“It’s a beautiful thing when a career and a passion come together.”
I singled-out this thought-provoking quote because I believe that without passion, no career can achieve its goal, and today I shall get to hear it from a man who has made his passion into a career – a remarkable friend, the developer of our highly successful Diamond Mobile Apps, the CEO of Vanso – Nigeria, Mr. Denis O’Brien.
Denis is a man of true grit, determination, direction and passion. So let me start by introducing Vanso and its journey across the Nigerian market, especially on the lines the role of Digital Technology – it’s past, present and future.
The Vanso story – where it was, is and what the future holds
Organizations are formed with a goal – the goal to deliver something to society and its people. Vanso’s entry into the Nigerian market was an informed business decision. Established in 2004, Vanso came to Nigeria identifying the opportunities that the market presented for SMS messaging. From its initial days it realized that there was an enormous technological gap between market requirements and resources available. This was all the more true for banks, in their inability to reach out to customers and help them with relevant information through electronic media. Email was a scattered practice and GSM worked for most. Vanso’s success story therefore begins with the fact that as an organization, they saw the scope of organic growth, by being present in the market at the right time, using its limitations to their advantage, and gradually making the natural and gradual shift to mobile banking.
Leveraging from opportunities: Integrating technology in the banking sector
Being a banker, this part of the conversation was something I could relate to. As Denis explained, in the years following 2004, banks were investing heavily into internet banking leading to the opening up of digital space. That’s probably what gave Vanso the impetus it required to speed up the process, especially in the field of offering software and services that provided security to customers during transactions.
This also meant that while making transactions, especially through Mobile Apps, it’s not only necessary to keep transactions secure but also find a way to make payments convenient. That is, how do we as a developing nation, use the same level of digital technology that is being used in Europe or America, to carry out cashless transactions?
As Denis explained, the fascinating thing about technology is that it’s limitless. What seems impossible today will be a reality tomorrow. A simple act like taking a coffee order at a Café Neo outlet using an iPad instead of a traditional channel explains the vast possibilities that technology presents. Even in a relatively small place like Lagos, the initiative to improve payment patterns is already in place. But none of these initiatives can be carried out single handed and requires MSME merchant initiatives aligning with banks. Banks should not just act as a collection-agent but a partner in their business – and that’s where the future lies. Collaboration should be such that as their business partner, banks are able to create the opportunity to secure revenue and marketing opportunities for MSMEs.
There’s as such no definite answer to where does the future of payment lie, in that a lot can happen over the next five years. One can simply use a biometric or a mobile scanner to pay for a coffee, or go for the traditional way. Diamond Bank for instance was the first in Africa, to introduce the touch-id for its app – a step that was met with huge success. Similarly by integrating with technology there’s a lot more that can be achieved in the banking sector.
Concerns regarding the growth of technically sound Human Resources
Customers today have unique needs and they are no longer conditioned to a single pattern of thinking. For the youth of Nigeria, this is the right time for them to build on their skills. As Denis explained, Android is what is driving the mobile apps markets, and Android is definite to stay. At present skilled resources is less. So why not build on developing skill-sets that will help in creating Android Apps for users? At Diamond Bank, the fact that our customers prefer banking through mobile, ATM and cashless transactions over traditional channels, is pointing at what the future needs – that is, virtualization.
Working closely with regulators – Can collaboration persist?
Nigeria is a bank-led market, with very natural alignment between financial institutions and the regulators. Diamond Bank, for instance has the advantage of cutting-edge technology whereas MTNL has a huge geographical reach. This definitely calls for collaboration provided each can get a fair deal. The banking industry should be protected and the CBN needs to fine tune policies for the telecom companies as well.
Collaboration by definition means a win-win situation. In order to sustain and survive a systematic collaboration must exist between banks, regulators and technology support. Banks for instance can help MSMEs with the necessary infrastructure support, including technology so as to develop and host their websites and create market places for collecting payments.
The road ahead : Where is Vanso going?
Businesses require capital, infrastructure, human resources, government support and much more to sustain. Considering the present times a fitting end to our conversation would be on Vanso’s road ahead!
This was something Denis was most excited to talk on. He explained that in spite of challenging market conditions there’s always light at the end of the tunnel. Fortunately, there are investors outside Nigeria who are fascinated and curious about Vanso’s growth prospect. FinTech is a very hot concept and organizations are looking for immediate returns. So once things pacify in Nigeria, there’s the huge possibility of foreign investments coming into Nigeria and giving the necessary momentum to local investments as well.
Denis is a technology enthusiast, having helped Diamond’s Mobile Banking App to be regarded as one of the best in the world. And he is not from Nigeria – his company and he came to Nigeria with a purpose. My purpose was therefore to have an unbiased view of how businesses are conducted here, whether foreign organizations have scope and opportunity to flourish here, and how we can help in building a strong infrastructure legacy for the youth. I hope Vanso’s success story will inspire many more organizations to do business in and with Nigeria, and in future we will turn out to be a global power!
In brief, that’s what a conversation with a dynamic technology enthusiast turned out to be like!