How Cenoa intends to solve Nigeria’s inflation crisis with its zero-fee dollar account

Godfrey Elimian
How Cenoa intends to solve Nigeria's inflation crisis with its borderless super wallet
How Cenoa intends to solve Nigeria’s inflation crisis with its borderless super wallet

Inflation is making people all over the world poorer by rendering their savings and salaries useless and tripling the prices of consumer goods on a daily basis. According to Forbes, the world is experiencing its worst inflation spike in decades which came about thanks to a toxic and lengthy cocktail of events that began with the coronavirus pandemic of 2020 and was compounded by Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in 2022—and it remains ongoing.

The top 5 economies in the world suffering the most inflation are Venezuela (400%), Zimbabwe (172%), Argentina (113%), Sudan (71.6%), and Turkey (47.8%). Nigeria (24.08%) is included in the list. Additionally, experts and citizens believe real inflation is much higher. Nonetheless, these economies consistently set themselves the goal of dealing with it.

With the evolution of technology, however, fintech platforms are now attempting to solve the macroeconomic challenge. Among these platforms is Cenoa, a platform aiming to serve billions of people hit by inflation in emerging markets.

Cenoa is a zero-fee dollar account that improves access to dollar-based products. The platform helps users buy digital dollars and earn an inflation-resistant yield easily, securely, and with zero fees. With plans in line to launch its USD debit cards, the platform aims to enhance accessibility to borderless transactions that are not beset by the forces of inflation.

To help this cause of helping the average consumer fight inflationary tendencies on their wealth, the fintech platform was founded by four founders who have had a first-hand challenge with inflation.

The founders, Buğra Çakmak, Emre Ertan, Seçkin Çağlın, and Sırrı Perek are from Turkey, a country that has had its fair share of inflation in the past few years.

This founding team has lived through the frustration of the problem and has global experience building software products for hundreds of millions of users at Getir, Google, Amazon, and Meta. They have also built financial products at leading regional institutions, such as Garanti BBVA, and helped many banks around the world build and distribute financial products as McKinsey consultants.

Speaking to Technext on this installment of Founders Spotlight, the founders shared their experiences, the meeting point of founding the company, the expansion plans and launch of new products, leveraging blockchain, and their desire to help people create sustainable wealth for themselves by accessing products that are inflation-free.

On the starting point for all founders, Emre Ertan, the co-founder, and leading product for the company, says that all four founders have had a relationship that spans more than 10 years.

We all remained close friends and in touch after college, and we joined forces in early 2020 to tackle this problem, which eventually started in April 2022. It’s been since 2009.

Emre Ertan, co-CEO, Leading Product

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Tackling inflation with Cenoa

Cenoa was officially launched in March 2023 to help individuals access payment products and transactional processes that are completely inflation-free while also growing their wealth. This was made possible by the launch of its super wallet, a tool that introduces a borderless and non-bureaucratic way to access a digital dollar product without any fees and earn an inflation-resistant yield.

But the underlying story behind the focus on solving inflation was an eye-sore experience, involving hundreds of people having to queue to access foreign exchange. Seçkin Çaglin, the co-CEO of the company, describes this as having to come face-to-face with a major problem sweeping through the country. Engaging with people who had become victims of the Turkish Lira falling by 50% made them realise that the product was needed.

We were always passionate about three problems with money. One was the inflation-devaluation problem, and the other was the underbanking problem. The third one is the unbanking problem. We had already been brainstorming different solutions to these problems for a couple of years until 2021, when we came across the problem.

Seçkin Çağlın, co-CEO, leading Growth

“These stories (of people who had lost their income and wealth to inflation) hit us close to home because we all grew up in Turkey, which is an emerging market, and we have seen 10, 15, or more devaluations like this and periods of inflation”, he adds. This was the kickoff of what has now become a tool for wealth creation in over 40 countries on four continents.

According to Seçkin, solving the problem became even easier by realising the pain point and finding a tool to leverage, which was blockchain. “We realised that with blockchain technology, we could solve this problem”, he says. “We realised we could make it super easy and super cheap for people to access dollar-based products such as buying dollars, sending them to friends, spending those dollars in shops, or even earning yields.”

Since then, the company has been on a mission to give people innovative, fair, and empowering financial products.

Thriving in the midst of competition

The fintech industry is one of the tech industries that has seen an influx of various products and innovations. Some might even argue that it is a major tech industry that is witnessing sporadic growth globally. Well, this is not unconnected with the fact that the money problem is a major problem for people globally.

With closely related and similar products, Statista estimates that the number of users in the African digital payment sector is expected to amount to 610.90 million by 2027. In general, the African fintech market is projected to reach $65 billion by 2030, representing a 13-fold increase over 2021, according to a new study conducted by consulting firm Boston Consulting Group (BCG) and QED Investors, a global VC based in the US. Despite this, the founders have expressed optimism about the uniqueness of Cenoa.

We are very optimistic about this topic because we have already seen huge demand and incredibly positive feedback from customers in Nigeria. In addition to other markets, in less than a month, we exceeded 50,000 signups. We have seen amazing reviews in app stores and a remarkable app store rating of 4.7.

