While fintech companies in Nigeria have been particularly impressive in the disruption of the traditional banking system, cross-border payments are still a painful and expensive hassle.
Cross-border transactions still take days to complete with most platforms rendering such services taking between 2-4 days to complete transactions. Most platforms used for international transactions, especially peer-to-peer, are either completely unavailable to Africans or limited.
With such platforms, Nigerians can receive funds from other countries but can’t send, as it’s the case with WorldRemit. It is only recently that Africans can receive payment using Paypal, thanks to a partnership with Flutterwave.
Additionally, charges on transactions or exchange rates are usually high. An average cross-border service in Africa costs 9% of the transaction value, compared to a global average of 6.5%.
Diaspora remittance inflow is the second-largest source of foreign exchange earnings for Nigeria. However, according to the Central Bank of Nigeria, diaspora remittance inflow into Nigeria declined by a consequential 27% to $17.2bn, down from $23.5bn last year.
While private financial institutions offer incentives that include low transaction fees for remittances to encourage this inflow of funds, it still doesn’t solve the challenge with cross-border payments.
Vella Finance is a new fintech company that is looking to solve some of these challenges and make its own mark in the market. Vella Finance is a payment platform built to enable borderless transfers and remittances globally. Vella is fully incorporated in Delaware, United States but with a focus on Africa.
Tolu Adedayo, co-founder describes the platform as “enabling true financial freedom for Africans.” The startup offers both fiat and crypto rails to power remittance and payments for African individuals and businesses is the major goal of the startup. It is also positioned to become an enabler for crypto utility and spend-ability in Africa.
As with most startups, it is the coming together of minds for a particular purpose that makes a solid team. For the Vella team, that purpose is to make remittance and payments even easier for African individuals and businesses. Currently, the Vella team consists of 7 individuals; four of which are co-founders and three other teammates.
Tolu Adedayo, a graduate of Electrical and Electronic engineering from Ekiti State University is one of the co-founders is in charge of growth, marketing and partnerships for the startup. When asked about official designations for the other co-founders, he says they are trying not to put pressure on themselves with titles. Everybody is simply pitching in, in different capacities.
Mark Afolabi (Bsc, Food science, FUTA) is leading business operations and management, Gabriel Ajenifuja (Msc Big data analysis, Birmingham City university) leads product development and technology, while Segun Fagbemi, a Computer Science graduate from NOUN is in charge of brand and product design.
The other teammates include a frontend developer, a UI designer and a content specialist.
Vella Finance offers a range of services. The major service is of course money transfers which are generally free on the platform. Users can send and receive money at no cost while transactions are instant.
Vella also has a wallet-like feature that allows users to receive cryptocurrency and then swap it for cash. Tolu says the whole process is completed without delay.
“We don’t run a peer-to-peer system so when you receive cryptocurrency, you can swap it to cash without delay”.Tolu
For this service, Vella charges a small transaction fee depending on the volume of the cryptocurrency to be swapped.
Tolu also says the fintech runs competitive exchange rates for business users.
“Currently, our dollar rates are between 535-545. It depends on the market but our rates are definitely competitive”.
Vella Finance mobile applications will soon be available for general use. Some features that will be available include the Airtime4Cash, gift card for cash and the Virtual Crypto cards generation. The startup will also be releasing its payment API for businesses. There will be automatic upgrades on products every 3-6 months.
New users will be onboarded with KYC requirements and BVN while businesses will require KYB, company registration certificate and Tax Identification Number.
Vella Finance launched a beta phase earlier this month and have so far onboarded 250+ users. It has also successfully completed over 230 transactions worth over $12k. This is an admirable feat for such an early-stage startup. The phase however taught the team a number of lessons, according to Tolu.
The lessons gathered from beta testing
Beta Testing is one of the Acceptance Testing types, which adds value to the product as the end-user (intended real user) validates the product for functionality, usability, reliability, and compatibility. Inputs provided by the end-users helps in enhancing the quality of the product further and lead to its success.
Some of Vella’s offerings are built on system integration with partner APIs; information that users are not privy to. During the beta phase, the airtime purchase feature had a little downtime recently and some users were already moving funds despite the fact that an email was sent to express apologies.
This impatience exhibited by users is borne out of fear and so is understandable but can be detrimental to a budding startup. The first lesson is therefore to avoid situations that could cast doubt in the minds of the users.
The second lesson is that functionality is value and must not be compromised. The third lesson, according to Tolu is that execution is hard in Nigeria. This statement is based on the fact that barely a week into the beta phase, the Central Bank of Nigeria released another statement on account freezing per crypto. Managing or staying ahead of these regulations is a herculean task.
New business endeavours need a mix of confidence, risk tolerance, self-discipline, determination, and competitiveness. Vella’s team is currently bootstrapping the entire process. This means that it is being run with personal funds. While it has a target to raise a pre-seed fund between 3-6 months of the official launch, its first priority is to ensure that its product is great and maintains easy usability.
The startup has both immediate and future expansion targets for both product and market. After gaining traction in Nigeria, South Africa is the next stop and then countries like Ghana, Kenya, Botswana and Zimbabwe will also have access to their services.
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