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Okeniyi: Technology, Payment Platforms Driving Financial Inclusion

Okeniyi: Technology, Payment Platforms Driving Financial Inclusion

Chief Executive Officer, Payattitude Global, Babatunde Okeniyi, in this interview with Raheem Akingbolu, speaks on how Nigerian businesses are promoting financial inclusion through various payment platforms and technology and why Payattitude is sponsoring Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Game Show. Excerpts:

As a subsidiary of Unified Payments, Payattitude, what informed your decision to sponsor the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Game Show?

First of all, it is essential to introduce what Payattitude is all about. Ours is a payment scheme that allows Nigerians to make payments with only their phone numbers. It is a payment scheme with innovative technologies for payments and financial transactions focusing on mobile and digital payments.

Be that as it may, we decided to sponsor the show because we saw it as an opportunity to give people hope or the aspiration to make money using their intellect. Given that it also resonates with our core values, we decided to partner with the initiative to showcase the innovative aspects of our products. With our USSD technology, we saw an opportunity to carry everybody along regardless of their economic status-people from the upper and lower classes. We believe in innovation, and those with feature phones can always use our application and services. We are equally convinced that people will not forget their phone at home, and if they forget their phone at home, they would instead go back and pick up their phone. But if they forget their card at home, it is doubtful that they will go back home to get their cards. So, we have innovated around what is good for everybody, i.e., most Nigerians. And because our passion is innovation and keeping pace with technology, we decided to partner with an innovative and educational initiative. 

Do you see the sponsorship of the initiative as the best decision the company has made at this time?

Having been around for nine years, we have tried different methodologies in reaching the bottom of the pyramid for inclusiveness. So, we see this as another way of reaching people from the bottom of the pyramid and those from all the segments. Our technology in the payments space has evolved, and we believe that we have what it takes now to address all parts of the economy. And we believe this is the right time to make this investment or sponsor the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Game Show. Before now, it is not as if we’ve not been looking for who to partner with. We did until we sourced the game show which happens to be a suitable fit coming at the right time.

We equally believe that a new set of millionaires can emerge by deploying their intellect. We believe that this is the right point in time because we have the technology that addresses both the economy’s lower cadre and upper cadre. To be part of this game show, all you need is to own a smartphone. We have been able to bring out an innovation that is possible such that if you have a smartphone, you can be part of it, or if you have a feature phone, you can be part of it. And we have tried to simplify it even for those in rural areas because education is one of the critical success factors in making the solution work.

As you know, in the last one, two, or three years, transactions originating from the USSD platform, from rural areas, to be specific, have been significantly on the rise. So, we believe this is the right time. If we speak to the right set of people, we will achieve what we intend in terms of using technology.

Are you saying that this sponsorship platform will help you grow your number in terms of the customer base?

First and foremost, the aim is to let Nigerians know that innovation is coming out from Nigeria for Nigerians. Over the years, most of the innovations we have been having are always foreign and imported, especially when it comes to payments. As I said earlier, Pay attitude is a scheme. We just decided that we will not use cards but rather localize them so that everyone can use them. In a nutshell, the primary purpose is to let Nigerians know that there’s something that they already have that they can make use of. For example, as it is today, if you open an account, you have to be given a card first. The process of giving you a card alone takes a while. So, with this payment scheme, we are saying that you don’t have to be given a card to be part of it. The whole idea is to bring everybody on board. In other words, we are driving accessibility to those who don’t have access to financial services. Since over 200 million people in Nigeria can boast of having a phone, we are trying to leverage it to promote financial inclusion. With Pay attitude, you can perform any financial transactions because virtually all banks’ USSDs are on our platform. But if you take a typical bank, you can only do transactions on their platform provided you have an account with them. It isn’t easy to interact with another bank with another service in this situation. With Payattitude, we’ve linked all these banks together so that (bank A) can make requests from (Bank B) and Bank A can request from A without anything more than the phone number they already know. So, all you need is for the person to use their phone number to do any transaction, either by sending them money or requesting cash from them. It is just a phone number that is required. So, you can see how powerful a tool in your hands can be used to drive financial inclusion. 

In addition, we would be leveraging other services as time goes by, but the most important thing is that we want to educate the people.

The choice of the game show must have cost you a fortune. Can you give us an estimate of what it cost?

 It may be challenging to give an actual figure, but the truth is that it indeed costs a lot of money. But what’s important, first and foremost, is to showcase the intellect of Nigerians, and that’s why we went for the battle of Who Wants To Be  A Millionaire game show. It’s easier for us to spend money on an advert to position all our brands, but we felt a more significant impact on lives if we took on this game show. Take, for instance, a situation where200 or 300 people are made millionaires through the game show; that alone would have a significant impact on the economy of Nigeria.

For us, it may mean a considerable lot of money, but it is about spending money on what we believe is right. If we spend so much time and year innovating and building this technology, we should equally spend a lot of money ensuring people use it. That’s why the game show resonates with us. To encourage participation in the show, we have done the technology to use the product and get used to how it works. So, when other services are coming, it will not be new to you because you are already used to participating in them. And that explains why we said the technology leverages what the people already have and what they are already doing. Since people already have their bank code, they can dial the code to do various transactions.

The process is to dial the codes of any of the banks, click on the additional menu and go to Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Game Show to play. So, we believe this is easier than creating something entirely new that people won’t relate to. 

