Fintech entrepreneur applying lessons from The Richest Man in Babylon to create wealth in Nigeria

Salami Abolore, founder of Riby.

Nigeria-born Salami Abolore is a problem solver.

In the mid-2000s, the Lagos-based entrepreneur’s penchant for reading led him to George S Clason’s 1926 book The Richest Man in Babylon. Set 4,000 years ago in ancient Babylon, the work dispenses financial advice and practices related to the creation of wealth through a collection of parables.

Abolore was intrigued by how learnings from the book could be applied to solving challenges in the modern Nigerian financial industry.

And Nigeria certainly has problems to solve. Despite being home to Africa’s largest economy, the majority of Nigerians live below the poverty line. Moreover, according to Enhancing Financial Inclusion & Access – a financial sector development organisation that promotes inclusive finance in Nigeria – only 63.2% of Nigeria’s population of over 200 million is financially served, rendering 36.8% financially excluded.

Digitising collective savings groups

It is this reality that Abolore sought to change with the founding of his company Riby in 2016. Riby aims to create wealth in Nigeria by providing digital products and services that make it easier for individuals – who have traditionally been economically excluded – to save, lend, borrow and invest. Speaking to How we made it in Africa from Lagos, he identifies this as a market vastly underserved by traditional banks.

Riby’s inaugural products are Riby CoBanking and the Riby Enumerator.

The Riby CoBanking app enables individuals within groups – such as co-operatives – to collectively save their funds, lend to and borrow from one another, and invest in select assets. These funds are self-managed by members using the Riby app but are held by a bank of their choice. The platform also allows groups using the app to network and connect, linking those requiring external funding or loans with those looking for investment prospects.

Essentially, the Riby CoBanking app represents the digitisation of collective savings and loans practices that have long been in action, such as stokvels in South Africa, esusu or ajo in Nigeria, and savings and credit co-operative societies in Kenya.

“Our fintech app is building a personal finance culture in Nigeria and is making it easier for Nigerians to access banking services that were previously unavailable owing to the physical distance from banks, or the unaffordability of banking-related service and transaction costs,” notes Abolore.

A core offering of this business pillar is the Riby agent banking network. Established in 2020, the network provides access to financial services in underserved areas. This negates the need for geographically isolated Nigerians to travel vast distances to urban centres.

“We have agents that serve customers without online access. We built the retail side of the business through this agent channel, allowing us to target people at the early stages of wealth creation,” Abolore says.

Powering banking partnerships

Riby’s second flagship offering, the Riby Enumerator, provides technology platforms that connect development finance institutions, traditional banks, large corporates and state governments with users most in need of financial and economic development services and who are currently underserved.

“Essentially, this means connecting the ‘haves’ with the ‘have-nots’. This creates partnerships that facilitate the development of credit, grant and financial development programmes to provide financial support and aid wealth creation in Nigeria,” he explains.

Abolore asserts that the Riby Enumerator is a self-funded channel that receives revenue through fees, commissions and subscriptions. “Despite requiring a high degree of customisation for each of our clients, this is our fastest-growing product, requiring the least working capital. The platform and its customised supporting systems have managed over six million users, while 2.5 million Nigerians have received loans from a Riby Enumerator client.”

Nurturing financial relationships and adapting swiftly

Abolore’s early-stage business model was seemingly met with enthusiasm by select funders. It secured equity investment of some $400,000 from venture capital firms EchoVC, GreenHouse, the Co-Creation Hub and Kepple Africa Ventures, and non-equity support of about $600,000 from the likes of Google; the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office; Amazon Web Services and Microsoft. It has since raised additional funding “in the seven figures” from an unnamed strategic investor.

“One of the most important things we did in the early days was to establish relationships with key partners in the banking and finance industry. We continue to deepen these relationships and remain in partnership with Bank of Industry, Sterling Bank, Providus Bank, Union Bank, Guarantee Trust Bank and Zenith Bank, among others,” Abolore adds.

Initial challenges of the business included a lack of appropriate talent, a low education level among users, financial illiteracy in the market, and product design. “We overcame these by quickly adapting to the market.”

Collaborators rather than competition

When asked about Riby’s competition, Abolore explains the company does not benchmark itself in terms of the success or proliferation of other financial services platforms, but rather the extent to which its services create wealth. “We position ourselves as a wealth-creation financial services provider and, while it is a big market, few companies are trying to do something similar. Our overall mission is wealth creation, which means our competitors – such as Kuda, PiggyVest and SmartTeller – are potential collaborators.”

Looking ahead

Despite posting close to 300% growth in year-on-year revenue since 2017, the business saw a significant 50% drop in 2020 on the back of Covid-19. “We are on track to bounce back this year and, in 2022, we should have tripled our position from 2019,” says the entrepreneur.

Riby currently comprises a 50-strong core team, with plans to grow its staff complement in the next 12 months and increase its product offering. Earlier this year, it added a healthcare loan facility for small businesses, which provides $300 worth of healthcare for $30 a year. It is also working on financial products related to investments and home ownership.

The company aims to expand into three additional African countries in the next 18 months, with an objective of creating wealth for one million people by the end of the year and four million by the end of 2025. “We measure our success by our ability to put an individual on a path to wealth, through increased income, savings accrual or home ownership. That’s a clear measurable goal for us.”

Riby CEO Salami Abolore’s contact information

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