Firstbank Nigeria Limited's Fintech 2.0 Summit held on Wednesday, October 17, 2018 at Oriental Hotel, Victoria Island, Lagos.

The first edition of the Summit—Fintech 1.0—held two years ago. There was none in 2017 because the Bank was busy implementing ideas from Fintech 1.0—a Digital Innovation Lab ("Lab"). So we expect that there would be none next year, but who knows? since they now have a dedicated team—the Lab—to run such activities.

The theme of this year's summit is "The Future of Banking – The Role of Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Big Data".

Aside from the colourful montage at the entrance of Oriental Hotel, the Mirror-photo booth was another cynosure of the event. All you have to do is stand or pose (if you know how to) in front of the mirror.

Picture from the Mirror-photo booth

The senior management team of FirstBank, except the Managing Director, Dr Adesola Adeduntan was present at the Summit. Also, representatives of the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Nigeria Inter-Bank Settlement System Plc.(NIBSS) and other financial service providers were present.

L-R Chuma Ezerim, GroupHead, E-Business, FirstBank; Ini Ebong, Group Executive, Treasury & Financial Institution, Firstbank; Remi Oni, ED, Corporate banking, Firstbank; Mrs Ibukun Awosika, Chairman, Board of Directors, First Bank Nigeria Limited, & Deputy MD of FirstBank, Gbenga Shobo.

In his welcome address, the Deputy Managing Director of FirstBank, Gbenga Shobo, said that FirstBank is committed to finding the right balance in its approach in supporting the budding fintech industry. The Chairman of FirstBank, Ibukun Awosika, reiterated this position, too. She said,

“FirstBank Digital Lab serves as an innovative hub that bridges the gap between our heritage as a financial institution and working with people to find a better solution that helps us all in building our country.”

Legacy banks have indeed realized that a partnership with fintechs would help preserve their market share. And more importantly, give them a share of the financially excluded-cake which is the equivalent of 40 million Nigerians. This partnership is symbiotic; it also provides the much-needed support fintechs need to execute and scale.

Highlights of Fintech 2.0 Summit

The first keynote speaker, Adia Sowho, Managing Director - Nigeria, MINES, noted that legacy banks should be ready to share data with the fintechs. For instance, in the over 120 years of operations, FirstBank would have gathered a rich set of data that could help the fintechs in the ideation and deployment of their solutions. “Data – big data – is the oil of the digital age,” she said.

Adia Sowho giving her keynote speech

Adia also posited a rather radical view on data privacy. She said, “There is no reason to hoard data from one another if we’ve already given outsiders–Google and Facebook–access to them.”

An enormous amount of data needs to be collected to build the necessary infrastructures and solutions in Nigeria, especially in the financial sector. The onus lies on the regulators to ensure that data is properly collected, processed, used and shared.

According to her, AI can perform three functions. It can:

  • automate repeatable tasks & processes,
  • identify & recognize patterns, and
  • analyze data & predict outcomes.

There were two panel sessions at Fintech 2.0.

The first panel session discussed The Role of AI in Banking, while the second session examined Fintechs and Regulatory Processes of the Banking Sector. The panel sessions were moderated by Olayinka David-West, Academic Director at Lagos Business School, and Adebiyi Mabadeje, Lagos State’s former Commissioner for Science and Technology, respectively. Adebiyi currently serves as the Chairman Advisory Board of Robotech Innovative Solutions. He is also a part of Wecyclers.

The panelists were:

  • Adia Sowho, Managing Director - Nigeria, MINES
  • Christabel Onyejekwe, Executive Director of Technology & Operations at NIBSS
  • Babatunde Okufi, Head of Business & Growth at Interswitch Limited
  • Lola Ekugo, Head of Digital Innovation Labs at FirstBank
  • Akin Banuso, Country General Manager at Microsoft
  • Khadija Abu, Product Partnerships Lead at Paystack
  • Bunmi Akinyemiju, CEO of Venture Garden Group
  • Victor Okigbo, CTO and Chief Digital Officer at FBNQuest
  • Musa Jimoh, Director of Payment System Policy & Oversight at CBN
  • Tunde Ogungbade, Managing Director of Global Accelerex

When given the opportunity, the audience asked the panelists questions. Their questions bothered on the regulation of fintechs, blockchain technology & cryptocurrencies, open banking, and data sharing.

Responding to the readiness of Nigerian banks for open banking, Lola Ekugo, FirstBank Digital Lab Lead said, “Yes, but very carefully”.

She explained that FirstBank has made itself malleable to adapt to any innovation that will help serve its customers better.

On data sharing, Onyejekwe explained that NIBSS only shares data with the CBN and other stakeholders, primarily banks and credible fintechs. This was corroborated by Microsoft’s Country manager–Akin Banuso, he said, “Having access to the right data freely but not so freely as it is fairly regulated to protect people’s privacy is very important.”

Reiterating the age-long debate of which should come first, Innovation or Regulation, Ogungbade said, “Innovation will always be ahead of regulation”. The onus lies on the regulators to keep up because fintechs deal with people’s hard-earned money. Khadija Abu of Paystack suggested that fintechs should imbibe the culture of self-regulation and ensure best practices in their processes.

In response to the use of blockchain and cryptocurrencies, Jimoh accentuated the position of the CBN. The apex bank had warned Nigerians that it doesn't recognize cryptocurrencies as legal tender. “Blockchain is a developing technology,” said Jimoh. “But we're monitoring it closely”, he added.

As an interlude between the panel sessions, Victor Okigbo delivered his keynote address titled, The Rise of Fintech. During his address, Victor submitted that the killer application of AI is invisibility. “It works best when you don’t know it’s there,” he said.

He also advised that financial service providers–banks and fintechs–should not neglect the business-to-business market as they serve business-to-consumers. Victor said,

“As solving basic human needs powered previous industrial revolutions, infrastructures that enable business-to-businesses transactions will power Nigeria's industrial revolution.”

With the results recorded from Fintech 2.0, nothing less should be expected from the next edition.

As part of it's Summit, the bank hosted a hackathon competition, which we have covered extensively, providing much-need context, as usual.