay is reviewing its PCI DSS compliance and has enforced best practices to protect customer’s data.
What are the challenges inhibiting the Fintech industry in Nigeria?
There are several challenges facing Fintech startups in Nigeria. One of them is the quality of workforce; because this is a new field, there is dearth of software developers, data scientists and other expertise. Even the few ones that exist in the market are in short supply and too expensive to hire. This reduces the speed at which innovative products can be created for the market at affordable cost.
We also have to deal with regulators who are still playing catch-ups, through archaic regulations. A good example of such archaic regulation is the requirement for drone usage in Nigeria that is stifling innovation.
The recipe that will facilitate innovation will include closer and enabling working relationship between CBN, NIBSS and Fintech, just as they have with the banks.
What can you say about the digital currency and how are Fintech faring?
Digital currencies are the new waves that will power finance services of the future. This is because blockchain technology is a secure way for asset allocation and transfer at cheaper cost without any global regulators. Understanding this new wave, VoguePay became the first Fintech startup in Nigeria to bring cryptocurrency trading to Nigeria. We partnered Ice Cube X, a South African cryptocurrency exchange platform to enable Nigerians purchase bitcoin and ethereum.
The good news is that the Central Bank of Nigeria is considering how to work with players in the space, especially as cryptocurrency is becoming an important part of the Nigerian finance ecosystem.
Fintech companies often face doubts from finance regulators like issuing banks and the Federal Government, what’s the experience of Voguepay?
Many people believe that Fintech is just a buzzword that will fizzle away. Fortunately, many Fintech startups have proved themselves in the market.
For example, when VoguePay started, because of the finance regulations, we were limited to process a maximum of N2000 per transactions. By addressing key concerns of regulators through adequate KYC, security and infrastructure, we noticed the readiness of the regulator to cooperate.
Today, Fintech in the payment space can facilitate transactions via multiple channels like USSD, direct debit, card payment and mPOS to the tunes of millions of dollars.
VoguePay is one of the beneficiaries of the ecosystem and our activities have won us several accolades including the best Fintech startup at Cashless Africa Awards 2017, among several recognitions.
Now on Voguepay, five years down the line, how has the company grown?
Our vision is to become the payment bridge that connects Africa with the rest of the world.
As a company, VoguePay has grown from serving local market to helping customers globally send and receive payment, with millions of dollar transacted on the platform.
We managed to achieve all this without external investment, that is why I reckon that we have just started. Right now, the company is at its growth stage and we are moving into the digital banking space to help consumer make better finance decisions using machine learning and analytics. We will be announcing new plans toward the end of the year.
Background information about VoguePay
VoguePay is an online payment processing company, with talents and experience from the United Kingdom and Nigeria which allow us to leverage on vital local cultural and environmental knowledge with European finance sector best practices. This places VoguePay in a unique position to deliver trusted services and open gateways to business in Nigeria, Africa and the world.
Vogue Web Solutions has its International headquarters in London Canary Wharf and runs operations from our office in Lagos, Nigeria and Kampala, Uganda. Our Technical and Development Team is based in Lagos.
VoguePay’s successful relationship with federal, state and local institutions – along with other private and public organizations – has enabled us to achieve consistent month-on-month growth. VoguePay is 100 per cent self-funded and year-on-year profits and growth since our inception – and are in the process of scaling to move the business to the next level.
We are a multiple award winning, multi-purpose secure payment gateway that has achieved top industry-based certifications.
In addition, VoguePay has recently received three awards for excellence from the Fin-Tech industry and the business community including the Best Fintech Startup at Cashless Africa Award 2017, African Online Platform of the Year 2016 and the Best Emerging Online Payment Platform in Africa 2016. We were also recognized as one of the top 3 leaders of Fin-Tech in Africa in the maiden African Fin-Tech 100 power list in October 2.