Charlres Oligbo is the founder and Chief Executive Officer of Sawport Inc. Sawport, a video banking solution provider that enables African banks to scale their diaspora banking services, as well as deliver seamless banking experience to all customers.
The Sawport leadership team consists of former students of Federal Government College Lagos made up of Oligbo, Sadiq Ribadu who serves as the Chief Technology Officer, and Azeez Salami who serves as the Chief Strategy Officer.
Oligbo, who was one of the pitchers at the 6th Nigerian Diaspora Investment Summit (NDIS) spoke with Juliana Taiwo- Obalonye, on how his frustration with his bank’s customer service while abroad forced him to think of an innovative idea to solve the problem.
You were one of the pitchers at the 6th Nigerian Diaspora Investment Summit (NDIS), what’s the goal for Sawport Inc?
Our goal is to improve the customer banking experience and customer service for African customers living in the diaspora, through video banking, which will increase remittance coming into Africa.
How long has it been in existence?
We’ve been in existence since January 2021. We currently have Fidelity Bank Nigeria as one of our clients. We also have Sterling Bank as our 2nd client, and we are in talks with NCBA Bank, which is in Kenya.
What challenges made you bring the service to Nigeria?
I have lived overseas for 20 years and I have bank accounts here in Nigeria. One of the biggest challenges most of us in the diaspora experience with the Nigerian banking industry is poor customer banking experience and customer service. I reside in Houston, Texas where we have the most Nigerians living in the diaspora. The few ways we can contact our banks is via email or phone call.
Most times, when we contact our banks, we do not get any response. We tend to call this “Banking Without Representation.” On the other hand, when I speak to the banks, they complain about the increasing dormant diaspora accounts. What this indicates is that the diaspora customers are abandoning their bank accounts with Nigeria banks and migrating to foreign banks. Our goal at Sawport Inc. is to enable African banks to provide quality customer service and customer banking experience. This is our contribution to tackling the forex crisis Nigeria is currently experiencing.
How has the experience been in terms of feedback for those that are using your service at least from your two main clients?
We have received positive feedback from the banks we are currently working with. Some of the feedback received are increased customer engagement and in- creased dormant accounts reactivation. We strongly believe our solution will help African banks reduce their cost to asset ratio, reduce call centre cost, and improve customer satisfaction, thereby in- creasing customer retention.
How long have you started attending Nigeria in Diaspora Investment Summit and what has been the gain for you?
The 2022 edition was my first time. I attended the 5th Nigeria Diaspora Invest Summit (NDIS) but I wasn’t here physically, so my attendance was virtual. So I decided to be physically present and pitch at the 6th Nigeria Diaspora Invest Summit (NDIS).
The NDIS is a great platform NIDCOM has created for Small and Medium size enterprises, to showcase their businesses and innovation to all Nigerians (home and abroad), investors and the Federal Government of Nigeria.
Fortunately for Sawport, this summit is sponsored by various financial institutions so this gives us the opportunity to pitch our Video Banking Solution, directly to the bank executives who attended the event.
What has been the feed- back since after the pitching session?
I’ve got lots of feedback. Various banks executives at the 6th NDIS summit have reached out to schedule meeting sessions, to discuss how we could collaborate with their diaspora banking unit, to improve and scale their diaspora banking services.
Nigerians in Diaspora Commission (NIDCOM) CEO, Dr. Abike Dabiri-Erewa also has reached out to me after my pitch to discuss a potential collaboration between Sawport and the Commission. She believes our Video Banking Solution is a game changer for the Nigerian/African banking industry and the customers living in the diaspora.
You are a Nigerian coming from the Diaspora to participate in the investment summit. But a lot of Nigerians feel the economy is nothing to write home about?
You can’t keep complaining all the time right? Rather than com- plaining, try and find a solution. Nigerians in the diaspora are focused on finding solutions to various problems in Nigeria, but you just have to find the right solution that is unique.
I listened to the great speech of Member House of Representatives, Adamu Tanko at the NDIS event. He is a young, vibrant, and intelligent man whom I strongly believe could help encourage and appeal to the millennials and Gen Z population in the diaspora, to continue banking with Nigerian financial institutions as we cannot afford to lose them to foreign banks.
A collaboration between Sawport and Hon. Adamu Tanko – (Chairman – House of Representatives’ Committee on Diaspora), along with Senator Victor Umeh (Chairman – Senate Committee on Diaspora), would yield positive results such as accelerating the adoption and growth of Sawport Video Banking Solution.
You’ve seen Nigeria’s business environment, are there concerns you want the government to ad- dress?
Oh yes. The number one concern has to be constant electricity. Once you have constant power supply, you’re going to see how creative and productive people are going to be. Using generators and fuel everyday is what discourages a lot of people from starting or running a business. This increases the cost of operation thereby increasing the cost of goods and services provided to customers.
Another challenge entrepreneurs experience is access to financial capital in the form of grants and loans. I had the opportunity to meet Dr. Nura Bello, the Zonal Vice President for NASME at the NDIS event. He assured me that he is actively working with the DG of NITDA Kashifu Inuwa Abdullahi, and the DG of SMED- AN, Mr. Charles Odii to make funds and digital skills easily accessible to Startups and MSME in Nigeria.
You listened to other pitchers, what would be your advice to organisers going forward?
A company like Sawport which has built a product that is truly impactful to Nigerians in the diaspora and Nigerian Banks, could serve as a success story for NIDCOM programmes improvement over time, and demonstrate the value of the program activities.
Owners of successful companies that have participated in all sixth summits can serve as an Ambassador to NIDCOM thereby creating more awareness and increasing the participation of other small businesses in the upcoming summits.
What are some of the challenges you had starting your business?
The number one challenge I experienced when I started my company was funding, but I took
a step back and decided to save up the initial capital I used to kick- start my business. Currently, we are still bootstrapping but we have managed to make significant progress without any funding from Angel Investors, VC or the Federal Government. This is a clear sign that our Video Banking Solution is beneficial to the African Banking Industry.
Another challenge we experienced at the beginning was hiring the right developers to bring the vision to reality. Initially, I tried using developers in India, but that did not work for me. What worked for me was hiring developers in Nigeria. By doing so, Sawport was able to create jobs in Nigeria. We plan to hire more developers, especially female developers but this requires additional funding. Fund- ing is always going to be one of the challenges we face as a start-up.
You are not the first to complain about developers from India, frustrating. How can this be tackled? What role can the government play in terms of training?
I believe the Minister of Communication and Innovation and Digital economy through NITDA is already doing that by training 3 million Nigerians in information technology. This is a step in the right direction and I strongly believe that we are going to see more developers in Nigeria. This will encourage tech founders to gain trust in our human capital and invest in Nigeria rather than investing elsewhere.
You didn’t lose money and why go to India in the first place?
Oh, yeah, I lost a lot of money. Why India? Well because they have dominated the IT space and have their footprints in the technology industry. By working with them, I thought that was going to be the best approach to develop my product .This was a mistake I made in the early stages of build- ing Sawport. I will consider my mistake to be a learning lesson. I don’t regret that because it gave me the confidence to say, Okay, let me bring it back home to Nigeria
So, what has been your experience so far with the developers in Nigeria?
It’s been great. I’ve been working with them for two or three years as the business started. They’ve been reliable and we plan to hire more people. Working with them is better than the experience I had working with Indian developers. So, it’s better hiring Nigerian developers than contracting the job to developers in India? By hiring Nigerians, we are creating and adding jobs to the economy as well as making sure that Nigerians are the ones solving the problems in Nigeria.