Seçkin Çağlın

According to Seçkin, users who have been using the platform have expressed their delight at the product for solving a major pain for them. Also, they have received commendations on the value proposition, which they term groundbreaking and very compelling to them because “it’s designed for everyday people, meaning it offers the three things that they care about – easy access to dollars, zero transactional fees, and the real exchange rate.”

He further details that there are two more factors that would differentiate the platform in the future: One is that “the platform is built by executives who have built products and managed businesses that serve billions of people around the world. Second, the investors are top global VCs who back some of the top unicorn fintech and neobanks, such as Coinbase.”

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Seçkin Çağlın, co-CEO, leading Growth
Seçkin Çağlın, co-CEO, leading Growth

Expanding into new markets – Nigeria in focus

Over the years, the Nigerian tech space has seen significant progress to emerge as one of the fastest growing on the African continent, with major funding opportunities, startups, and product launches. The industry’s largest market appears to be Digital investment, which, according to Statistica, will have a total transaction value of US$58.37 million before the last quarter of this year.

The average transaction value per user in the Digital Investment market is also projected to amount to US$15.78 in 2024, while the number of users is expected to amount to 146.10 million by 2027. Cenoa intends to have a share of this growing number of users.

We are in the process of building product and marketing partnerships with people and brands in Nigeria that Nigerians already know and love. This is just the beginning of a long journey for us and we are committed to making a positive impact on Nigerians’ daily lives.

Currently, the platform is in use in 40 countries, and he says the platform is currently working on its USD debit cards, coupled with being already integrated with commercial banks so that its users can easily deposit and withdraw money from their local accounts.

In terms of overcoming challenges associated with blockchain technology in Africa and Nigeria, Buğra Çakmak, the co-founder, and leading Blockchain development says Cenoa is heavily leveraging Blockchain technology in the backend but is unique because of a couple of things. He says, “We focus on our value proposition, and through our vision it ties also into regulation, meaning first, we are 100% focused on one problem which is inflation and two devaluations.

Seçkin adds that because the platform is a software company, it is quite flexible to expand and adapt to local regulations. “We are just a software company, just like WhatsApp. This gives us a lot of flexibility and advantages in terms of regulation as well.”

It makes it very easy for us to expand to new countries and also to comply with regulations because we are non-custodial, we don’t touch customer funds. We find local fintech partners to handle the regulation pieces, giving us the flexibility and speed to comply with local regulations in lots of markets at once because we partner with the local people.”

He says apart from Nigeria, Ghana, Turkey, the UK, and Europe, the platform will focus over the next year on adding more countries in Africa because they see huge demand, huge excitement, and huge interest from potential customers. “We are also hoping to add a couple of damp lists, such as Egypt, Pakistan, Argentina, Colombia, or even the Philippines.”

Future prospects with AI integration on the platform

The AI craze has been sweeping the IT industry over the past few months, with both large corporations and startups integrating it into their businesses. Even though experts and analysts have advised caution and some have criticised the adoption rate and rollout strategy, its use and adoption continue to increase with each passing month.

According to Emre, there is huge potential for AI in the industry, and in the coming months or years, there is the possibility that the platform will also see some introduction.

“AI is a very powerful technology, and it actually provides a lot of powerful tools to help us accomplish our mission. So we are actually constantly looking at different use cases on how to actually leverage AI to help our users even more.”

There are a bunch of applications that can be in customer support or even financial suggestions powered by AI. It may even be fraud detection or algorithms. In general, we are looking at how to leverage AI to make us more efficient and help our users even more.

Emre Ertan

Challenges so far

As a platform for validating transactions and storing data, blockchain has broad applications in financial services, although its most commonly recognised application is with cryptocurrencies. This does not mean that there haven’t been challenges with its adoption in Africa, especially where the technology is still relatively new and untapped.

This, Sırrı Perek, the co-founder of Cenoa, and leading mobile development says has been a major challenge since launch. He recounts an experience before founding Cenoa when he tried to input money into a yield account using the Blockchain system but found it challenging. He describes this as the everyday experience of people who have yet to have formal knowledge of its use and potential.

However, simplifying this process and creating tools that people could easily leverage to access and store their wealth is important.

Building a simplified system where people can basically leverage all the benefits of blockchain technologies is really, really important for us. The challenges of Blockchain are real and we are definitely on the right track to solve them.

Sırrı Perek, co-founder of Cenoa, leading Mobile development

For Emre, a major challenge is in the aspect of product development. “I think challenges in terms of product is when you think about product development, you need lots of partners, product partnerships'” he says.

“When you are building a software-as-a-service company, you will have a lot of well-established partners because it’s a mature industry that you can build on top of each other. You can build a product very quickly. But blockchain technology is still very new; all the companies and all the products in the industry are just emerging. So sometimes it might be challenging to find the right partners to build on top of each other.”

To conclude, even though the technology is new and the regulation can be unclear sometimes, Cenoa is positioned to overcome all these challenges with the experience of the team.

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