In this interview, the Chief Executive of Zest, a subsidiary of Stanbic IBTC Holdings, Stanley Jacob, speaks on the importance of evolving technology in the fintech ecosystem to bridge the financial inclusion gap, how to increase funding to the sector and how his firm is positioned to boost the SMEs across Nigeria. Nume Ekeghe presents the excepts:
The fintech ecosystem has witnessed a reduction in foreign investment. How best can industry players localise fundraising and tap into disruptions in the ecosystem to scale and sustain business offerings?
Different parameters have led to a drop in investment in the fintech ecosystem, but landmark deals are still reached regardless. In 2022, African startups raised a record $5.4 billion, with more than a third of the money going to financial service companies. But in Q1 2023, fintech investments in Africa declined year-on-year by 17 per cent. Nigeria was Africa’s most active country for fintech deal-making in Q1, with 12 deals, a 32 per cent share of total deals. In Q2 2023, African FinTech deal activity witnessed a decline of 31%. But there’s a strong belief that introducing more players into the ecosystem can reverse these declines.
Indeed, players in the tech space need to take advantage of disruptions. For instance, PayTech was Africa’s most active FinTech subsector during Q2 2023, with 16 deals. Regarding industry verticals, payments, transfers, and lending account for 81 per cent of funding and are the fastest-growing sectors.
We’re seeing the entry of the likes of Zest in Nigeria into the ecosystem, coming with a pool of disruptions opening up the ecosystem. The future remains bright for Africa, and local investors are seeing these opportunities and are positioning to tap into them with enough capital to match what Silicon Valley is offering.
How best can fintech players tap into AI, automation and blockchain technology to drive growth in the ecosystem, seeing that the government is tapping into these to open up the markets?
The commitment from the government to utilise opportunities in the AI and technology space is evident. The appointment of a minister of innovation and digital economy, the first member of the startup community to reach a government position, highlights the sector’s importance to Africa’s biggest economy. This is a step in the right direction as it helps to de-risk the sector for investments.
Fintechs and the government’s adoption of technology and AI in Nigeria reflect the deliberate intention to remain the leading African country. It addresses challenges such as payments, integration, unemployment, etc.
Despite the many untapped opportunities, digital transactions have become part of everyday life in most parts of the country, mainly due to the level of acceptability. Payments are the basis for development across the board, and technology will continue to be crucial in bridging the financial gap, enabling a faster, safer, and more inclusive system.
What is the significance of Zest in the rapidly evolving business space?
The modern business space is rapidly evolving, with businesses seeking better ways to operate and interact with their customers. The pursuit of growth and expansion is ceaseless. Businesses of all sizes are constantly looking for digital solutions and platforms that can propel them into new territories and access new network of customers.
We unveiled Zest and started commercial operations in June 2023 and went above the line in October 2023, providing payment solutions, e-Commerce and lifestyle offerings for businesses and consumers.
At the centre of this execution, we ensured that Zest maintains a visionary approach to design and innovation, positioning it as a trailblazer that would set the standards for true platform orchestration in Nigeria.
How does Zest, as the fintech subsidiary of Stanbic IBTC Holdings, differentiate itself in the market? Additionally, how does Zest’s multi-railed payment gateway and customizable e-Commerce storefront contribute to its goal of providing a seamless and integrated platform for businesses and consumers?
Zest is at the epicentre of new partnerships, better experiences in payments and customised solutions delivery for the Stanbic IBTC group. When customers use Zest, they experience better; better with payments, better with selling, better with integrations, firmly aligning with our tagline – ‘go for better’”.
Zest has successfully delivered a multi-railed payment gateway that offers customers multiple payment options (cards, transfers, QR, USSD, ApplePay, GooglePay, and others), and recently validated its pioneering spirit as the first fintech to go live on accepting the AfriGO domestic cards in Nigeria. The gateway platform provides a robust dashboard for business analytics, helping businesses make insight-based decisions.
Zest provides the customisable e-Commerce storefront that allows businesses customise their online store and sell online, with this, businesses with a storefront gets onboard the Zest marketplaces that service as a convergence point for sellers and consumers shopping online. Zest also offers a lifestyle mobile app that is bank-agnostic and allows consumers to enjoy different lifestyle offerings regardless of the bank where their account is domiciled.
What are the design principles of Zest’s platform orchestration strategy, and how do these principles, contribute to its goal of providing a versatile and solution-driven platform for businesses and consumers of varying sizes and sectors?
There are four major design principles on which forms the foundation of the Zest platform orchestration strategy.
The principles are: (a) multi-rail platform strategy, (b) human-centered design, (c) business growth powered by e-Commerce, (d) operational excellence.
Zest is designed to deliver a solution-driven platform orchestration strategy that caters to a broad spectrum of businesses and consumers, ranging from micro, small, medium enterprises to large corporations, government, and global subsidiaries. The focus is to ensure that businesses can collect payments in any way the consumers want to pay them, make e-Commerce available to all sizes of business whether they have a website or not, provide a wide range of value-added services and lifestyle offerings, and create a platform that enables partners to offer working capital solutions that bridge the financing gaps for businesses and checkout financing for consumers to access goods and services.
As the Chief Executive of Zest, how has your commitment to excellence and financial inclusion?
My professional journey reflects my commitment to excellence, with an impressive line-up of professional licenses and qualifications, including a Doctoral Degree (with specialization in Green Banking and Payments), an MBA in Technology Management, and a Post-Graduate in Digital Business from Emeritus Singapore, MIT, and Columbia Business School.
My dedication to fostering financial inclusion goes beyond my role at Zest. I have significantly contributed to various industry bodies and regulatory and stakeholder forums. I am currently the Vice President of the Governing Council for Fintech Association of Nigeria (FINTECHNGR) and Member of the Advisory Council of Committee of eBusiness Industry Heads.
In a recent ‘Projectified’ interview hosted by the Global Project Management Institute, USA, I shared my perspective on the fintech industry: We’re not just creating products; we’re shaping the future of finance. It’s not enough to innovate; we must ensure that innovation benefits everyone, from the urban centres to the remote villages.
I have been recognised for my impact on innovation and inclusion, and this reflected when I emerged winner of the Titans of Tech Merit Award for 2023 and also recently won the Bank 4.0 Award for the West Africa Payment Innovator of the year 2023.