The neobank wave is taking shape in Africa, particularly Nigeria, where new fintechs are trying to conquer old banks by offering cheaper and more personalized banking services.
Founded by an ex-CEO of a former Nigerian incumbent bank, Sparkle is one such fintech and has completed a $ 3.1 million seed round to scale operations.
Nigerians have a love-hate relationship with traditional banks. Even though The number of active bank accounts in the country is over 100 million (out of a population of around 200 million), problems with inefficient service delivery, serial downtime, and bad credit and experience have made many people suspicious of banking services.
Neobanks have recognized an opportunity and are vying for the attention of these bank customers, who are, however, dissatisfied. Sparkle, like any neobank in the market, relies on standard features like saving, billing, reloading, requesting or sending funds, as well as less common features – like billing and spending breakdown checking – to attract customers in a crowded market.
“We’re completely different in some ways because instead of separating financial services from lifestyle, we’ve tried to bring them together, especially as we’ve seen more and more people start living digitally,” CEO Uzoma Dozie told TechCrunch in one interview.
“That means we don’t see our customers from an account, payment, deposit, or credit perspective, but how can we help them do what they want to do at any given time?. ”So that is the goal of Sparkle – to provide Nigerians with financial, lifestyle and business support services.
In April, the company launched Sparkle Business to attract a different group of underserved users: small and medium-sized businesses. Sparkle claims the new line of business has been well received in this category and now has access to inventory and invoice management, tax advice, and payroll and employee management services.
These companies can access these features with a Tax Identification Number (TIN) and email address – the lowest form of documentation on the market for companies.
Sparkle’s mix of delivering banking services to individuals and businesses on a single platform is unique. Other neobanks in the country – such as Kuda, VBank, FairMoney and Carbon – are known to provide bespoke services for individuals. At the same time, platforms such as Brass and Prospa serve different company sizes.
“As a small company, I don’t have my bank account on my phone. I carry my business. So we bring everything related to your business together in one place so you can do business wherever you are, ”said Dozie. “For individuals, we put everything in one place so you can do what you want to do easy wherever you are. But the bottom line is that we provide you with the information you need to make spontaneous decisions. “
Dozie highlights some features of Sparkle that customers with other platforms may hardly get. For example, customers can check transaction history with a specific beneficiary without going through a financial report, confirm the location where they made each transaction, and plan payments.
Sparkle’s design is also tailored to the way most Nigerians live their lives offline. Customers can have several Accounts (personal and business) and switch to Sparkle whenever you want. You can use the platform on different Phones with the same enhanced security as other platforms that allow login on a single phone, Dozie said.
Since it was launched last year, neobank has won over 40,000 individual banking customers and 2,000 companies. The company began charging small fees to individual customers to keep their accounts running and plans to bill companies for most functions other than tax services, Dozie said.
Similar to most of the country’s digital banks, Sparkle has a microfinance banking license. It has also partnered with Visa to enable users to make in-person or digital payments using a Visa card. Further partnerships exist with companies such as Network International and PwC Nigeria.
Anyone familiar with how the Nigerian fintech space works knows that it can take time to secure licenses and partnerships. Sparkle was able to do this in less than a year thanks to its CEO’s extensive experience and connections.
Before Sparkle, Dozie was CEO and most recently Group Managing Director of Diamond Bank. He oversaw the corporate, commercial and retail divisions of the bank prior to its merger with Access Bank; the business is now 29 million customers strong.
With Sparkle, Dozie is interested in expanding the capabilities of Nigeria’s banking and retail sectors and is picking up where he left off at Diamond Bank. As an investor himself, he hired a purely Nigerian cast for his seed round – the main investor Leadway Assurance, Participant Trium Network and some unnamed high net worth individuals. The investment comes after the closure of Sparkle a Friends and family ran a $ 2 million pre-seed round last year.
He said that although he could have raised money from foreign investors, he chose this group of investors because they offer the experience and market that Sparkle needs to grow in Nigeria. He was also interested in getting high net worth individuals to invest in a technology company.
“TogetherAs a group of investors and company founders, we are Nigerians who are optimistic about Nigeria and the opportunities the country offers in terms of Building global networks and communities, all through an app, ”the CEO said in a statement.
The CEO told TechCrunch that Sparkle will use the investment for two purposes: building robotic process automation to help with everyday and repetitive processes, and then hiring talent in engineering, financial risk, and marketing.