Fintech will no longer be in the fringes of financial services in Nigeria with the arrival of FINT, a peer to peer lending platform that is set to launch this month.
Less than two weeks ago, Chiwete John-Njokanma, CEO at FINT announced the arrival of the beta version of the website. The news was greeted with curiousity and positive reviews across tech forums.
A close scrutiny on the proposed business model of the first truly peer to peer lender in Nigeria suggest that, the team had worked day and night to ‘cross the t’s dot the i’s’. In this exclusive interview with the principal officers of the project, you will learn more on how FINT is poised to shade phony schemes, establish its position as the authentic peer to peer lending platform and turn in profit.
When and why did you decide to venture into a peer to peer lending platform?
Starting FINT, the peer to peer lending platform, was more a chain reaction than it was a decision. Before it, we were working on a payment platform that my team and I believed would revolutionise mobile money in Africa, but I watched that dream go up in flames. There were three things that put a nail in that coffin. he first was our inability to get a mobile money license, and after that came the lack of funding. As if those two weren’t enough, we had failed to factor in the difficulties that working remotely would bring as two of us were still in university. We had to shut it down.
All of that happened in September 2015. It was the beginning of one of the most difficult periods of my life so far. I had just graduated from university and I moved back to develop the aforementioned platform. There was no plan B. For three months, we had a company, but no product. During that period, we researched opportunities in the Fintech space that could be applied to Nigeria. We had no other option. That’s when we decided on peer to peer lending.
Growing up in Nigeria, it was common knowledge that it was almost impossible to get an affordable loan from a bank. You could have a stable job paying a comparatively decent sum, but if the collateral requirements didn’t kill you, then the interest rate would. My childhood was full of stories about people who were unable to do the things they wanted because they had no support. That’s why when the idea that we could create a peer to peer lending platform that offered better than anything on the market hit us, there was no looking back.
Nigeria has seen some tech products such as e-commerce stuttering and burning cash with no sight on profitability, how do you intend to make peer to peer lending different?
The problem both sectors (e-commerce and p2p lending) face is trust. The customers need to have complete faith that you’ll do exactly what you’ve promised. For us, we need to consistently educate our ecosystem on why we are beneficial to their well being, letting them know that they are the product’s singular focus. When consumers understand that we have their best interests in mind, they’ll always come flocking.
However, our approach is lean. We strongly believe that if the product works and, borrowers and investors believe that FINT is a viable option for them, we will have no problems. I believe in Brian Chesky’s system. It says get a hundred people to love your product and when they do, they’ll spread the news like wildfire. When your customers love your product, there’s a multiplier effect. This way, cash burn is minimal.
Our lean approach is applied to all aspects of our business, from the way we hire, to the way we market our products. It helps us challenge the way things are typically done, and allows us to evolve and adapt in the most efficient way possible. This way we will be able to create the most value for our end-users.
Our lean culture also keeps our overheads low, so there won’t be any need to pass on massive costs to our customers. Furthermore because our costs are kept to the bare minimum, breaking even will not require a massive amount of users. This is why maintaining the trust of our end users is so important to us. If we retain our borrowers and lenders, then word of mouth will do the rest.
Nigeria has been described as one of the few markets where regulatory hurdles for these kind of ventures are gargantuan, how long did it take and how did you surmount it?
It took us 4-5 months. As we built FINT, we spent time figuring out how best to deal with both regulators and regulation. Our management team played a big part in this. We consulted with our board of advisors (unofficial at the time) and leveraged on their networks. This gave us access to the best lawyers and top regulatory personnel, who gave us a great deal of assistance in both official and unofficial capacities. With them on board, even though there are no direct p2p regulations, we were able to figure out a structure that would work. What we came up with protects investors, borrowers, and ourselves, in all circumstances.
In the near future we plan to lead the charge with regulators to create a framework that creates a healthy environment for p2p lending participants to play in.
In terms of your team structure at FINT, tell us about the composition of your team and you think you have what it takes?
First of all, our team is fantastic. We managed to put together 8 incredible people who could really have got jobs anywhere in the world and with anyone. Some of them were offered six figure dollar salaries, and 8 figure naira salaries, but they all turned those opportunities down. That’s because they believe in what we are trying to do, and with that belief comes an astonishing level of passion and commitment. I do not think that I could ask for better, be it in terms of intelligence or work ethic.
