Elegbe: Financial Inclusion, Elections and Technology in Nigeria

Last week in New York, Verve, the 11-year-old Pan-African payment card brand owned by Interswitch, extended its reach to countries outside Africa to allow users make transactions in 185 countries around the world. Verve in partnership with Discover Global Network, a leading US card platform, released the Verve Global Card which allows for international and cross-border transactions.

In a recently conducted interview with thisdaylive, Mitchell Elegbe, the Managing Director of InterSwitch Group, spoke on the new Verve Global Card as the evolution of financial inclusion in Nigeria, and went on to discuss how the adoption of technology can change the outlook of the electoral system in Nigeria.

Accessing the financial inclusion journey in the country, Elegbe opined that the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) has implemented lots of “improvement and new policies” towards achieving the financial inclusion targets in the country. As an instance, he mentioned the Payment Service Banks (PSBs), which is targeted at mobile network operators (telcos), because of their wide-reaching distributions.

Speaking on barriers to achieving the financial inclusion targets set by CBN, Elegbe said that for some financial inclusion is unnecessary, because they lack money which is a fundamental requirement for financial inclusion. He also said that, “For some others, it is in and out – as money is coming in, it is going out, so why should I save it. So, what that basically means is that the kind of transaction you need to do for them to be financially included should be an in and out kind of transactions, because they don’t have enough money to save

To buttress his point, he gave a convincing illustration, saying, “there are people that every day they would leave their houses to collect items from distributors, go to the roadside to sell them, like the hawkers in traffic. Those guys live from hand to mouth. If you tell them to bank their money, you would be wasting your time because their bank is in their pocket. The only way they would even listen to you is if you can create a product that looks at what they do. For instance, they always have issues with ‘change’ when someone buys from them in the traffic, that is why you see them always chasing cars. But if you give them a solution that eliminates the need for ‘change’ they would adopt it, because you have solved a problem for them.”

Explaining the root of the current financial inclusion crisis in the country, he said, “But what is happening is that some of us who wear suit and tie are designing products for people who don’t wear suit and tie. We don’t understand their lives and what they need most. But you can see that sometimes if you understand the way people live, it is easier to find solutions for them. So, one of the learnings for me is that if you want to solve my problems, you need to understand my problems and you need to feel it. Once you do that, then it is easier.”

On the issue of election challenges in Nigeria, Mitchell Elegbe claimed that technology is the solution. Speaking on this, he said, “There are easier ways to carry out voting that would not cost the entire country what it cost us today. Today, it is too expensive to conduct an election. So, like you rightly said, we have a combination of technology that can be used. There are people that have registered for national identity card, there are people who have Bank Verification Number (BVN), driver’s licence and so on.

So, once you know these people, we now have to make the various data base talk to each other, so that you can easily find out if someone has voted using his driver’s licence and he is attempting to vote again using his BVN. So, because you can see that person from the data base, you disallow that. We all know about blockchain. One of the big uses of blockchain is called the Single Source of Truth, which all of us can see what is happening because of the way it is designed. Blockchain will be a good solution to use for elections. The truth is that there is a way to make it happen and there is technology that can be used to make it a lot easier