Fintechs have the services. Traditional institutions have channels and customers. There’s an opportunity to work together to get great services to more people.
The above statements culled from OnePipe’s website underscore working together. In those lines, you’ll find that everyone is winning with no one left behind.
That’s how you get to engage the API fintech startup. Headquartered in Lagos, Nigeria, OnePipe leverages embedded finance to launch and improve financial services for non-financial institutions in the country.
A decent API infrastructure ensures OnePipe meets its obligations to businesses from launching to cross-selling solutions ranging from credit to accounts and payments.
How did the startup come about this need to create solutions for Nigeria and Africa? CEO Ope Adeoye shared this story in an exclusive chat with Technext:
Early days as a switch
OnePipe didn’t start out as an embedded finance startup. The Techstars-backed business first saw value in open banking.
Adeoye says of the switch, ‘’Because the reception of open banking was very low when we started, OnePipe had to do things differently in the market”.
“We were doing so much evangelism, preaching this thing that has not yet been mandated by the CBN. So, we were getting a lot of lukewarm reception. Oh, this is nice, this is great. Let’s see what the CBN says first. As a business, we needed to find some ways to generate value while waiting for that to happen.’’
The business quickly moved to embedded finance.
Embedded finance is designed to streamline financial processes for consumers, making it easier for them to access the services they need when they need them. Simply put, embedded finance is the use of financial tools or services — such as lending or payment processing — by a non-financial provider.
For example, an electrical shop could offer point-of-service insurance for goods sold in-store.
With four banks in the pool, OnePipe embraced embedded finance. The decision helped the startup to connect the banks with non-financial institutions.
“Once we moved in the direction, we have now found that maybe we have identified what we should have been doing since”, Adeoye told Technext.
Addressing pain points
From starting out with four partner banks, the startup has gone on to attract players and businesses in supply chains, manufacturing and agro value chains. There’s a unifying force in these: taking care of pain points.
But there is a challenge in offering this. The startup puts extra effort into convincing onboarded customers and sometimes helps push stuff that doesn’t bring returns to the business.
“The not so positive part of that is that so many of these companies are not tech-oriented. And when they are tech-oriented, they have a core business that matters to them and this embedded finance thing is secondary. Often, we put money into stuff that we don’t really need to help these customers.”
The business currently boasts 170 businesses that use the startup’s offering in “one way, shape or form.”
Win-win for all
OnePipe labels itself as a ‘department’ within onboarded businesses. With this stand, the startup has grown significantly in the last four years.
Adeoye identifies this as a driving force for collaboration, making sure everyone gains.
“If we work together and it benefits both of us, the chances that you will remain on that journey with me is high. So that’s the real driving force. Ultimately, if both parties win, then there is a reason for them to work together, to stay working together. That’s what we are pushing at OnePipe.”
The startup does things differently from the regular VC-backed tech business. And that has helped it grow quickly while providing the best-in-class solutions for businesses and customers.
OnePipe’s value proposition is rooted in high touch offerings. This describes having to invest significantly in understanding a business, identifying needs and growing solutions from the needs.
It’s also about consulting with adequate knowledge and making it impossible for the receiving business to drop your services.
“I think what we do differently isn’t interesting at all, and I will give you the same answers I give our investors. The investors don’t like the answers.
“What we do is that we are extremely high touch. That’s we want every business that we work with to see us as if we are a department in their company. We invest significant time in their business.
“The risk with that is that if you are a VC company, that is usually seen as a slow grind. But we think that’s what makes us different. When people sign up, they almost end up staying with us”, Adeoye said.
In 2018, OnePipe was launched to serve the Nigerian market. But that is changing with OnePipe’s penetration of the Kenyan fintech and payment market.
The expansion-based drive is a reaffirmation of Aniko Szigetvari’s views on OnePipe’s penetration drive. The investor believes the startup is building solutions for the African continent, not just Nigeria.
Adeoye, who also answers the ‘Chief Plumber’ moniker, says that OnePipe isn’t rushing to enter more markets. Rather, it’s taking time to study identified markets and engage in strategic partnerships to fulfil expansion goals.
“We are in Kenya at the moment; we have one confirmed a partner bank there. We are signing about two more.”
“The Kenyan experience has taught us how to activate a business and understand a market. Because of that, we think we will pace ourselves in expanding to other countries after Kenya. But the countries on the horizon are Côte d’Ivoire and Egypt,”
Staying above challenges
For Adeoye, the biggest challenge that embedded finance business in Nigeria is market creation. It’s hard to dispute that when you consider the novel form of what these businesses represent and how they offer value.
“I think it’s the same biggest issue for all of us, market creation. If you are in a new category or trying to create a new market, you will spend so much time and money. That constitutes the hardest part of the work.”
There is also the problem of unclear regulation. Because these businesses bring relatively new offerings to the fore, the government is still trying to figure out how best to ensure acceptable practices.
Adeoye wants this to be fixed for startups to move harder and faster.
For improvement in the African tech ecosystem this year, Adeoye wants players to go back to the basics to grow and meet the needs of the continent.
“Throughout last year and the year before, there was an influx of capital and many of us (startups) became indisciplined. This year, there’s a capital crunch. People are going to find it harder to raise money and expansions will drop.
The founder recommends taking care of the fundamentals.
“Many startups worldwide, not just in Africa, will have to invest more time in fundamentals. They will have to choose between being in the news or getting customers. I think these events will lead to some stabilization on the African continent. It’s painful, to be honest. But, it will bring solidity and a back to the basics feel.”
For a business that is so passionate about creating a win-win for everyone in the chain and the industry, it will be interesting to see and read about more successes that align with its philosophy.
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