Awojoodu: MSMEs Essential for Sustainable Development

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Chief Executive Officer, E-Settlement Limited, Olaoluwa Awojoodu, in this interview speaks about the operation of the firm. Hamid Ayodeji brings the excerpts:

Can you shed more light on the sort of services and products the firm provides?

Currently, our company is focused on providing access to payments and financial services through our three technological driven products, which are PayCentre Africa, a financial inclusion agent banking platform; Cashenvoy, an online payment gateway and PayPad, a mPOS product, offering revolutionary and practical white labelled solutions for banks and corporate bodies to allow their merchants and agents receive payments.

How has your firm been able to ensure the safety of its consumers’ data from fraudsters and hackers?

We are PCI DSS certified and we adhere to the standards set by the data protection and regulatory bodies. We periodically review our database to check for possible vulnerabilities. We also enlighten our partners and staff on information security and the need to be security conscious on a regular basis.

What initiatives and innovations have your firm deployed in order to survive the devastating impact of the covid-19 pandemic and tackle challenges financial technology services platform like yours face and how would you describe the impact financial technology services can have towards the recovery of the nation’s volatile economy?

First, we had to move our physical services online and look for ways we can achieve our business goals and operations without the need to be physically present. Some of our unique features like dispute resolution came in most handy during the pandemic as banking halls were closed and customers couldn’t go to banks to fill dispense error forms. We ensured that we were still able to service all our customers adequately despite the pandemic.

The economy is seen emerging back to growth in 2021 as demand recovers. However, the outlook remains fragile, clouded by uncertainty.
From your experience what roles can micro, small and medium-sized enterprises (MSMEs) play towards contributing to the nation’s sustainable economic recovery?

MSMEs continue to play an important role towards the sustainable development of every economy. Meanwhile, in Nigeria I believe the economic climate was not structured efficiently enough to provide the adequate support the MSMEs need in order to operate and thrive. MSMEs help create employment, thereby boosting the Gross Domestic Products (GDP) of the nation.

What sort of regulations and policies can the government enforce in order to enhance economic activities in the country?

The best thing the government can do for all business owners in the country is to create an enabling environment for businesses to thrive. From power, transportation, ease of doing business, access to finance and funding, but if we are speaking specifically to policies and regulations, tax breaks, exemptions for MSMEs would be crucial. Government can also do more by partnering with venture capitals to fund businesses, or give easy to pay back loans.

In view of the recent ratification of the AfCFTA by African countries including Nigeria, what opportunities and risks does this present for the country and entrepreneurial ecosystem?

The ratified AfCFTA presents huge opportunities to Nigeria’s entrepreneurial ecosystem as it creates an easier and smoother pathway for Nigerian companies to expand into other African countries. As we all know, quite a number of African countries face the same challenges and offer similar opportunities. The risk that exists is that other countries with better efficiencies like Nigeria have a larger market to do business in and may put some of our indigenous businesses at risk, so locally owned businesses need to enhance their operations.

How crucial is the infusion of technology towards the development of MSMEs in Nigeria?

Technology is a vital tool for any sector to leverage on and it has proven to be outstanding over the years for all kinds of industries. Entrepreneurs can accomplish a lot with the infusion of technology driven innovations and solutions like empower themselves and their staff, expand their businesses, save costs, block leakages and losses.

What are your thoughts on financial technology services firms and the banking industry collaborating in order to deepen financial inclusion in the country?

The financial sector is one that requires beneficial collaborations due to the structure and regulatory policies making it very important for banks and financial technology services companies to continue with an effective partnership in order to complement each other’s offerings, thereby ensuring that every stakeholder achieves the goals of getting financial services to everyone in the country and even continent. These partnerships will not only save time and resources, it will also help grow the pie and ensure that everyone gets value. Also, everyone ships products and services faster.

In terms of its corporate social responsibility, how has E-Settlement been able to give back to the society in which it has operated over the years?

A lot of our work is geared towards giving back to the society as the core of our products is focused on financial empowerment, job creation and providing services to the under-banked. We’re looking to provide 200,000 jobs by the end of this year. And that’s not all we’ve done, last year, we had several projects where we set up 40 persons living with disabilities with agent banking kits and start-up capital and I am happy to report that they are all doing very well. We also donated hand washing equipment and materials to over 20 locations in Lagos state in doing our part to reduce the spread of the COVID-19; we targeted bus stations and bus stops for this engagement. Our partner agents at PayCentre Africa have also not been left out of our CSR activities as we also distributed COVID-19 materials to some of them last year.

What sort of work philosophy is E-Settlement built upon?

Empowerment and problem solving, Cashenvoy was created because it was very difficult and near impossible for people to make payments for goods and services online in Nigeria and PayCentre was born out of the need to help people have jobs and for communities to have access to some banking hall facilities and much needed cash, we actually travelled to a state in south-west region Nigeria and were stranded for cash, and we had to drive for over an hour before we could access some so we decided to solve that problem, now you can’t go to any town in south-west and not see a PayCentre agent ready to help you with some banking activities.