Iyabo Akeem-Onikoyi, is one of the Nigerian women making waves in the competitive Fintech industry. She rose from an intern in the banking system to a Director in the Fintech industry and she is still not relenting. For her, transitioning from digital banking to the financial technology space was a positive challenge. she has sixteen years of experience in both the banking and Fintech industry. In this exclusive, she was able to juxtapose the two industries and their complementary services.
As a woman and a mother, how have you been able to combine the roles and thrive in a male dominated space like Fintech Industry?
As I always say, Family and work demand can be overwhelming for women, and it can be tough to choose sometimes. However, being a woman is no longer an excuse to achieve our career aspirations, there are numerous examples both locally and globally who have done exceptionally well, the most recent example is the newly appointed Supreme Court Justice in America. It’s about what you have to offer as a woman, intellectual capability, leadership skills, commitment and tenacity while also finding the right balance and making the right sacrifices at home and work as it demands.
Can you highlight some exploits that you have accomplishments in the industry?
I have worked in three different commercial Banks before I joined the Fintech industry. I joined banking in 2005 when transactions were predominantly cash based. Since then, I have been privileged to work on digital products which has drastically changed the way we do business and manage personal finances. I had a first-hand experience with customers when the CBN introduced the cashless and financial inclusion policies. I have led the digitization of various large corporate, government parastatals, consumer products, cross border payments enablement for corporate and Fintechs. I have been involved in the evolution of digital payments and adoption in Nigeria right from the beginning of my career up to leadership positions. It is a great feeling of accomplishment to witness the uptake of various digital products serving different segments of the economy and to also experience the ease and convenience the products offers to businesses and individuals.
What factors are responsible for your career growth, especially the one that got you to the position of Director in the Fintech industry?
It was a gradual and consistent career growth. I was privileged to work with great leaders who consistently motivated me, gave me opportunities and higher responsibilities. It is a combination of many things: hardwork, consistency, the right sponsors and support network and most importantly, the Grace of God. On my move from the Bank into Fintech industry, I was head-hunted by a former colleague, who later became a good friend, Moses. He is one of the best brains in the Fintech industry in Africa. He reached out to me when he was given the opportunity to create this business and he needed high impact people to work with him to achieve the great exploits together. From ground zero, we drove the business and are recording good success. You see, whether you start your own business or you are given an opportunity to lead a business on behalf of investors, you will naturally want to surround yourself with achievers and like minds so you can be successful.
What are the challenges associated with Fintech industry compared to Banking?
Most Fintechs in Nigeria are below 5 years old. Invariably, they are start-ups and you cannot compare the structure which exists in banks with decades of operation and experiences. For Fintechs, being startups and a relatively new industry especially in Nigeria, I think getting licenced by the regulators is one of the biggest challenges for Fintech. Also funding, resourcing the right skill set, developing the products, market acceptability and scalability. For the employee, depending on when you join the organisation, there may be need to start everything from the scratch, the product and process documentation, product development, product licencing discussions with regulators, Fund raising rounds with investors, Corporate communication or even renting the office spaces. However, it is a good learning opportunity. Fintech gives you the opportunity to be part of building and owning a slice of something that has the potential to go global. It can be demanding but also highly rewarding.
Having Fintechs in Nigeria are below 5 years old. Invariably, they are start-ups and you cannot compare the structure which exists in banks with decades of operation and experiences. For Fintechs, being startups and a relatively new industry especially in Nigeria, I think getting licenced by the regulators is one of the biggest challenges for Fintech. Also funding, resourcing the right skill set, developing the products, market acceptability and scalability. For the employee, depending on when you join the organisation, there may be need to start everything from the scratch, the product and process documentation, product development, product licencing discussions with regulators, Fund raising rounds with investors, Corporate communication or even renting the office spaces. However, it is a good learning opportunity. Fintech gives you the opportunity to be part of building and owning a slice of something that has the potential to go global. It can be demanding but also highly rewarding.
Having spent years in the digital banking space before migrating to Fintech, what emboldened you to attempt the new occupational environment?
For me, it is a relatively known terrain, when I was working in the banks’ digital space, we worked with a good number of Fintech because the Fintech industry cannot operate without banks. Fintechs must maintain banking relationship with banks for transactional and settlement purposes. In some cases, Commercial banks sponsors Fintech for product licensing with CBN and the card schemes. Fintechs also leverage on some of the Commercial banks’ infrastructures and footprints for expansion beyond the shores of Nigeria. There is a direct relationship between Banks and Fintech for some of the reasons I highlighted therefore it was an easy transition for me to move from the digital banking space into Fintech.
You were recently featured at a product launch by a Bank at Eko Hotel, where you spoke about the partnership between Fintechs and the Bank, when you look at the future of Fintech, do you think Fintech are a threat to Banks?
In my opinion, there is no direct threat because the opportunities for financial technology and financial inclusion for the Nigeria populace is huge. A recent EFInA report shows that only about 45% of Nigeria population is banked with about 36% of the Nigerian adult population still financially excluded. As I explained earlier, there is continuous need for Fintech to leverage on banks to be able to offer some of their products and services, that synergy would always be there. There were days of distrust or less synergy, however, I think more than ever before there is a better relationship between banks and Fintechs. Prior to now, maybe 10 years ago, you probably will not have banks and Fintechs coming together under a forum to deliberate and present a common front. There are now various organised forum where Fintech and Banks come together to brainstorm about a common problem and the way forward, jointly engage regulators to promote mutually beneficial objectives and so on.
The synergy between both parties is helping the industry to better navigate and serve the market while also leveraging on relevant infrastructure and strength. There is exchange of APIs between banks and Fintechs for smarter service delivery. There is Open banking API which enables building of standardized APIs and allows exchange of data among banks, fintech and other stakeholders for various use cases. This when fully optimized will transform user experience for consumers. There is mobile money and agency banking services offered by both Fintechs and Banks, while incumbent banks have the huge branch networks and gradually built their agency network, Fintechs rapidly build their agency network thereby reaching the unbanked and underserved communities far and wide and bringing them into the banking and financial services ecosystem which also positively impacted the CBN financial inclusion strategy. For both Fintechs and banks, the opportunities are endless, continuous partnership and synergy can only make things better.
Briefly tell us about yourself
My name is Iyabo Akeem-Onikoyi. I currently work with OPAY as a Director of Online Acquiring. I joined the Fintech industry about a year ago. Prior to that, I was in the banking industry within the digital space. I have over sixteen years of experience combined in both digital banking and Fintech industry. I am a wife and a mother.
On a final note, we recently celebrated International women’s day which promoted sensitization against gender bias, what has been your experience as a girl child, a mother and a leader?
As one of the oldest girl child in a family of 6 girls and a boy, I was born into the fight against gender bias. Not only for myself, but also as a mentor to my younger sisters who needed me to lead and reassure them that their gender will not be a limit to their greatness. I understood the job. As a mother, I continue to teach my children that intelligence, leadership, status, courtesy, class and most importantly house chores is not gender-specific.
As a leader, I give my team members equal opportunities notwithstanding their gender, and I offer mentorship and counselling to young girls in various capacities.