Herbert Wigwe, GMD, Access Bank

By ADEBAYO OBAJEMU

The African Fintech Foundry (AFF) set a new record Thursday last week when it hosted the second edition of the much anticipated Fintech Foundry Disrupt (AFFDisrupt) conference. The conference with the them: Digital Goldrush: Building a Sustainable Tech Economy lived up to its billing and did not disappoint the hype as it turned out to be the biggest Fintech event this year so far.

An initiative of Access Bank, the African Fintech Foundry is one of the few tech incubators dedicated to fintech startups. It runs accelerator programs and hackathons, alongside mentorship for startups. AFFDisrupt is a crucial aspect of the hub and in 2019 the theme of the conference highlighted the importance of financial technology.

At the opening of the conference, banks and financial technology (FinTech) operators were urged to leverage technology such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) to remain competitive. Giving the advice was Herbert Wigwe, Chief Executive Officer, Access Bank. Wigwe said “Leveraging such technology as artificial intelligence and utilising data analytics is imperative if banks and Fintechs are to remain competitive.

“Today, becoming an intelligent bank is not an option, it is a necessity, as technology is redefining the way banks operate”. He said that AI, Big Data, Cloud Computing, Virtual Reality, robotics, Crypto-currency – all brought enormous opportunities for banks to significantly improve the way customers’ access and manage finances.

In his view, with automation technology, banks and Fintechs are able to grant credit in seconds. He said that a manual review of 12,000 documents used to take 360,000 hours, but today, this could be done in seconds using AI.

The chief executive officer said that block chain could be used to execute smart contracts, eliminating manual costs of transactions. He stated that robotics technology was used to serve customers in banks, and there was so much that could be done with data, as big data analytics helped an intelligent bank understand its customers.

Wigwe averred that from a business perspective, and with the benefit of hindsight traditional banking environment did not provide opportunities for scalability, saying  most years, it was business as usual. He said banking processes were manual and in-branch, creating the need for brick and mortar branches with their expensive overheads, and in the case of Nigeria, low level of financial inclusion.

“Technology has changed everything. Not only is this continuing, the rate of development and evolution is speeding up exponentially. “Technology-driven financial institutions will disrupt traditionally-run banks by taking advantage of any inherent weaknesses in their business models.

“They will do this by offering better value propositions to their customers. “Today, it is our task to brainstorm these weaknesses and uncover opportunities in our current business models that technology will help us solve. Today is a gathering of the best technology brains ready to re-define the future of intelligent banks and Fintechs and create new disruptions for our industry,” Wigwe said.

In his own remark, Mr. Segun Adeniyi, Head of AFF, said that the development of technology and the 4th Industrial Revolution were basically about opportunities. Adeniyi stated that it was about using the power of technology to harness the opportunities that were available in Africa.

“We aim to help innovators harness the power of their innovations, give them platforms to test and go to market. “We provide them with unparalleled access to global financial, technology, business and investor partner networks,” he said.

The array of  speakers who delivered speeches and listened to start-ups pitch at the events was impressive .Start-ups who got  approval from the organisers went  home with funding and mentorship by seasoned professionals.

Herbert Wigwe, Chief Executive Officer, Access Bank, Nigeria  spoke on “The Future of the Intelligent Bank”, Bunmi Akinyemiju, Chief Executive Officer, Venture Garden Group talked on “Securing Seed and Growth Funding for Start-ups in Nigeria and Africa”, Phil Spencer, EVP (Gaming), Microsoft, United States of America spoke on  ”The Future of Gaming & Artificial Intelligence” and a host of other speakers and stakeholders in the tech ecosystem.

The event was significant in many respects, since  start- up ecosystem in Nigeria especially the fontechs has been on the upswings lately, coming   out with some great techies and amazing solutions. Many have taken notice locally, but much more, there has been an upsurge of interest by  the international community. Many venture capitalists and investors have taken note also and have started throwing in funding for this nascent ecosystem.

Majority of Nigerian banks do not understand what it means to support an ICT start-up or offer a line of credit. This singular situation has exposed a lot of intelligent Nigerians that have created top notch solutions to either leave the country out of frustration or sell their idea. This has caused the country to lose much needed capacity in the ICT and capital flight.  With this kind of conference, and a lot other efforts, the situation will change.

During a pre-event press conference recently held at the Access Bank Headquarters to announce the second edition held Thursday, Ade Bajomo, Executive Director, Operations and IT, Access Bank Plc, said

“As an initiative of Access Bank, the Africa Fintech Foundry is totally focused on supporting startups through accelerator programs and hackathons, while also providing mentorships.”

“The Disrupt Conference is vital to showcasing innovative solutions in providing financial services using detailed exhibitions and demo presentations. The event also provides a platform for stakeholders to discuss issues in the tech industry.”

The maiden edition, according to Olusegun Adeniyi, Head, Africa Fintech Foundry  was attended by over 2,000 participants, this year’s edition drew bigger participants representing tech innovation across several sectors.