Having served in many areas of finance as an IT professional, including some Fortune 500 companies, Odunowo felt there was always a need for her to excel in the fintech industry. When the opportunity came to join and expand fets in Nigeria’s burgeoning fintech industry, there was no looking back.
Can you tell us more about yourself and career background?
I am an IT professional and my core areas of expertise are risk analysis and banking. After gaining a BSc in Computer Science from the University of Ilorin in Nigeria, I completed a Masters in Information Systems, with a focus on information security, from Pace University in New York. These qualifications have led to a career in information security, risk management and data protection, spanning 19 years. It has ultimately led me to become the CEO of fets, a position at Nigeria’s leading mobile money provider and a company that truly pushes forward Africa’s fintech agenda.
You joined fets in 2012. How did this come about, and what was your motivation to join Nigeria’s nascent fintech sector?
I was invited to join fets as chief risk officer. Prior to that I worked in the financial services industry at a number of Fortune 500 companies and in one of Africa’s leading banks. The founders of fets thought my experience would be a perfect fit for this dynamic young startup. Soon after, I was promoted to CEO with an overall responsibility of strategic leadership, direction and guidance for the growth, expansion and diversification of the company. Then there is my personal motivation to work and excel in fintech. It is truly a cutting-edge sector that combines the best of both worlds – IT and finance – in order to fulfil a strong social mission of bringing financial services to those with limited access to banking. Fintech is a sector that improves lives, and makes employment and doing business easier for millions.
How did you transform fets from a startup into the integrated business it is today?
As soon as I was appointed CEO, the growth of fets across all headings became my number one priority – growth in the range of services that we provide, as well as in the number of users and transaction values. Of course, the chief prerequisite for growth is building a strong team and a strong product. We have taken a route that is slightly different from your average African mobile money startup; rather than import a solution, we have entrusted our team of Nigerian IT experts with building a world-class product. The experience of launching fetswallet, our award-winning app, has not only helped us to build the best team in the business, but also to understand and answer the needs of our local market. For instance, with fetswallet you can pay bills, transfer money, top up airtime, and pay your employees in any of Nigeria’s five main languages. We are the first mobile money company in Nigeria that offers multilingual functionality. The results speak for themselves: today, more than two million people use fetswallet and that number keeps growing. In fact, if you look at 2017 compared to 2016, we have doubled our growth rate.
How lucrative is the fintech industry and how transparent are the processes from a behind-the-scenes perspective?
The fintech industry in Nigeria and the continent as a whole has tremendous growth potential. The latest study from Global Findex – the World Bank Group tracking financial inclusion – shows that only 8% of the Nigerian population have used mobile money services. When you consider the lack of banking facilities in many areas, the number of unbanked citizens, or those with bank accounts but without basic banking tools such as debit cards, it is clear that fintech offers a way forward. In the case of fetswallet, we implement security policies in line with world standards – leading to fets being awarded as Africa’s most trusted mobile payment technology company at the 2016 African Brand Leadership Merit Awards. We offer a thoroughly secure and transparent way to send and receive money, as we are licensed by the Central Bank of Nigeria. The transactions carried out on your personal mobile phone are instantaneous and easy to implement.
How important is documenting and advancing youth entrepreneurship in Africa?
If you start thinking about an archetypical young entrepreneur, or an exciting startup, what comes to mind? Probably a person or an organisation from the United States, or Europe, India or China – places where there is an emphasis on entrepreneurship, creativity, innovation and self-motivation. Why should this be when we have such strong entrepreneurial energy and creativity in Africa? In addition to changing perceptions, we needed to offer practical help to Nigerian entrepreneurs. Documenting and advancing entrepreneurship, in the sense of publicising positive examples, and offering practical help and opportunities, is important to us.
What are your thoughts on African Renaissance?
I love the concept of the African Renaissance. It signifies the often untold story about our achievements. For instance, it is not universally known that Nigeria has so far commissioned and launched five satellites into orbit, including Africa’s first communication satellite. Closer to Earth, our film industry, Nollywood, follows closely behind the US and India in terms of output.