I consider myself to be a fully signed up servant to the digital world; I am old enough not to be a digital native — I remember all too well the days of endless paper trails, and have actively fought against the old ways and embraced digital technology to make my personal and business transactions simpler. I knew early on that life would be easier with everything online. Faster, safer, better transparency — at home, at work. Diamond Bank was the first Nigerian bank to go paperless and to fully, fully adopt digital as a means of doing business and, importantly, scaling. We never looked back.
But how digital actually am I? There’s no global standard or lowest common denominator to define this; so let’s dissect what being digital actually means. And why is it important to be digital? As we are yet to have defined a universal scale, I’ll discuss from a personal perspective and analysis. For me, we need to look at key areas in which people embrace and rely on paperless, contactless and cashless digital transactions. And whilst I’m starting from my own personal perspective, don’t forget — people, make up businesses, businesses make up industries and industries make nations. So starting small can scale to effect change very quickly.
Paperless — Living and working in the cloud is a form of insurance; all my receipts, contracts, payments — everything is in the cloud. By saving everything [even hard copies such as receipts that I snap with my phone] to the cloud, I am insuring myself and my peace of mind against my house being burgled and papers being stolen. My data, my info — it is safe and I can access anything I need pretty much instantly. I don’t need to go to my office, someone else’s office or my home to access important documents.
Cashless — COVID-19 has taught us that cash isn’t king. Cashless is king. Money is dirty, and it also comes with security issues. How do you send N4000 back to the village and ensure the full amount arrives? Cash is cumbersome to move around — especially when mobility is restricted as has been the case for the last five months. Digital payments and transfers remove these barriers and ensure instant access to even small sums of cash, over vast geographical areas.
Contactless — contactless payment is germ free and safe — now more important than ever, and combined with digital payments, is a much better alternative to cash. It will also allow for biometric application — something that is sadly still quite far off for the whole of Nigeria, but still we should be planning for it anyway, if we are to ever genuinely scale financial inclusion.
Let’s look at small businesses — often, they are the first to really adopt digital, because they need to be nimble. More often than not, they run with one key person handling several roles within the business. The advent of digital apparatus such as iPads and mobile phones has allowed this one person to become more efficient and use their time more wisely — as they use these digital tools for anything from taking orders, inventory management, payments to banking and more. Imagine this at scale?
Education and adoption is the main cost of digital transformation and it will be slow [cost of technology + the time it takes to teach people about the real-life benefits] — but it is already starting to transform the backbone of Nigerian small business and we’re seeing digital adoption already, with micro food retailers in markets, purchasing stock [milk, bread, rice] via their mobile phones, for example. Trial and successful execution [which for businesses is the ability to do more work in less time and drive up efficiency and profit] will be the ultimate means of scaling adoption rates for digital.
When we started Sparkle, we built the platform for digital natives so that we wouldn’t have to concentrate our efforts on the education side of things; we spent time understanding their digital needs, and subsequently built a platform that houses their needs all under one roof. Digital simplicity. We also only hired digital natives at Sparkle — again, we had no wish to have to educate new members of staff on digital basics — and this, I believe, is the same for a lot of other companies these days; the jobs landscape is becoming increasingly competitive for those with digital skills. Nations are becoming ever more so competitive when it comes to digital connectivity. Going forward, people won’t be able to compete in the Nigerian employment market without improving their digital skills. Likewise, Nigeria won’t be able to compete in a global market without better connectivity or a workforce with vastly improved digital skills. We can’t make solid business decisions on a micro or indeed macro scale without better data, better information, better insights.
Digital enables freedom — which is the bedrock for an emerging country to build and thrive. It enables -
- Trust — it’s cheaper to monitor and keep track of transactions
- Simplicity — no need for long talk and decisions are taken based on data and not human bias
- Inclusivity — services are offered for all, and not the few — removing barriers to entry
- Personalised — the data speaks for you, helping to clear through the noise
- Transparency — everyone has to keep to the same values, because there’s nowhere to hide
- In answer to my own question, I am very digital and I know this has helped me build and scale my own start-up — I haven’t been confined by physical office spaces or offline wahala such as paper documents or the need for face-to-face meetings. Be it business or lifestyle, we all have to find a way to become more digital if we are as individuals, as businesses, as sectors and as a Nation, are to remain competitive.