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

Digitization is helping to deepen financial inclusion in Nigeria, but the problem of long waiting hours at banks and ATMs continues to persist.

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

In this interview with Nairametrics, George Manuwuike, CEO of Nibox, discusses how the startup is creating opportunities for many Nigerians, industry trends and the future of payment service banks in Nigeria. Extract:

Why should Nigerians use Nibox?

Nibox is the pioneer and leading kiosk rollout company in Nigeria that has provided Nigerians with a one-of-a-kind cash-to-digital payment platform designed to make the checkout process easier and faster. Nibox Kiosk is a one-stop-shop payment platform that functions as a mini bank branch, POS, ATM, and payment point for government services. Our approach is to provide payment services through last mile hotspots that cater to the needs of Nigerians from the local level and upwards.

We currently have kiosks deployed and operational in various locations across Nigeria in cities like Abuja, Lagos, Kano, Kaduna and Nasarawa. A designated agent selected through our online application and verification process manages each booth. Nibox agents can apply for two programs, “Buy-to-own” or “Lease-to-own”, which determine the type of commission they get from the company.

The significant difference between a Nibox agent and a point of sale is that self-service kiosk hardware fully automates cash acceptance, and agents do not need to function as cashiers. Nibox kiosks add a lot of convenience to agents, especially those who want to focus on their core business and use Nibox as an add-on service or an additional source of income.

We are currently beta testing our agency model and will announce the official launch soon. Once fully implemented, the Nibox payment ecosystem will offer all conventional PoS services and more, giving our customers the freedom of payment choice. Currently, some high traffic locations are earning monthly commissions in excess of N150,000 per kiosk.

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

Nigeria is a vast market with many unbanked and underserved people clamoring for financial services. We will continue to improve and bring new payment innovations around what we have established to ensure that Nibox remains everyone’s preferred payment platform. We have plug-ins for telecom operators and are constantly exploring extending our services. Nibox is a financial marketplace where financial institutions, telecom operators, logistics companies, insurance companies and healthcare providers can integrate their services to provide last mile payment services to many clients.

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

Yes, given the reasons for launching eNaira, which include the promotion and facilitation of financial inclusion, the possibility of direct remittances, the facilitation of remittances from the diaspora, etc. The e-Naira project is in line with the Nibox initiative, which aims to make payments more manageable. We plan to collaborate with a few service providers to set up 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 adults are financially underserved, and the numbers get worse when you look at the younger population. Contributing factors include inaccessibility, lack of adequate infrastructure and illiteracy. Over the past few years, we have learned a lot about consumer concerns and are committed to addressing their payment challenges. To do this, Nibox has built a safe and reliable infrastructure solution to enable people to access essential financial services without smartphones or bank accounts. Our mission is to solve the behavior around digital finance by creating an accessible, reliable and inclusive payment platform for every Nigerian.

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

How the company hopes to capture the unbanked and underbanked?

Through our self-service kiosk infrastructure, Nibox aims to reach the unbanked and underbanked in urban and rural areas of Sub-Saharan Africa. Our goal is to become the fastest 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 strong IT infrastructure and provision of last mile services through Nibox kiosk infrastructure in all 774 LGAs and over 3,500 villages across Nigeria. The Nibox kiosk already provides payment services to select MDAs, utility companies and many financial institutions in Nigeria who value the unique features of our financial services ecosystem.

What do you see as the future of PSBs in Nigeria?

The PSB license is a great opportunity for telecom operators to set foot in mobile money territory. Nibox is looking to expand its partnerships with PSB licensees from airtime/data to MoMo services. The ecosystem has a common goal: to expand the financial inclusion of Nigerians. And since we are all working towards one goal, the competition then falls on who will provide the best services. Nibox is in a distribution business, and we do not see the PSB players as competitors but rather as partners.

What do you think of the ease of doing business in the country?

There are, of course, many obstacles, but there are just as many opportunities. Nigeria is a 60-year-old nation getting its foundations in order, and we don’t expect any country to have it all figured out. Building a hardware business is hard enough, but you can imagine doing it with infrastructure constraints. The instability of the electrical network, the lack of molding factories, problems with logistics, maintenance, etc. are all part of the problem. We have to create everything from scratch, but those barriers to entry are where the opportunity lies.

Can you highlight the pros and cons of technology in banking?

Interesting, but what problems do you see created by technology? Technology does not necessarily create problems, but rather its misuse. Digitization has unlocked many benefits for the banking sector: basic banking services, electronic transfers, digital payments and data-backed credit – have made banking services more efficient and affordable. Digital currency is more secure and user-friendly than regular currency or cash. The downside 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 moves on to the masses, and Nigeria is no different. At Nibox, we are on a mission to democratize financial services to all Nigerians.

What companies do you currently work with and what is your plan to partner with more companies in the future?

We work with many local stakeholders — let me name a few. Our first major partnerships were EcoBank, MTN, Interswitch and Remita. Remita was one of the first to believe in Nibox’s vision at an early stage and opened up many opportunities for us. From Remita, we expanded to partnerships with many MDAs as we focused on government services. Currently we service NIMC, FCT Waterboard, CAC and several states (which 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 the Nibox infrastructure within hours. We are not building this infrastructure for ourselves but for the entire ecosystem to access and launch products on our offline rails.

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