The Middle East and Africa (MEA) region is an up and coming region with respect to its wider economic development. Specifically, the region has seen a growth and importance in fintech, producing its own unique innovations, entrepreneurs and thought leaders in the space. As The FinTech Times in September celebrates Women in Fintech, we feature various female leaders from across the world. One of them is Bunmi Lawson, who is from and lives in Lagos, Nigeria and is an expert in fintech and specifically in Microfinance and financial inclusion.
Ms. Bunmi Lawson is the pioneer Managing Director/Chief Executive Officer of EDFIN Microfinance Bank Limited. EDFIN prides itself as the first specialised Education Microfinance Bank, Its shareholders are Gray Matters Capital, an investment company based in the USA. Ms. Lawson holds a Master’s degree in Business Administration from the IESE Business School, University of Navarra and is an alumnus of the Lagos Business School. She is a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Nigeria and a Member of the Chartered Institute of Bankers of Nigeria. She is also a Board of the following: Enhancing Financial Innovation & Access (EFInA), Trium Venture Capital Limited and an Independent Director CRC Credit Bureau Limited; She is an Advisory Board Member of Bridge International Academies, Nigeria; Vice President, Women in Finance, Nigeria and Member, Governing Council, Fintech Association of Nigeria. She is a mother with 2 lovely children.
Describe your career journey
I started my career as an Auditor working with KPMG and progressed to being a CFO for a multinational company. However, I wanted to do more to use finance to change peoples’ lives so I then moved to the Non-profit development sector first with FATE foundation supporting entrepreneurs to get their business started and the start-up capital they required. The limited options available to these entrepreneurs led me to Accion MfB a Microfinance bank being established in Nigeria by Accion International IFC and a number of leading commercial banks in Nigeria. Through Accion we were able to introduce fintech digital options that enabled us reach low income households and small businesses in a more effective manner. For some of our clients it was the first time using an ATM, USSD, banking agents, online banking etc. We also employed fintech for loan processing, account opening etc.
In the last 10 years Nigeria has seen dramatic change in the way financial services are offered due to a plethora of fintech companies available. I was also a founding council member of the Fintech Association of Nigeria working to support the fintech ecosystems through networks both within and outside Nigeria. At EFInA where I am a board member I helped drive the implementation of an innovation fund dedicated to supporting fintech enabling them offer their services to low income households to drive financial inclusion as well as test their products to enable them reach the growth phase of their business. After 10 years at Accion which is the statutory length of time allowed by the regulator for CEOs, I founded EdFin together with Gray Matters Capital. I felt access to education was equally as important as access to finance and using finance we could help improve access to education so that Nigeria’s human potential is realised.
Fintech has been key to keeping our expenses and capital expenditure lean while enabling our clients in the education ecosystem access our services. I am also currently on the board of CRC the leading credit bureau in Nigeria which has enable increased access to credit through fintech open APIS and partnerships with other fintechs, banks etc. I want to use my skills and experience to enable the average man have access to the tools they need to improve their lives and take advantage of opportunities. My career path has enabled me to be involved in both the innovation, implementation and growth of fintech in Nigeria especially in Lagos State.
As a recognised thought leader and a female, what difficulties have you faced in your career?
Most of the main challenges have been with the external enabling environment and not really a gender-based challenge. Issues such as inadequate and reliable infrastructure including electricity, broadband speed and capacity, capital etc have been the main challenges. For me it is really about mindset if you put your mind to it male or female you can get it done. In southern parts of Nigeria, you find that most times females and males have similar opportunities. I have been blessed to have parents who did not restrict my ambitions because I am female and at the workplace I ensure I put in my best so employers do not see a less competent employee. I guess having to prove oneself as if in competition with men maybe a challenge but that was in the very early years of my career. In finance I have found clients and funders to trust women more…lol
What are the future trends and predictions you see happening in the region?
I see a lot of innovation in financial services and the technology that drives it. The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdowns and economic turmoil that follows may slow the growth in fintech down a bit due to reduction in investment capital but the other side of the coin is that the restrictions imposed has lead to a higher demand for fintech services. The use of Biometrics, data on customer behaviour will continue to fuel innovation in the fintech space. My view is that in Africa because the banks have deeper pockets as regards capital and structure, they will be acquisitions of innovative fintech companies to ensure that the banks continue to gain market share. I feel that it will be more of a collaborative combination than fintech new players taking over financial services completely.
What advice and recommendations do you want to give future female entrepreneurs and thought leaders who are based in the Middle East & Africa (MEA) region?
There are lots of opportunities here in Africa. We have a young rapidly growing population. Innovation will thrive especially those that produce consumer-facing services in an efficient cost-effective, easy to use manner. Sometime just a copying and modifying for local context is all that is required to set up a fintech company. I would like to see more cross-border companies who offer services from Nigeria to Egypt to South Africa and everywhere in between. Scale will be key to drive down costs and ensure profitability. And there are lots of young upwardly mobile women too. Being a female professional may give an edge into insights to provide services that are gender-based as well.