Exclusive interview with Obi Emetarom, co-founder and CEO of Appzone

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Between 2015 and 2020, 572 private equity (PE) and venture capital (VC) fund investments were reported in technology across Africa, totaling $6.5 billion.

For Nigeria specifically, in 2020 fintech companies raised $112 million from investors, which was a milestone for the sector. This progress shows that much remains to be done and we can expect this trend to continue.

It is important to highlight the critical role that the mass adoption of technology in general has played in advancing Nigeria’s thriving fintech sector, which I would argue has been driven by its young population and increased smartphone penetration as well more reliable connectivity with wider coverage. .

Q: What would you describe as AppZone’s unique added value for the financial services industry in Africa?

Obi: Appzone has grown from a Fintech engineering company that offers the full range of digital infrastructure for banking services using proprietary technology to a payment infrastructure company that allows payments to pass directly from senders to recipients without an intermediary via blockchain technology while allowing previously excluded financial institutions to participate. We are now focused on building a cheap, fast, reliable and scalable payment infrastructure for Africa’s cashless economy. We believe that by building an absolutely borderless and frictionless infrastructure for payments using Blockchain, we are laying the foundation for a fully automated and decentralized financial ecosystem in Africa.

This means for the financial services sector in Africa lower cost, more innovation, better regulation and universal inclusion. This is because Blockchain-based decentralized financial services are non-custodial, which means that monetary assets are entirely digital and therefore do not have to be physically held by any entity. Physical custody exposes you to the risk of loss, increases costs, slows down transactions and restricts the services available to those provided by the custodian. The non-custodial structure allows individuals to directly own and control their monetary assets more cheaply, move them quickly, and adopt financial services from a much wider range of options.

Q: Recently you spoke at the Africa Fintech Summit in Washington about the growing maturity of the Fintech ecosystem in Africa, what stands out for you as a key growth driver and how does Appzone capitalize on this? he left ?

Obi: The growing maturity of the fintech ecosystem in Africa is impressive. You’ll find that start-ups build innovative solutions that really fit the market, achieve rapid adoption, and scale across the continent. Therefore, whether as an entrepreneur, investor, traditional financial institution or customer, it is an exciting time to participate in African Fintech and for Appzone it has been a great journey so far.

The activities of African FinTechs have also contributed to the acceleration of financial inclusion in recent years. Fintech companies are leveraging technology to increase Africans’ access to different financial services, which in turn has opened up new market segments and growth opportunities for the industry.

From Appzone’s perspective, increasing maturity translates into growth in payment transactions, an increase in potential fintech customers as well as an increased willingness to adopt cutting-edge technology. For example, at Appzone, our blockchain payment infrastructure not only connects commercial banks, but also a whole variety of recently launched fintech startups that are generating large and exponentially growing transaction volumes. .

Q: As a B2B company, how has AppZone evolved to help financial institutions provide better access to unique banking solutions for customers?

Obi: As a B2B company, we serve as an enabler by providing the technology tools and platforms that traditional B2C financial institutions need to serve their customers. We build and own all of our intellectual property for our products and do not rely on third-party partners to build or manage any of our solutions. We originally built the banking software and infrastructure that enables traditional and digital banks to deliver digital banking offerings to their own customers. We have pivoted to realize similar aspirations in what we see as a wider and higher impact area; Payment. Our focus on payment infrastructure allows us to serve not only banks, but also B2C payment companies, agent networks, payment service banks, money transfer operators and other providers. financial services that are not banks. . To mark this pivot, in December 2021, we launched ZONE, our blockchain payment network. Since then, our immediate focus has been on providing functionality for processing a variety of transaction types including ATM withdrawals, P2P transfers, agent deposits and withdrawals, merchant payments, direct debits, and direct debits. B2B. Our medium to long-term plan is to extend the capabilities of this payment infrastructure beyond fiat currency payment processing by integrating support for compliant, approved and regulated digital currencies. Our goal is to provide a wide range of payment options and instruments that financial service providers in our network can extend to their own customers.

Q: How does AppZone ensure its business strategies are aligned with the current business environment in Nigeria?

Obi: We stay very close to our stakeholders, including customers, partners and regulators, while incorporating their real-time feedback into our product management and strategic planning process. Additionally, we have built an agile organization, where we remain focused on our core business of providing decentralized payment infrastructure across Africa, while our affiliates build new innovative offerings that adapt to changes in the financial services sector in Nigeria and beyond. .

Q: Over the past few years you have made significant progress, can you give us a hint about your plans to expand the growth of the business across Africa?

Obi: We currently have 16 commercial banks connected to our blockchain payment network, ZONE and we have also received our approval in principle from the Central Bank of Nigeria to operate as a payment switching company in Nigeria. We are currently in the process of deploying a payment gateway and API to enable fintechs and OFIs to take advantage of the superior reliability, scalability, and cost structure that blockchain technology brings to payment processing. We are also rolling out services in 10 African countries while developing remittance functionality on our blockchain network to enable financial institutions and fintechs in these target countries to make and receive instant cross-border payments. Finally, we have several affiliate companies that we have invested in that build exciting and innovative offerings that leverage our core infrastructure. An example is the team deploying self-service ATM machines where bank customers can self-create their debit cards in 2 minutes any time of the day and any day of the week. week.

Q: How do you see the African fintech sector in the coming years?

Obi: With Africa’s huge unbanked and underbanked population and most of them being young people, there is a lot of room for growth in the fintech sector in Africa, especially over the next 5 years. I expect a good portion of financial service offerings as well as associated monetary assets to move to Blockchain and thus become decentralized. Digital payments will become totally smooth and highly reliable. These will result in a society that uses little bank branches and cash. Additionally, cross-border payments between African countries will be common and there will be high adoption of CBDC such as e-naira and other digital currencies approved for national and regional use. Despite the wishes of some cryptocurrency anarchists as I like to call them, comprehensive regulation will be in place for blockchain-powered digital currencies and decentralized financial products that will ensure consumer protection, gain user trust, and will enable mass adoption.

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