In Nigeria, financial technology is now all the rage with the proliferation of tech companies riding on the back of the country’s fast-evolving banking system and its vast population of digitally enabled youths to drive inclusion.
That space has been made more vibrant by the incursion of foreign fintechs bringing turnkey solutions as varied as mobile lending, e-commerce, payments and card issuance.
Timbo Drayson, who helped Google introduce web mapping platform Google Maps to Africa and the Middle East, is bringing a disruption to the mix with the smart addressing app OkHi, which enables businesses to track clients through proper addressing.
Mr Drayson was recently in Lagos and told PREMIUM TIMES the innovation could provide the latest touchpoint for service providers to know their customers better.
What transformation do you think OkHi’s smart addressing will bring to a frontier market like Nigeria considering that awareness of such fintech services is still low in the country?
We estimate that lack of addressing costs the Nigerian economy about $3 billion a year in inefficiency. It’s an enormous problem, much wider than just financial services. Our vision statement is “A world where anyone can use their OkHi address to access the services they need.” Extending that to Nigeria, imagine an environment where there is more financial inclusion due to people proving their address and their identity, e-commerce is a seamless checkout experience, deliveries are efficient and on time, to-the-door post is available, and perhaps most importantly, emergency services never get lost. Yes, today we’re focused on address verification for financial services, which is a market of about 40 million people, but tomorrow we will be Nigeria’s digital addressing system, making people’s lives easier and making businesses more efficient.
Digital mapping using mobile apps like Google Maps is still problematic in Nigeria in that users are sometimes misdirected by prompts on their phone, while some addresses may not feature on most apps. How will OkHi offer solutions to this?
The point is, in markets where there are functional addressing systems, there is a national database of addresses which Google Maps can leverage. It means as a user, you can put an address into Google Maps and very often navigate there. In a market like Nigeria, where there isn’t a proper addressing system, Google Maps is much less reliable. The way to see OkHi is we are creating that national address database. As we do that, other services like Google maps and Uber will work much more effectively.
How can smart addressing help financial institutions cut costs?
Currently, banks and some of the larger fintechs are sending agents to people’s houses to verify their address by checking if they live there, which can take weeks and cost up to N2000 per verification. We make it easy for businesses to verify their customer’s address through their smartphone, replacing utility bills and physical visits. As we proved in a pilot with Stanbic, we reduce the cost by 52%, and reduce the time by four times (and time equals money).
Tell us how the idea of smart addressing came about and why you chose Africa as the starting point?
After working at Google for seven years where I launched Google Maps across the Middle East and Africa, I took a sabbatical in 2014 to travel around East and West Africa, including Nigeria. I experienced the challenges with lack of addressing, whether it’s inefficient deliveries, lost taxis, proof of address when registering a SIM card or even lost emergency services. I saw the inefficiency and the size of the problem first hand and that’s where our mission to enable the 4 billion people to #beincluded came from.
Nigeria’s banking space is fast expanding with a lot of fintech solutions. How will your company help in resolving key KYC issues in tracking loan defaulters for instance?
Lending is a really strong use case. Knowing where someone lives with a high level of confidence increases trust, which can then unlock larger loan disbursements, and therefore more revenue. As you point out, the clear area of impact OkHi can have is helping a lender with loan recovery. If you know where someone lives, you can find a customer that has defaulted.
What has the adoption rate of products so far been since you launched in Nigeria?
Our product has just launched with Quickteller, so it is very early days. We have a very strong pipeline of leading fintechs made up of neobanks and mobile lenders, as well as some traditional banks that will be going live in the coming weeks and months, so watch this space.
How do you plan to expand to other parts of Nigeria from your base in Lagos?
The key aspect to our product is it can work out of the box not only anywhere in Nigeria, but anywhere in the world. Our smart verification system can verify anyone in Nigeria today that has a smartphone. We plan to build out a service that can target non-smartphone users next year and that will allow us to access deeper into the Nigerian market.
What is your plan for the future?
We’re going to be diving into the mobility space in 2022 to provide addressing to e-commerce and deliveries.