Nigeria still predominantly operates a cash-dependent economy, with more than half of its 100 million adult population lacking access to financial services.
Despite the government’s obvious effort to go completely cashless, several factors, including low digital penetration and illiteracy, have denied such possibilities.
However, there has been an increasing contribution from the private sector beyond the traditional banking sector in recent times.
Today, one of the grassroots enablers of financial inclusion in Nigeria – Bankly announced that it had closed a $2 million seed round.
The round was led by co-investors, including African unicorn gateway payment company, Flutterwave, and Vault, the holding company of VANSO, a fintech company acquired by Interswitch barely five years ago.
The round also had contributions from other investors like Rising Tide Africa, Chrysalis Capital, and Plug & Play Ventures.
Before we go into what the startup intends to use the funding for, here is a glance into what the company is all about.
Co-founded in 2018 by Tomilayo Adejana (CEO/CTO) and Fredric Adams (CPO), Bankly is a fintech startup trying to digitize the process of thrift collection in Nigeria.
Thrift is pronounced differently across different local dialects such as esusu or ajo in Yoruba, one of Nigeria’s three major languages.
Prominent amongst the unbanked or underserved population, thrift is an alternative way of saving money.
Here, people come together to contribute money and rotate the collection at the end of the month over a period of time.
Alternatively, individuals can save cash with a thrift collector who disburses the contribution at the end of a giving period.
While this system has existed for long, it is prone to various issues, including lack of accountability, geographical limitation, and theft.
In worse scenarios, a thrift collector could go missing or die due to an accident or other factors, leaving all contributions inaccessible.
To mitigate these challenges or perhaps eradicate the risk involved outrightly (or to a large extent), Tomi and Fredric thought of a way to digitize the process with Bankly.
Since it launched in 2018, Bankly has built a network of agents located in strategic areas to help collect contributions from customers.
More like a neobank, customers can deposit and withdraw cash from the respective agents at any time, solving the challenge of inaccessibility to financial services. Well, this is merely a part of the business module.
As for the core purpose of Bankly, once the platform can collect information from customers, it subsequently builds a community where these people can collectively save their incomes with the agent.
Once this is achieved, an online banking presence is built for every individual as they gradually become financially included.
Finding the right talent, investors remain key challenges in the fintech space
Finding the right talent, more than ever, has become a very common challenge in the startup ecosystem, and it is no different for Bankly.
According to Tomilola, finding the right partners and talents has become even more challenging, and this is the same, even for investors.
“We’ve had to be patient to make sure that we were talking to people who deeply understand the problem and are passionate about solving it and are not about getting returns as soon as possible,” she said.
Speaking from the point of understanding the Nigerian fintech industry, Idris Alubankudi Saliu, partner at Vault, said he strongly believes in the startup.
“We are delighted to participate in this financing round as Bankly moves into its next growth stage,” Idris further commented on the subject.
Bankly wants to grow its customer base to 2 million unbanked Nigerians in three years
Although it doesn’t sound like what a $2 million funding can achieve, Bankly is more motivated than ever with its latest funding.
One of the fintech startup’s short time goals is to grow its customer base to 2 million unbanked Nigerians over the next three years.
If able to achieve this, Bankly would have contributed significantly to the apex bank’s effort to increase the number of banked Nigerians.
Recall that the Central Bank of Nigeria in alignment with the National Financial Inclusion Strategy, planned to increase the number of banked Nigerians from 60% to 80% by 2020.
However, while the plan is still far from reality, Tomilola claimed that Bankly is working with these regulators towards a more realistic target ahead of 2025.
“We’re thrilled to have closed this milestone fundraise and to have such seasoned fintech investors who understand the market join us on this journey to bank Nigeria’s unbanked.
“Now we have built the agent network and are poised to serve customers directly via offline and online channels. Partnerships, collaboration, and a deep understanding of the needs of the unbanked will be vital to our success,” Tomilola added.
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