It is about understanding the strata of the population, the various segments, i.e. the educated, uneducated, the skilled, and unskilled. I am pretty aware that it can be challenging to communicate with this wide range of people. That is why we have strategically looked at minimal education to bring many people on board. We felt it is better to use something they are already used to. Today, if they want to check balances, they will dial (*). So, we are leveraging that to get across to them. Of course, we are not unaware that it would cost money.

Once the technology becomes acceptable and people see the need to use it to the extent that there is a proportionate gain in market share, we can leverage and build on the success. In this circumstance, you cannot solve a problem without the financial reward coming to you. 

Why do you think your target audience would be interested in this initiative, given that other reality shows enjoyed much attention at this time?

I agree with the fact that a lot has changed in terms of what people consume as content. But the truth of the matter is that Nigerians are also very dynamic and innovative. They equally know what is right and wrong but are more interested in what is for them. If we showcase this very well, we can tell people that Nigeria can promote what is morally right and rewarding. Once we do that, the narrative will begin to change. So, if we start to do a thing like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, we would have succeeded in showing to the world that businesses can support an initiative that is morally right and financially rewarding.

As you are aware, we have increased the prize money from N10million to N20 million. The good thing about this ultimate prize is that we can have one person winN20 million every week for the whole of the 52 weeks. With this, there is no way the narrative won’t change.

As far as the game show is concerned, we are in this for the long haul and are not shying away from taking other responsibilities in line with our values. So, if you see other reality shows that promote innovation, that enable the correct value or education, we are ready to support it provided it aligns with our core values. As an innovative and customer-centric organization, anything that aligns with those core values, we are in for it.

The second reason is that the innovation behind this initiative is novel. Here, customers transfer money between one another, using their telephone numbers. If people know that if they participate in this, they can win N20 million, they will go and read. So, the game show would certainly encourage reading culture among Nigerians.

Thus far, I think the responses have been very encouraging, even though we have not started the show. My observation has further shown that Nigerians are not lazy as we are made to believe. It has also shown that when Nigerians see the proper pushing in the right direction, they respond appropriately.

What is the projected users’ target that you look forward to from the Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Game Show?

The program itself does not have a limit. It doesn’t matter where you come from as far as you are, about 16 or 18 years above. But the critical thing is that we want everybody who thinks they can showcase intellect to come up to the platform. We are not discriminating, but it is a matter of your intelligence. Right from the process, you must, first and foremost, indicate your willingness to participate. After that, there will be about six people who will do the fastest finger during the show. It’s not discriminating or tribalistic but about what you know. I must state that the questions have been made to be a little bit intellectual. If you are familiar with current affairs, you should get along well. And the way we have done it is that it can be very participatory such that even if you don’t go to the show, you can participate or play in the comfort of your living room. So, there will be weekly play, which will allow people to answer questions and get prizes too, and there will be sponsored play where people also get rewarded.

By and large, I would say what we have done is to open up more spaces so that if you don’t win N20 million, you can still win an amount every week apart from those who go for the major prizes.

If a user plays using the USSD platform but fails to win at the end of the day, it could be discouraging. How do you address that issue when it eventually arises?

 In a country of over 200 million people, you cannot have everybody make it to the show. As an organization, we have devised to ensure an open, transparent means in the emergence of those who eventually get to the hot seat. And that’s why the only way to get to the show is by playing and participating. It is a very transparent method, and we encourage people to submit as many entries as possible. If you submit ten entries, you may stand a better chance to come to the show than someone who submitted only one. If you make it to the show, we also ensure that six people are picked to do the fastest finger where only one person will eventually get to the hot seat. What’s important is not only the play but also the weekly answers. There are more winners in the sponsored play. So, if you don’t participate in the main show, you can participate in the weekly and sponsor play and equally get rewarded. You might not win N1 million, but you can win N100,000, N10,000,and the like.

Now, what factors prompted you to take on the show?

As I said earlier, we have been looking for a reality show to partner with before we eventually settled for it. After sourcing for the show, we felt this resonated with our core values, and we went for it. There are three cardinal reasons for taking on the show. First, we saw it as an opportunity to showcase the educational skills of Nigerians. Secondly, we want to help people cross over from poor to the rich, while the third is to help drive financial inclusion. This is our way of partnering with the government to ensure that the economy is on sound footing. For instance, imagine a situation where everybody is included and can perform transactions in a straightforward, layman manner. Those three cardinal points informed why we partnered with Who Wants To Be A Millionaire Game Show?. We believe that this will allow us to achieve what we set out to accomplish in the long run and help us build the kind of brands we are looking at.

It is also important to note that this game show is our way of giving back to society. For example, imagine if 52 millionaires are made in a year, then it means we have tried transforming lives given the multiplier effect of such action.

In your own words, how far do you see this game show going?

I think what I have noticed with Nigerians is that you will go far with them consistently. As long as the process is transparent, Nigerians will support you. As long as there’s something in it, you will go far for everybody. You can only go far if you keep to your words. When you say you will do this and you don’t do it, it is the reason why you might not go far. 

We will use data to drive modifications and changes if required. For example, if we feel that we need to get more engagement, we will get more attention; if we think we need to go round the geo-political zone, we will go round the geo-political zones. In a nutshell, we will begin to use data to refine the process without acting as if we know it all. We will use data to re-evaluate what is on the ground rejig the process so that we can go forward without compromising the program’s integrity.

Is this sponsorship deal going to last for the next 52 weeks? 

Yes, we are not here for immediate gains. It is not for a short time. Like I said earlier, we will continue to refine the process to make it better. 

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