Smart Phones Driving Nigerian Fintech Firm’s Success

Smart Phones Driving Nigerian

By Duggan Flanakin

Sahir Berry, cofounder and CEO of the Nigeria-based financial services firm NowNow Digital Systems, says the key to his company’s success – and a critical component for hundreds of millions in the developing world who have until now lacked access to financial services – is the universality of the smartphone and the widespread acceptance in digital payment platforms.

Berry, who together with COO Mahesh Nair founded NowNow in 2018, chose his native Nigeria to begin what they hope will grow to an Africa-wide enterprise. Nigeria, while quite poor today, is one of the world’s fastest growing economies with a population expected to reach half a billion by 2050. On a broader scale, NowNow is developing a pan-African growth plan to make its digital payment platform accessible to the continent’s 1.3 billion people.

Moreover, increasingly tech-savvy Nigeria, with half its people aged 25 and younger, is rife with startup-level entrepreneurs who desperately need financial services that banks cannot or will not provide them. NowNow enables these entrepreneurs to create and maintain online stores that can market their products both locally and worldwide.

Berry says that NowNow’s first order of business was to create an agency banking network for small mom and pop enterprises while taking care to be particular about the type of customers to bring on board. As customers shopped at these outlets, they too became NowNow users. The whole operation has built trust in mobile money with both buyers and sellers.

Mahesh agrees that NowNow’s first focus remains on developing local markets and helping very small enterprises transform their businesses for long-term growth. As businesses scale up, they are better able to expand their virtual marketplace via the Internet, gaining customers for such products as African handicrafts, clothing, jewelry, and artifacts worldwide, even without a “fancy” website.

Mahesh says the next step was to prioritize consumers with smartphones while not neglecting those without them. As people learned they could make payments without contact, there was a rapid rise in use of the NowNow platform during the scariest times in the COVID-19 pandemic.

People also realized that paper money can be a conduit for diseases, and that too increased interest. Governments are well pleased with this digital money revolution. One reason is that printing securable paper money is expensive, and government notes tend to wear out. Another is that digital payments create a traceable record – good for consumers, sellers, and tax authorities.

As a result, even Nigeria’s central bank is promoting digital transactions. Even counterfeiters can be tracked down via the digital money trail.

Today, all across Nigeria – just as in the developed nations of the West – people are using smartphones to operate their entire financial lives – paying bills, purchasing goods, and even swapping money between friends and family. Many of these digital transactions are for very small amounts (by Western standards, at least) – as little as just a few dollars. Traditional banking is increasingly reserved for larger financial dealings.

During 2022 alone, NowNow processed 75 million transactions with 15 million unique individuals, and by March of this year the company expects to have a million customers in its network. Word of mouth has been the chief means of growth, as customers appreciate NowNow’s efforts to shorten on-hold times for smart phone transactions and same-day delivery for new or replacement cards.

To support the enterprise, NowNow built out an in-house tech stack using 100 percent proprietary technology. Berry says it is one of the most stable mobile money platforms anywhere. The firm is also expanding into providing lending insurance and other tailor-made products in short supply in developing nations.

While the bulk of NowNow’s tech support remains housed in India, the Nigerian tech office is growing thanks in part to an exchange program with people moving to and fro. NowNow currently has about 400 employees, including 50 in Angola, the next major marketing target for the fintech firm. Berry says he expects to add another 50 to 100 employees during 2023, and to further its reach into African nations like Liberia.

In 2022, the young startup won the FinTechLeader of the Year Award in Fintech Awards held in Dubai. The awards program, organized by the magazine Entrepreneur Middle East, recognizes the top companies, technologies, and products in the global fintech market. NowNow was cited for its high-capacity services, its innovative impact, and proven solutions via its in-house fast, secure, and efficient digital payments platforms.

In the wake of that award, NowNow secured $13 million in funding in July 2022 in a seed round led by V-Capital International Holding Corp., DLF Family Office, and Boopin founder and CEO Shadi Abdulhadi. This led Berry to boast that, “With the secured funding, we look to not only provide services that include everyone financially but also upscale our agile ecosystem which ensures that our multidimensional offering remains a market leader.”

To that end, NowNow was the only African startup selected to participate in MasterCard’s award-winning Global Start Path Accelerator in 2022. Last year the firm introduced the NowNow debit MasterCard as well as NowNow Marketplace, a platform for merchants and consumers to buy and sell. They also introduced Nigeria’s first fully integrated Tap and Pay for phone, POS device, and wallet. In addition, the firm partnered with the Lagos Business School to teach financial literacy to its customer base.

With the Biden Administration’s renewed commitment to Africa as an investment destination, and the company’s own meteoric growth in just four full years, it is no wonder that Berry and Nair believe that, “The future is NowNow.”

About the Author

Duggan Flanakin is Director of Policy Research with the Committee For A Constructive Tomorrow who writes about a multitude of issues, innovations, and ideas.

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views or policies of The World Financial Review.