Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach

Playing Catch Up With Africa

We’re in Lagos, Nigeria and Tom’s phone buzzed to alert him he just got 1 million naira. About $2.800. The message that came with the money transfer read, “Use this to top up your phone credit. Your friend, Pa—.”

Before Tom could finish the sentence, his phone began to ring and a caller ID popped up on the screen. It was Paul.

“I made a mistake! I didn’t mean to send that much! Please send back the money,” said a panicked Paul.

Without making a fuss, Tom ended the conversation and began the task of sending back the money.

He opened an app on his phone, logged in, typed in one million naira, found his friend and pressed send.

The money made its way back to Paul within minutes.

Which might not sound impressive to you. But had Tom and Paul lived in Germany, the transfer would have taken two days or more.

How come a technologically advanced country is so much slower at wiring over money than a nation where about 90 million people live without electricity?

Because Germany’s banking system is crippled by its age. Being almost 50 years old, any technological advancements have to be first made compatible with antiquated software.

Nigeria’s financial infrastructure, on the other hand, is young and modern. And unlike Germany, its people couldn’t rely on ATMs to access their money.

After all, millions of Nigerians living in rural communities would have to travel for hours, if not days, to reach the nearest bank.

Because people needed direct access to their funds, Nigerian banking was always centered around the mobile phone: easily accessible and requiring no roads, phone lines or electricity cables.

The poor Nigerian infrastructure actually drove innovation and led to a better microfinancing system than the West.

A similar thing happened in Kenya with money service, M-PESA.

M-PESA repurposes your SIM and changes your phone into a bank account for digital currency. Sending money is as easy as sending a text.

To make matters even more extraordinary, M-PESA predates Venmo, Google Pay and Wechat Pay. So in regards to money transferring services, the West is actually playing catch up with Africa!

Had Kenya or Nigeria imitated Europe and planted phone lines and laid down train tracks, they likely would have never revolutionised electronic payments.

What does this mean for you?

If you’re behind your competitors, don’t copy them. Because unless they trip up, it’s a race you can’t win.

Rather than imitate, watch where your competition is headed and use a cutting edge gizmo to vault over them.

By Jeroen Elsing
Ex-lawyer turned relationship coach