Today, we are excited to announce the issuance of our SEC License in the fund/portfolio management category. We are the first fintech in Nigeria to get this license from the Securities and Exchange Commission. In this breakdown we’ll share:
- How we introduced protection frameworks in 2017.
- Our achievements so far.
- The impact of this licensing. (We are launching APIs 🚀)
But first, what is the SEC. This acronym stands for the Securities and Exchange Commission. And if we were to compare, it will be “the CBN” for investments. Just as the Central bank of Nigeria (CBN) regulates banks, the SEC is charged with the mandate of regulating the operations of investment companies. They work to ensure you are kept safe as an investor.
In 2017, when Cowrywise stepped into the wealth management space, there was no regulatory framework for fintech players. That is, no player had a license from the SEC (Securities and Exchange Commission) to serve the Nigerian people. However, this doesn’t mean it was illegal to operate. Rather, it was an evolutionary process as the regulator sought to understand things better. We started operations in partnership with regulated entities, Meristem Trustees Limited.
With no framework in place came a downside; the onus of securing investors fell more on service providers. For the investors, that meant exposure to various levels of risk. Despite the committed efforts of the regulator, first-time investors fell victims to a couple of pseudo-investment platforms.
How we Managed the Pre-regulation Era
From the get-go, we placed investment protection as our priority. In fact, we started off with a statement we still hold dear: “Trust is our currency“. For us, that meant we needed to do all we could to keep investors safe regardless of the absence of a documented structure. To do this, we mirrored the trustee structure of traditional firms.
Cowrywise was the first Nigerian fintech to implement the trustee structure in Nigeria.
What is the Trustee Structure?
When an investment firm is set up, they align with a trustee to protect the interest of investors. The trustee is similar to a guardian who ensures that your fund manager/intermediary fund manager sticks to the plan. In our case, the plan was to give first-time investors a home. This meant that they could only be exposed to secured investments that had limited risk.
First, we drafted an Investment Policy Statement (IPS) to define what we could invest savings of customers in, and what we couldn’t. Then, the trustee stepped in to ensure that we stuck with this. Further, they went on to be (and still are) custodians of investors’ funds.
So, not only couldn’t we just invest savings in assets outside the IPS, but we also couldn’t just wake up and move funds to another country. This structure, which has always been in partnership with an SEC-regulated entity, was our first major commitment to the protection of first-time investors. By welcoming first-time investors and investing in their security, we were simply reiterating the feel of home; which is safe.
Retailing Mutual Funds for Everyday People
Today, young people across Nigeria are making their first investments in mutual funds with the help of our aggregated platform. So far, we have aggregated 21 mutual funds spread across different asset classes. Also, we have ensured that people get started with any amount; be it a Naira-based or dollar-based mutual fund.
With this retail channel, which launched in 2018, we set up an ambitious pipeline to introduce 10 million first-time investors to regulated investments by 2025. This came with a unique challenge.
Unlike our savings product, mutual funds come in various risk categories. Hence, managing first-time experiences was key to retaining new and even old investors. To this end, we set up a robust education campaign (still ongoing) and built a proprietary recommendation engine. This recommendation engine matches you with the best funds to invest in based on your risk appetite.
We will introduce 10 million first-time investors to regulated investments by 2025Razaq Ahmed, CEO/Co-founder, Cowrywise
- We pioneered the protection framework for customers of fintech (focused on wealth management) in Nigeria.
- Three hundred thousand people now use Cowrywise.
- Twenty-one of Nigeria’s total mutual funds is accessible on Cowrywise. We are the largest aggregator in Nigeria.
- We are the first fintech to be issued an SEC license in the fund/portfolio management category.
What does the SEC License mean?
This license does more than approve our existing framework. It empowers us to do more for both investors and providers in the space. Asides from investors getting further reassurance that they are on the right side of money, we will be building more immersive experiences for them.
On the fund managers side, we will not just broaden their reach to first-time investors, we will deepen our partnerships with many more.
Taking things a notch up, we will be making our APIs public to help fund managers across the world access our services and open up more investment options to serve our customers in Nigeria better. Digitizing the investment management infrastructure is an important next step in our vision to democratise access to investment products. These APIs do not just apply to fintechs; any company can embed investment features in their products as our investment API simplifies regulatory, compliance and technical hurdles. Hence, we are opening up early access to these APIs. If you’d love to be part of this, check here.
Finally, what exciting ideas would you love us to explore with our API? Drop a comment for us. We’ll read through every suggestion.