Obi Emetarom, a co-founder and CEO of Zone, was one of the speakers at Thetaray’s Fintech event in Lagos last week. TechEconomy and some of the major players in Nigeria’s payment and financial sectors were in attendance.
The gathering specifically focused on how AML, risk, and compliance officers, leaders, and managers at banks and fintechs can utilize AI to increase efficiency and efficacy at their companies.
Obi spoke at the event on “Innovation, Regulations, and Trust: The Cornerstones of Financial Inclusion and Economic Growth in Nigeria.”
According to Obi, innovation is key to expanding access to financial services, but it must be balanced with effective regulations to protect consumers and promote a stable financial system.
“Trust is also crucial, as customers must have confidence in the security and reliability of digital financial services to adopt them.”
However, in an exclusive interview with TechEconomy, Obi discussed, among other things, how Zone is deploying blockchain technology to solve payment problems, the cryptocurrency regulation ban, and the National Blockchain Policy.
Decentralization of the Payment Network
In 2022, the firm, which Obi heads as CEO, rebranded from Appzone to Zone and since then has achieved tremendous feats, linking different financial service providers and expanding its decentralized payment network.
The Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) issued Zone approval to operate under the Switching and Processing license category. The switching license enables Zone to directly engage and collaborate with crucial payment system stakeholders such as the Nigeria Central Switch hosted by NIBSS and the various card payment schemes.
Being the first decentralized payment network licensed by the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN), Zone’s Layer-1 blockchain network enables peer-to-peer transactions without the need for an intermediary, increasing transaction speed, consistency, and dependability
“Banks can directly exchange assets without the involvement of a central authority; that means transactions can go directly between participants, which makes it more reliable and transparent.”
Solving the Problem of Failed Transactions
Basically, blockchain is immutable, the protocols are open and collaborative, and this will make “digital financial services likewise more diverse, inventive, and transparent,” Obi said.
In general, blockchain technology offers considerable potential for Nigerian fintech firms to deliver cutting-edge financial solutions and solve the country’s payment problems.
One of the most common issues usually experienced by Nigerians is an unsuccessful financial transaction that gets customers debited, then reversal becomes the issue. Usually, the first step should be to call the bank’s 24-hour customer service helpline.
After making a note of your issue and recording your transaction reference number, the executive will register your complaint and issue you a complaint tracking number. The matter is then investigated afterward.
“Blockchain technology is solving all those problems; it tells you exactly where the money is, whether debited or not. There are times when customers would have to wait for 48 hours or more for the bank to reverse their money.” Blockchain provides the status of the transactions both parties (bank and customer) immediately
According to Obi, the blockchain network used by Zone increases transaction speed, consistency, and dependability, as well as the technique used to reconcile ATM transactions.
“With our system, if you complete a transaction at an ATM belonging to another bank, the ATM sends it directly to your bank over our blockchain; you only need to establish a connection from bank to bank.” “Because there is never a situation where the middle switch is down, our network is quicker and more dependable.”
The Nigerian government has approved a new national blockchain policy aimed at institutionalizing blockchain technology in the country’s economy and security sectors.
Essentially, blockchain technology makes it possible to develop decentralized applications and new business models that will improve transactional transparency, supply chain security, and record-keeping efficiency across different sectors.
According to Obi, the move by the Nigerian government is a testament to the fact that blockchain technology remains critical, especially in the payment sector. “The approval kind of clears the air for those who have doubts about blockchain technology.”
“I think the benefit comes from how people will now begin to apply blockchain to different use cases in financial services that have a lot of opportunity.”
The CEO explained that deploying the technology in the public sector will help develop a more safe and open system for registering crucial data, including national identities, company registrations, tax records, and voting records.
The government can use blockchain to guarantee that the documents are safe, accessible, and transparently administered. This would strengthen the public’s confidence in the government while lowering corruption and increasing efficiency.
Ban on Cryptocurrency: Update
In February 2021, the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) instructed the commercial banks to close accounts of persons or entities involved in cryptocurrency transactions within their systems. The apex bank cited several reasons why it took the decision to stop banks from facilitating digital currency transactions.
Since then, there have been several discussions between the CBN and market players to see if there would be some sort of alignment to lift the restrictions and ensure proper regulation.
Obi said “yes,” there is an ongoing conversation. “The truth remains that there are gaps in cryptocurrency that need to be filled. There are system issues such as exchange control, capital inadequacy, KYC, and AML.
“How do regulators manage how money flows to protect the Can you imagine a bank using all its cash to buy a coin that collapses overnight? Again, let’s say, for example, someone says, I’ll give you a stable coin for dollars; give me your dollar. How do you know that he still has that stable coin?”
Obi explains that until systemic issues such as exchange control, capital inadequacy, KYC, and AML are addressed, it remains a danger zone, citing the Silicon Valley Bank crash as a practicable example.
“We all saw what happened recently with the SVP crash. The effects are humongous. However, Obi maintained that operators must start to see cryptocurrencies from a regulatory viewpoint while working closely with stakeholders to close the gaps.