With his interest in continuously leveraging technology to create financial solutions, it is not surprising to see why Uzoma Dozie is a force to reckon with in the financial Industry. In this interview, Uzoma talks about his new solution, Sparkle; a mobile-first platform for Nigeria’s retail sector, using technology to power financial inclusion, at scale. He shares his journey on why he created the brand, Sparkle and how he is driving trust, transparency, freedom, inclusivity, simplicity and personalization.
On Problem Solving
It’s evident that regardless of the current economic downturn, entrepreneurs must still meet their goals. In leading through difficult situations, just like the current pandemic, Uzoma shares his inspiration behind out-of-the-box solutions that others don’t identify.
An entrepreneur is one who sees an opportunity or deficiency and works towards creating a solution that will close the gap. The urge to create better experiences and solve everyday problems is what keeps me going – it is what inspires me.
As an individual, I strongly believe that we should continually strive to seek easier ways to do things rather than leave them just the way they have been. For example, the Inventor of the tractor wanted to use mechanized farming to alleviate the need for people and hoes. Today, it is easier, faster and more efficient, all thanks to mechanized farming.
In my case, I was fortunate enough to have a varied educational experience, work and lifestyle both in Nigeria and Europe. If it could be done elsewhere then it can definitely be done in Nigeria. These experiences help me continue to excel in my business today.
Living abroad and experiencing some advancement in the form of usage of credit and debit cards and returning back to Nigeria where these things were not in place yet, was like being teleported back to the past. Soon after, Nigeria caught up. I was working with Diamond bank in their oil and gas department as a financial controller for four years until the retail initiative and that was where my retail journey started.
As far back as 2004, there was a great Diamond bank advert that read ‘Banking in your hand’ which we agreed upon at the time to be the future of banking. Looking back from now, we already had the retail DNA in our system fifteen years ago. This stems from the quest to identify problems and create solutions. What does technology allow us to do? It allows us to redefine the market place and reduce the cost of providing services, creating better experiences and creating new products and new markets to grant solutions to people who would never have had that experience or be able to afford it.
Banking is a classic example. Once upon a time, we had to go into the banking hall with a banking form to withdraw money. Even with the eventual presence of Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), we would have had to come to a bank still and during banking hours.
Today, the case is different. ATMs are available everywhere and round the clock too. It is now a possibility for individuals to open a new bank account right from their phone without going into the banking hall.
Small businesses are drivers of growth in any economy. For any business to make an impact, the challenges that small businesses face have to be addressed. The ease of doing business in Nigeria is not as easy as people see it; from business name registration down to tax numbers, corporate bank accounts, let alone, getting loans – it is such a long process. Sparkle comes in by reducing the stress on individuals and growing businesses, thereby, making it possible for small businesses to be more resilient, thrive and expand.
With 37million registered small businesses in Nigeria, if only 10 percent of them can employ one person, this will amount to 3 million people added to the job market in Nigeria. Such productivity is a driving force for Sparkle.
On Building the Brand, SPARKLE
Sparkle is a digital ecosystem providing financial, lifestyle and business support services to Nigerians across the globe. Here, Uzoma shares his inspiration behind the name and the brand.
The idea for the name SPARKLE came when I was working with Diamond bank. I had a favourite tagline – ‘keep sparkling’. And what do diamonds do? They sparkle!
Sparkle is a brand representative of mobility, freedom, transparency and simplicity – the next evolution.
While at Diamond Bank where we focused on financial inclusion, small businesses and providing a better experience for people, the need to connect lifestyle and finance became very obvious because there is a strong correlation between both.
An innate interest in connecting platforms; providing a solution that enables individuals and businesses to make seamless transactions with little or no stress is at the forefront of our creation story. We are not doing anything new, however, at Sparkle, we have built our own solutions from the ground up. We can connect a small business or an individual that has an Instagram account to Sparkle and then to a logistic service in a seamless manner.
“One can log onto their Instagram account to find an advertisement for a product that interests them, make payment and connect to a delivery service automatically as opposed to going through 2 to 3, or even more platforms to wrap up a single transaction.”
With Sparkle, features like money request or bill payments can be done swiftly, with little dependence on network availability or the use of several platforms. Sparkle prides itself in compressing lengthy processes to create better experiences for users.
Digitalization as a Driver of Success
For financial services to be democratized, to socially include the vast population of Nigeria in a cost effective manner, it has to be digital.
COVID-19 has had a great impact on the global economy thereby creating awareness for better appreciation and huge adoption of different ideas and channels to drive business success. For example, a restaurant today must have a digital service. A gym instructor must now have a new way of providing body fitness services that people can access at their own convenience as nobody is going to the gym at the moment. Schools are not left out as they are now forced to coordinate online classes.
In Nigeria, many are still ignorant of the fact that a good platform is needed to carry out business and render services. A good example would be taxation. To open a business in Nigeria today, one must have a Tax Identification Number (TIN) which inadvertently makes it a must for the business to apply for tax. As a small business owner who is clueless about tax liabilities, the services of a tax consultant will be needed. If there are about 37 million registered businesses, Nigeria most likely does not have enough tax consultants to cater to the needs of small and growing businesses; it is not a human solution.
On Financial Inclusion for the African Woman
Sparkle joined Women’s World Banking that provides expanding financial inclusion for women to access resources. Uzoma shares next steps for Sparkle in empowering the female gender.
From experience, I’ve observed that there is a gender imbalance in terms of services rendered to women. A good number of African women work and also double up as decision makers in their homes. Moreso, many women are now leveraging technology to set up work-from-home businesses as well as keep up with the online activities of their children. So they are big adopters of technology.
At Sparkle, our values align with the distinctive values of women. We know what we are providing is a platform that will give them the freedom they need.
Advice for Small and Growing Businesses
- This is a time to make hard decisions. Be willing to strip your business down and change your model if you have to.
- Get close to your customers, study behavioural patterns and understand what they need.
- Sadly, if your business is no longer growing, you need to shut it down and consider diversifying.
It is very important for small businesses to keep leveraging digitalization to connect with their target audience. Sparkle is constantly coming up with ideas on how to further create better experiences for individuals and businesses; using digitalization to achieve this goal. We are simply taking real life experiences and using digitalization to make it easier.
Lanre is a writer and digital media enthusiast, with a flair for anything related to empowerment. He is also the Co-Founder and Chief Operations Officer at The Spark.