…E-top up taking a huge toll
…Recharge card printers, sellers count loss

By Omolola Shobowale

At the beginning of telecoms revolution in Nigeria, most jobless Nigerians saw opportunities in selling recharge cards and running road side call centres.

Recharge card top-up machine

The revolution also saw to a new business in recharge card printing. Mobile Operators who wanted to maximise profit appropriated the recharge card printing business, establishing multi million naira printing companies abroad while importing the finished products into the country.

This only stopped when a group of Nigerian value added service providers and other Nigerian technology businessmen cried out that the local content policy of Nigeria should apply in the recharge card printing business.

However, with the advent of financial technology and the rise of electronic recharge card vending machines, voucher printing business in this modern day, appears to be going into extinction.

Most recharge card printers are saying the business is no longer successful. Managing Director of Alltech consults, a recharge card printing company, Mr Allwell Uzoma who spoke to Hi-Tech said that there is no more gain in the businesses. “Before now, the business was lucrative because everything was based on paper. Even though the gain in card is as low as N5, we were making money because of the demand and volumes we were printing.

“But since the vending machines become the norm and everybody appears to be buying airtime on their phones, we have experience lull in the business. I doubt if we can still be in business in the next five years. My major concern is the huge money we spent on machineries. I hope some other value added services requiring cards would spring up to keep us in business” he added.

The Fintech boom, did not hurt only the recharge card printers, it also affected the business of petty recharge resellers and call centre operators. Those who have found it difficult to upgrade technologically, have returned to square one.

There has been exponential growth in financial technology operations from an average monthly transaction value of US$5 million in 2011 to well over US$142.8 million in 2017.

Different analysts and technology enthusiasts have attributed this growth to the surge in e-commerce, and smart phone penetration. Nigeria adopted the “fourth industrial revolution” which is based on digital revolution and this has had a tremendous impact on the country as a whole.

This revolution ushered in new ways of doing business and easier ways of making payment. The effects of these new ways of business and financial transactions have been both positive and negative to petty traders and the common people.

Now, it is easier for customers to purchase products with their phones or pay for goods and services with their cards, making it a lot safer than strapping huge cash around. Also, payment of bills, settling of debts and safe keeping of money are a lot easier.

Purchase of recharge cards is even faster through E Top-Up platforms where customers can purchase with just a click via mobile phones.

However, the petty traders, particularly the not too educated ones, who ordinarily were eking out a living through the traditional and old way of business transaction, are now out of business and end up in the already bloated labour market.

For instance, veteran recharge card vendor, Mrs Oyindamola Awe, who has been plying her trade in Osogbo, Osun State, for 10 years, spoke on the influence of E-Top Up Platforms, saying, “it has affected my business, people don’t patronise me as much as they used to. Even the gain has reduced drastically; I used to make N1000, now I just make N20.”

Mr. Segun Adeniyi, a recharge card seller of five years who resides and sells in the University of Lagos, Akoka, lamented; “Students hardly buy cards anymore. I now have to keep calling out, Buy recharge cards! Despite this, a vast majority don’t buy because they have done it on their phones. These E Top-Up platforms are gradually taking a hold of my customers.”

The introduction of E Top-Up platforms for airtime recharge has made things easier for customers. Instead of leaving the comfort of their homes or office to purchase recharge cards, they simply dial top-up codes and accounts would immediately be credited.

In Benin City, Edo State, Mrs. Peace Ogidan said, “Well, I am already thinking of a business change. Recharge card doesn’t sell as much as it used to. I count myself privileged because I sell in a market so people still patronise me, still, it is no longer as it used to be. I would say I have lost 60 percent of my customers.

In highly developed parts of Nigeria, recharge card sellers are hanging by a thread. Rivers state has about 6.03 million active network subscribers yet Mr. Elendu Richard bitterly said; “I am thinking of going into another business entirely, the money I make from selling cards cannot cater for my family. Financial technology has made me think twice. It is clear that financial technology is taking over, if you were planning to go into this line of work, it is advisable to reconsider.”

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