We plan to expand to about 12 or 13 people by the end of the year, and we are keen to improve our company’s diversity. We have one female on the team, our Chief Risk Officer. Her addition to the team has generated a tremendous amount of value. It would be amazing to get more like her.
We are a young blend of developers, strategists, and credit and risk analysts. Between the 8 of us, I know we have what it takes.
How did you raise funding? Are you looking at diluting ownership soon and what options are you exploiting?
It is our steadfast policy to only have conversations about funding and all money related matters behind closed doors and away from prying ears; at least for now.
In terms of market, are you going to be focusing on Lagos, regional and or national and what informed your rationale?
Our plan is to be Pan-African eventually, but we’ll have to make a few pit-stops before we get there. Once we have Lagos figured out, we’ll go to Abuja, Rivers, Kano, Kaduna, Oyo, Abia, and Anambra, but these aren’t set in stone. When we have done a good job with Nigeria, we’ll spread our gospel to the rest of the continent.
We want to provide scalable solutions for Africa, not Nigeria alone. When you have a good thing, and FINT is a good thing, there’s really no need to be selfish. The private sector is going to be the huge driver of revolution and that starts by providing opportunities for Africans to empower themselves and that’s the goal behind FINT.
A lot of work has gone into the back end of ensuring your venture is successful, what area do you still need to tighten?
Our platform is exactly as advertised. However, we need to reinforce trust in our ecosystem (regulators, borrowers and investors), because several companies that came before us have over-promised and under-delivered.
Is this your first venture?
No it is not. It is our second in the Fintech space. Our first has been put on hold.
Have you failed or succeeded in any and what learning are you bringing to the table?
Our first venture did not make it to market, but we don’t like to think of it as a failure. You only ever truly fail the moment you give up, and as we have not given up on it we have not failed. It was, however, a let down. As disappointing as that was, the experience was invaluable. We are stronger for it. Given the right opportunity that product will be revived.
Give us an idea of your capital investment so far?
Money has been spent. I do not think saying how much would add any value to the conversation. But, our biggest asset is our team and the time, energy, and commitment they’ve put into FINT’s development. I only have one word for it: priceless.
Tell us about the company and ownership?
FINT is a Fintech company that’s leveraging on technology to provide necessary financial solutions for Africans. Our goal is to create a systemic means of empowering africans financially. We believe this will enhance wealth creation and ultimately rid the continent of poverty. The achievement of self-dependence will allow the people that live here realise their potential. When they empower themselves, they will empower their countries, and then, the continent as a whole.
FINT is a subsidiary of Kraneum, a company built by Africans for Africa.
P.S: Two members of our team are not in the country because they are working on a project that we’ve lovingly called, “Pilot Fish.” As a result of that they are not in the group picture.
Meet Team FINT
Reva Attah: He is the Chief Strategy Officer at FINT. As CSO, Reva is responsible for the corporate development and strategy of FINT across the company and its projects. .A graduate of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Imperial College London and the University of Cambridge , he studied Chemical Engineering, Economics and Entrepreneurship. He is a former leading member of the Expanding Access to Standard Education (EASE) organization.
His interests include football, finance, Formula1 and Art.
Nnamdi Okeke: He is a the Chief Technology Officer at FINT. As Chief Technology Officer, Nnamdi is responsible for the technical and structural framework of FINT’s projects. He is a graduate of Northeastern University and his interests include film, football and golf
Chiwete John-Njokanma: Chiwete is the CEO at Fint. As CEO, he handles the overall vision of the company and creates new frontiers for FINT to do business. A graduate of Adelphi University, he has a passion for watches and enjoys playing golf, and tennis.
Nneoma Iwueze: Nneoma is the Chief Risk Officer at. She is responsible for overseeing the risk and credit portfolio of the company as well as the platform. In addition she handles our operational structure and CSR division.
She is a graduate of Cornell University in New York, where she studied Economics and Business. She is currently a Masters of Finance Candidate at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).
Tobi Adeleye: Tobi is the Chief Design Officer and Head of marketing. He leads our user experience efforts as well as our outreach efforts to gaining market share in our ecosystem.
He is a graduate of York University and currently undergoing his masters. His interests are football, disruptive technology and Christopher Nolan movies.