Faith Adesemowo is Co-Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Social Lender, a digital financial services firm based on social reputation on mobile, online and social communities.
While promoting diversity and encouraging more women in leadership, Faith mentors individuals and is an advisor to several organisations. Faith has also founded two thriving start-ups specializing in delivering clean, eco-friendly and sustainable beauty products for women of colour.
She recently spoke with BizWatch Nigeria on the role of fintechs in financial inclusion and how to reach more unbanked and underbanked population in this interview.
What can you say about Nigeria’s financial inclusion strategy? Are we on the right track?
Nigeria is on the right track. A lot of things have been and done and I think a lot more can be done, especially in the area of partnership between the government and fintech to ensure financial inclusion goals are reached as we continue to maintain the trajectory that has been maintained so far. So many things have changed in the world generally and we need to collaborate a lot more to get that work done quickly.
The government needs to have more collaboration with fintech like ours. We have the technology and we understand the market better. If we collaborate with the government, those gaps can be closed very quickly.
Is the rising inflation likely to drive up adoption of financial services?
With financial inclusion, what we will have is a better uptake in financial services. However, we strongly believe that an education and inclusion model should be adopted. It is not just enough to tell people to be financially included, we also need to tell them why they need to be financially included. That is why I said that collaboration is important where education services are delivered alongside financial inclusion.
How many loans has Social Lender disbursed to beneficiaries?
We don’t disburse loans but we facilitate access to financial services. What Social Lender has done is build a piece of technology that allows formal financial institutions and other institutions to give credit and access to micro-insurance, agric and farm inputs. That is generally what we have done.
What strategic alliances have you formed that have helped Social Lender to scale its operations?
We have partnered with Sterling Bank and FCMB Microfinance. Unity Bank and OCP are also onboard. This one partnership that we are very happy about because it assisted us with access to farmers. We have over seven partners in Nigeria, ABSA in South Africa and we are also in the United Kingdom., where we are looking to have these kinds of strategic partnerships with formal financial institutions as we scale our operations.
What are your plans this year?
We are planning to reach one million customers this year. A majority of these customers will be farmers. Our interest is in making sure our farming communities begin to have access to formal financial services.
Why do you have so much interest in supporting agriculture?
Poverty is one of the problems we are solving and that starts with putting food in your mouth. I also have a background in agriculture and I strongly believe that having solutions that cater to the needs of the farming population is a good thing to do. We are interested in micro-insurance because we believe that the uptake of insurance generally in the country isn’t at the level where it should be. Our major interests are access to credit, micro-insurance and agriculture.
We have onboarded over 100,000 users on the platform but reaching one million users this year is something I believe we can do.
What has been the major impact of the pandemic on your operations?
For the business, we have a model where our ambassadors go to rural communities to onboard users on the platform and educate them. We have a model where we deliver education on access to financial services.
These individuals bring 100 and sometimes 150 users to the platform and where we perform financial literacy training for them. With the pandemic, we are not able to do that anymore because we need to put social distancing in place. Now, we have smaller groups of people maintaining social distance.
What that means is that it impacted the growth trajectory we were on but it is an avenue to be able to redefine the business. What we have done is ensure that if small communities cannot do one-on-one sessions, we can do video sessions so that there is less contact with people.
Speaking on the impact on the pandemic on users, when we started this, a lot of people were not too aware of the fact that they could do business online. We have the SMS or USSD approach for the unbanked and it took a lot explaining, telling them they can do all these. Now, because of the pandemic and the need to maintain social distancing, more people are interested in solutions that are more technologically enabled.
Have you seen an improved interest of farmers in financial services?
We have seen a growing interest in the unbanked and the underbanked. Through the education strategy, when they realise we have their best interest at heart and economic growth is at the end of whatever we are trying to do, they begin to get more interested.
We have people who have taken credit on the platform and the only collateral they provided was their ecosystem or network. That has really pushed an uptake from that community of people we targeted. We discovered that online customers already have mobile phones and Internet, so it was just a larger uptake with that kind of people.