Monday, March 4, 2024

Businesses in Nigeria turn to Moniepoint instead of traditional banks

Chidi Ebule keeps at least 10 payment machines on the check-out counter of his grocery store in Lagos, so his customers can use cards from any bank or fintech company they prefer. But in recent months, he has needed to use only one machine for most transactions: the one provided by local fintech major Moniepoint.

“I try to use another POS [point of sales] machine, [but customers] will say, ‘Please don’t put my card in that. Use Moniepoint,’” Ebule told Rest of World. “The customer knows there could be an issue when you use the other [terminals], and he does not have power over the bank.”

Moniepoint’s light-blue payment machines have become ubiquitous across Nigeria — from megastores in Lagos to roadside shops in Kano. Shoppers prefer it to other options because Moniepoint offers a lower-than-average transaction decline rate and instantly reverses transactions in case of failed payments. The Lagos-headquartered company, founded in 2015, has expanded its footprint across the length and breadth of Nigeria, and is now available across all 774 local governments in the country, according to its website.

“Merchants don’t care about lofty claims about financial inclusion. All they want is to see their transactions have gone through and get the instant payment alert,” Nchedolisa Akuma, senior fintech analyst at market intelligence firm Stears, told Rest of World. “Moniepoint appears to be quite intentional about market intelligence and gathering real-time market intel, which made them quite nimble.”

In 2023, Moniepoint reportedly recorded 5.2 billion transactions, worth over $150 billion. The same year, it ranked second in the Financial Times’ list of Africa’s fastest-growing companies. By January 2024, around 2.3 million businesses were using Moniepoint’s payment machines, a company representative told Rest of World. The bulk of Moniepoint’s earnings come from the transaction charges on its point-of-sales machines and its online payment gateway. It also has a microfinance bank license and offers business loans.

When it first launched, Moniepoint was named TeamApt, and built software for traditional banks. In 2019, it obtained a government license for agency banking — a model that allows companies to act as intermediaries between banks and their customers.

“We just felt that banks are not executing these things the right way, and can we get into this space and execute it right?” Tunde Olofin, managing director of Moniepoint’s banking arm, told Rest of World.

So far, Moniepoint has raised over $57 million from investors such as QED Investors, Quantum Capital Partners, and Global Ventures. The company’s growth is aided by its network of more than 600,000 on-the-ground “business managers,” who earn commissions for onboarding business owners to the platform and distributing the POS terminals, Olofin said.

In early 2023, when Nigeria experienced an acute cash crisis after the government changed the currency’s design, Moniepoint came to the rescue of many small businesses.

Oberry Agamah, who owns a phone accessories shop in Lagos, told Rest of World she started using Moniepoint’s payment machines during that time. The ones provided by other banks could not process transactions smoothly, she said, due to the pressure on the country’s banking infrastructure.

Before she began using the Moniepoint machines, Agamah’s business suffered: She struggled to process customers’ transactions, and had to deal with shoppers who bought goods and disappeared after making unsuccessful digital transfers.

“Before, receiving transfers in our normal accounts was hell — they wouldn’t go in time, and customers were going away with our money,” Agamah said. “The experience with Moniepoint is very nice, and it has made my business very easy in the aspect of receiving transfers, and I receive [them] very fast.”

Moniepoint’s systems are designed to expand based on the volume of transactions, Solomon Amadi, the company’s vice president of payment infrastructure, told Rest of World. “Many of the other players in the industry don’t have a lot of control over their core banking, [but] we do … and we have optimized that process well enough that the customer is priority,” he said.

In June 2023, Moniepoint’s closest rival in Nigeria was Chinese-owned fintech OPay — backed by SoftBank Vision Fund and Sequoia Capital China. OPay had a 37% share of the Nigerian point-of-sales agents network, according to the Nigerian Financial Services Report. Moniepoint came in second with a 20% share.

But Moniepoint is better placed than its rivals because of the bouquet of financial services it offers, Olaoluwa Oyedele, vice president of growth and product at Lagos-based fintech startup Earnipay, told Rest of World.

“Moniepoint has a couple of license categories that allow them to do different things,” Oyedele said. “They have a microfinance bank license which allows them to collect deposits, and a payment terminal service provider license which allows them to issue POS terminals. With these two license categories working hand-in-hand, they can target offline payment businesses or industries. That is where they have built a very impressive distribution network. The offline payment, for context, is the biggest payment opportunity in Nigeria.”

Moniepoint’s business managers — well-known members of local communities who serve as liaisons between the company and its users — are central to its growth, Edidiong Uwemakpan, vice president of communications, told Rest of World.

To build this network, “we studied a number of informal networks in the country … [including] the National Union of Road Transport Workers, churches, and people with branches everywhere,” Uwemakpan said. “How are these people able to collect money from everyone and balance their books? Because at the end of the day, what we were building were human branches across the country.”

The business managers don’t get a salary but receive a sign-up fee of 8,500 naira ($5.44), and monthly commissions on the transactions made through each POS terminal they manage.

“If you work hard and make enough people sign up for POS, you are in business, you are in money,” Fabusoye Tolu, a Moniepoint business manager, told Rest of World. “You earn commissions, and that is even far better than earning a salary because if you earn a salary, it will be capped at a particular figure. With commissions, your earnings do not have a limit.”

Tolu declined to disclose how much he earns from commissions, but said he often targets big businesses that generate high cash flow so that he can earn more at the end of the month.

By Ope Adetayo, rest of world

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