A chat with Zone’s Olayiwola Osoba on regulation, opportunities and the future of digital payments in Africa

Temitope Akintade
A chat with Zone's Olayiwola Osoba on regulation, opportunities and the future of digital payments in Africa

Olayiwola Osoba has always been a lover of technology Having worked at Andela, GT Bank E-payments Group, Intel Corporation and others, Osoba has been a huge follower of tech because of its huge capacity for impact.

Though he had not previously worked for a blockchain-based company before joining Zone, his passion and enthusiasm for all things tech has helped him thrive in the space since venturing.

With hands-on experience across various verticals in the technology space—from talent development to hardware solutions and payment systems—I have always stayed up-to-date on everything happening within the tech space. That foundational knowledge was useful when I joined Zone, which today is Africa’s leading blockchain payment infrastructure company”, he told me.

In a conversation with Technext, Osoba, VP of Marketing and Corporate Communications at Zone dived into the world of digital payments in Nigeria. He shared an insightful commentary on the recent rise of the still burgeoning ecosystem and provided insights on what the future would look like in a few years.

Digital Payments in Nigeria 

It is open knowledge that there has been a significant surge in the uptake of digital payments in Nigeria and across Africa.

According to a study by EBANX titled, Beyond Borders, digital payment penetration in Nigeria and other African countries has grown from 23 per cent to 46 per cent in less than eight years. 

Osoba attributed the growth of the African payment ecosystem to internet and smartphone penetration.  “The Internet in itself serves as an infrastructure for powering payments”, he said.

According to him, other factors like the pandemic (when rumours passed that COVID-19 could be transmitted via cash exchange and the ubiquity of mobile phone and the internet contributed to the rise and growth of digital payments.

But, he singles out the infamous cash crunch imposed by the Central Bank’s Naira Swap policy of January to March 2023 as one of the most notable catalysts for the digital payment adoption in Nigeria. According to him, within that 2-3 months, there was a behavioural shift among people. 

Nigerians were forced to heavily on digital channels like POS, bank transfers etc.. We saw a lot of conductors holding POS, even market women. What that meant was that people that weren’t even open to using digital channels were forced to learn and use it”, he explained.

Read also: Court approves CBN’s social media collection

Challenges/opportunities in digital payments in Nigeria 

Speaking on the challenges of running a digital payment service in Nigeria, Osoba listed the unreliability of the internet infrastructure as a major bottleneck.

They’re just a bunch of challenges and they exist because of the nature of the payment infrastructure that is powering most of the financial service providers in Nigeria right now. This payment infrastructure that currently exists and has issues of reliability, issues of friction”, he explained.

He also cites the lack of trust for payment platforms because many people question the reliability of the technology and still prefer cash to digital payments. Many users have experienced needless delays, harrowing failures and instances of loss.

Ands, he believes that most of these challenges are institutional: “These issues have been inherited by the financial service providers since that are mostly building on foundational payment infrastructure. It will certainly take time to steer the course for better”,

On the other hand, Osoba believes that players also have the responsibility to do more about digital literacy and customer enlightenment. “To a larger extent, I think that if we solve that challenge, it’s something that would enable digital payments to thrive more effectively”, he noted.

A chat with Zone's Olayiwola Osoba on regulation, opportunities and the future of digital payments in Africa

Needless to say, Osoba believes that the opportunities in the digital payment industry lie in the challenges highlighted. He explained that a throve of opportunities are embedded in finding a more reliable and frictionless payment/internet infrastructure that users can trust.

And, this is where Zone comes in. He likens the reliability of the payment infrastructure of the blockchain-based Zone to Email messaging. 

Have you ever thought that email might not go because the infrastructure might be down or maybe 100 million people are trying to send emails? No. That’s exactly what we’ve built. We have built a powerful payment infrastructure that guarantees this. And this reliability will be inherited by the financial service providers connected to our network”, he explained.

Osoba on Cybersecurity 

Despite the rate of growth of the financial industry, the space continues to be plagued by a series of security challenges. Some notable tech companies that have suffered security breaches recently include Patricia, Flutterwave Interswitch and a number of traditional banks. 

Commenting on this trend, Osoba opined that innovators need to strive to solve existing problems at an equal alcrity as bad actors. They need to consistently create innovative solutions way ahead of the hacks.

The industry loses hundreds of millions of dollars every year to cyber security challenges and what that tells me is that something is wrong with the infrastructure in itself. The systems that we have today are vulnerable to all of these threats and until we invest heavily in securing these systems, the space in itself will continue to see a rise in cyber fraud”, he explained.

The social media space was recently agog when the government announced a new cybersecurity levy to be imposed on digital payment transactions in Nigeria. Although the controversial levy has been withdrawn, the topic has continue to generate mixed reactions. 

Related post: 0.5% Cybersecurity Levy: CBN directs banks to halt implementation

Osoba explains that the decision is understandable. The country is in a critical phase and this fee would add more pressure on businesses and individuals that are already struggling to survive an unfavourable economy. 

So while I welcome the idea of investing in the cybersecurity infrastructure to ensure we don’t expose ourselves and our systems to the threats of cyber fraud, I think that it is not coming at a very great time”, he explained.

The VP also added that the authorities need to find more creative ways to bolster security without putting pressure on businesses and consumers.

Olayiwola Osoba foresees cross-border banking system (or interconnection) as the future of payment in Nigeria and Africa. 

“I think that there’s an interconnection that is coming very soon and by interconnection, I mean today right now, right, we have GTBank in Nigeria, we have GTBank in Ghana. I can’t send money to GT Bank in Ghana from my GT Bank in Nigeria. I think that we would start to see banks innovating to enable cross-border transactions without users having to think about the currency change. I think that’s the next thing that we would see, for the financial services space”, he concludes.

Zone’s upcoming report on digital payments 

As a leading player in the Nigerian payment industry, Zone will be launching “Nigerian Payment Report 2024,” a comprehensive analysis of the Nigerian payment ecosystem.

Zone 2.0
Zone 2.0

Olayiwola Osoba says the Zone touches all segments of the payment sector, 

There are a lot of things that people do not know. A lot of people make transfers today, but then they don’t even know how it works. People don’t even know why payments fail. People don’t know who the players are. People don’t know who the regulators are, or what the regulators are doing. People don’t even know who the newcomers are or who the innovators are. The report would serve as an educative and insightful tool for them to get a clear sense of how the payment industry works in general“, he explained.

Osoba says that the report will officially go live on soon and will provide insights that will influence policy decisions and practices in the coming years. 

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