Maria Rotilu is the Country Manager, Branch Financial Services, a digital and technology savvy financial institution. She spoke with ADEYEMI ADEPETUN, about the importance of data protection, and customer privacy to business development in Nigeria. Excerpts…
How will you explain the nomenclature of this company?
Think of Branch as a mobile “branchless bank” for high-growth, emerging markets. Our first product is lending, and our goal over time is to expand to other financial services such as savings, money transfers and payments.
With the explicit permission of our customers, we use data science to analyze smartphone data to determine loan eligibility. Our machine learning algorithms process thousands of data points to create personalized loan options in a matter of seconds. This allows us remove the need for physical meetings, collateral or paperwork. We do not need to physically see users to give loans.
To use Branch, all customers do is download Branch from the Google Play store. It takes just seconds to sign up, add your information and select an offered loan amount and terms. Application takes just a couple of clicks and approval happens in minutes. Funds are then deposited straight to a customers’ bank account. With Branch, there is no paperwork, no guarantors or collateral and no hidden charges or late fees.Branch currently offers loans through the app, such that Nigerians irrespective of location can apply for loans between, 000 – N150, 000 and get a loan sent to their bank account in minutes.
How does the Branch App work?
It’s simple. Any Android smartphone user can access to loans between N3, 000 and N150, 000 naira via the Branch App. On Google Play, search for the Branch App and download the app. Apply for a loan. Once approved, your loan will be sent to your bank account in minutes. This all happens in minutes, without a physical meeting, paperwork, or collateral.
Some users get funds in their bank account minutes after applying. At Branch, with the user’s permission, we analyze smartphone data to determine a personalized loan option for the user. Our machine learning algorithm processes thousands of data points to create personalized loan options including: GPS data, call logs, contact lists, handset details, SMS logs, and social network data.
Most customers, who applied for loans, what are the funds used for?
Seven out of 10 users report using Branch to fund small business needs and meet financial obligations. This data has been collected during user research we perform on a regular basis. In these surveys, we ask about the usage of the loan.These small businesses are often side or informal businesses. Our customers find valuable short term investments for loans in the range of N3, 000 – N150, 000. In both quantitative and qualitative research, we’ve noted strong uses for cash float such as gas for transportation drivers, fabric for clothing producers, ingredients for the production of prepared foods materials for beauty and hair services, and tools or materials for construction.
These goods don’t require large investment, but can be prohibitively expensive for the working class of developing markets. Also, the alternatives do not offer loans for smaller amounts, and have laborious and prohibitive requirements before they are able to offer loans at all. At Branch, it is easy for users to access these loans continuously, growing their credit limit and having access to higher amounts as they repay previous loans.
How do you secure the data privacy of your customers?
Data protection and privacy is paramount for our business and something we care deeply about. We use world-class data security and encryption techniques to protect our customer’s data. We use smartphone data to determine loan options. That data is then encrypted and protected. Branch never shares our customers’ data or information with third parties unless it is for dedicated business purposes, such as reporting defaulted loans to authorized credit bureaus.
What are the procedures for customers to repay their loan?
As we noted, we assess thousands of data points which informs a credit decision. As such, the vast majority of our customers repay their loans on time and take secondary, often larger, loans. In the case that a user doesn’t repay, we reach out to the user to find out why and urge them to repay. We do not charge late or rollover fees. There are several easy ways one can repay. Either through the app, repaying through your bank account, ATM, or cash at the Bank if that is the user’s preference.We have several channels to which users can easily repay.
How will you describe Branch’s growth and expansion drive in Nigeria cum Africa?
Branch has disrupted the financial services space in Africa by replacing physical branches and traditional underwriting processes with a proprietary machine learning algorithm to make lending decisions. For us, there are two reasons why we think Branch has seen such success here.The first are the market factors. Nigeria has seen accelerating smartphone adoption; a high appetite for world-class financial services; and an increasing acceptance and propensity to use mobile financial technologies.
To expand on this a bit: The African market has seen accelerating rates of smartphone adoption in recent years mostly driven by dropping smartphone prices and growing internet penetration. In fact, GMSA Intelligence recently predicted that there will be more than 400 million new smartphone connections in Sub-Saharan Africa by 2020, bringing the mobile install base to more than half a billion users. We believe that Nigeria will be a massive part of this growth.
At the same time, the high cost of credit and the risk-averse nature of the traditional lending providers, has locked out many potential customers from access to basic financing. This presents Branch with a unique opportunity to build world-class products that solve this need in the Nigerian market. By using data science as the backbone of our loan products, we’re able to dramatically reduce the cost and speed of delivering financial services in Nigeria and our other markets.
So market factors are definitely one reason we think we have seen growth here. But, as I said previously, the bigger reasons that we think customers have come to love Branch is really because of the product and the experience we’re building. The company’s growth has been spurred by its unique policy of offering lower interest rates and longer repayment terms to customers who have reached higher credit limits, thereby encouraging repeat uptake.