Next stop, Lagos

The AFTS chairman explains why its sights are set on Nigeria’s commercial capital

The Africa Fintech Summit (AFTS) is a global initiative founded on the idea that fintech can unleash unprecedented economic firepower in Africa but that more collaboration between ecosystem stakeholders is needed.

In pursuit of that mission, the AFTS is space where policies are debated, investments mobilized, and collaborations formed across sectors and geographies. The first half of this biannual event is held in Washington, D.C. each April, capitalizing on the spring meetings of the World Bank and IMF to gather policy makers, central bankers, investors, and tech and finance leaders from across Africa and the world. The second half will be held each November in a different African city.

Our inaugural DC Summit this past April received acclaim for bringing African ideas and entrepreneurs to the world’s stage. When it came time to decide which Sub-Saharan city would host the November event, the discussion among our advisory board was spirited, with everyone advocating for their favorite fintech city.

Nairobi is the global pioneer of mobile money and the epicenter of its continent-wide knock-on effect. Johannesburg accounts for the largest amount of venture capital and highest number of fintech startups. Both Kigali and Accra boast vibrant ecosystems, benefiting from tech-first national agendas. Kampala is emerging from the fintech shadows of its EAC neighbors, pushing forward with unique initiatives. The list goes on.

It was a fun debate, one of those disagreements that validates the discussion. But ultimately, we chose the chaotic, vibrant, and adrenaline-inducing commercial powerhouse of West Africa—Lagos.

Why Lagos?

If you’re into demographics you know that Nigeria is Africa’s largest market and that a whopping one-third of its 186 million people are tech savvy 15 and 35 years olds. And if you’ve ever lived or worked there (especially in Lagos), you know it’s a place that’s powered by pure hustle and entrepreneurial energy.

Let’s be clear-eyed for a minute though. There’s no doubt that Nigeria’s infrastructure and policy gaps hinder fintech growth. But in many ways, they also fuel the innovation fire.

Payments are not accepted from outside the country, for example. This makes it hard for fintech startups to scale beyond Nigeria, but it has also given rise to payment platform innovation. Inflation, currency volatility, and capital controls have hamstrung international business but at the same time are driving interest in cryptocurrency. Murky land rights have locked up mortgages and real estate development for years but are now creating a use case for a blockchain-based land registry.

Necessity, as they say, is the mother of invention.

This idea of challenges-cum-opportunities, in fact, parallels the rise of fintech across the continent in general. The lack of traditional infrastructure that once excluded large segments of the population from the formal economy has been the very market force behind the massive upswing in digital financial innovation.

Nigeria, with all its challenges, offers some of the greatest opportunities. And its young people, endowed with entrepreneurism and accustomed to finding ways around barriers, possess a bias towards innovation. That combination, in concert with demographic-driven demand, positions Lagos as an important spot to watch on the global fintech map.

A recent road trip by Nigerian Vice President Yemi Osinbajo across Silicon Valley, where he declared the country open for tech business, reflects a growing awareness that Nigeria’s future will be built not on oil and industry but on digital enterprise. Likewise, it excited investors, emboldened fintech disruptors foreign and domestic, and re-affirmed our selection of Lagos to host the autumn AFTS.

Seed, solution, summit

If you read this week’s EIU’s livability ranking and see Lagos’ poor ranking, just remember Norman Vincent Peale’s famous quote: “Every problem contains the seeds of its own solution.” For Nigeria, a high ratio of those seeds will be found in fintech. And those Nigerian founders and disruptors tackling Nigeria-specific issues will be well positioned to scale up and apply these solutions to the rest of Africa.

Join us on November 8-9 to meet these innovators and participate in conversations that will shape Africa’s fintech future. Find out more here, share your thoughts (@Afrifintech), and see you in Lagos.

 


Leland Rice is the chairman and founder of the Africa Fintech Summit as well as the CEO of Dedalus Global, an investment advisory focused on emerging tech in emerging markets.