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Herbert Wigwe’s Journey from Incubating Flutterwave to Backing SystemSpecs, BVN

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Herbert Wigwe’s Journey from Incubating Flutterwave to Backing SystemSpecs, BVN

Since the death of Herbert Wigwe, the founding Group CEO of Access Holding Plc on 9 February 2024, several tech founders and executives have been pouring encomiums on his impact on their lives and businesses.

“I called him the Oracle of Isiokpo. My oracle. Because if Warren Buffet was the Oracle of Omaha; the best investor in America, then we needed our oracle in Africa. And his name was Herbert Wigwe. I called him my blueprint because he provided a road map of hard work, discipline and hustle that I follow/understand, like the blueprint of a building,” Ola Brown, founder of HealthCap, a venture capital firm that invests in fintech and health tech companies, wrote in a riveting tribute

Herbert Wigwe was many things to many people, but for many founders and executives in Nigeria’s tech industry, he was a patron, a mentor and a sponsor. The history of companies like Flutterwave, Africa’s most valuable fintech, Unified Payments, and SystemSpecs will not be complete without his pivotal role in their growth. 

Taking a big chance on Flutterwave

For Gbenga ‘GB’ Agboola and his co-founder Iyinoluwa Aboyeji, Wigwe was why Flutterwave, Africa’s most valuable fintech company, exists today. 

Aboyeji writes in a post that Wigwe took a big chance on the fintech unicorn even though he never owned a single share of the company.

“He came out with us to San Francisco and pitched the biggest technology companies in the world alongside us. He was the sure reference with Silicon Valley investors and gave us business that helped us grow to become Africa’s most valuable startup,” wrote Aboyeji. 

Agboola, on the other hand, is an alumnus of Access Bank. He worked as head of Digital Factory and Innovation, and head of innovation & product management, digital banking at the bank from 2014 to 2018 before moving to take over the position of CEO at Flutterwave. According to sources, it was while at Access Bank the idea for Flutterwave came and took off. 

“My journey with Herbert began in a remarkable chapter of my life, right after my startup was acquired. I was a young engineer/entrepreneur, barely 30, stepping into a senior role at one of the largest banks in Africa, Access Bank. It was Herbert who believed in my potential to spearhead digital transformation, a task that seemed daunting but was made achievable through his guidance and faith in me,” Agboola wrote via X.

Pushing Remita to mainstream

Remita, the payment platform built by SystemSpecs, may not have the global reach of Flutterwave,it is however the payment solutions company most preferred by the public sector in Nigeria. It is currently used by 22 states of the federation and boasts 3.8 million users nationwide. 

In 2018 SystemSpecs needed a partner to get an approval from the Central Bank of Nigeria (CBN) for one of its solutions, the Remita Data Referencing Services, to support the provision of payday loans for federal government workers and millions of salary earners in the country. For approval to be granted, Remita needed the backing of a commercial bank which was not easy at the time because collaboration between fintech companies and banks was a rarity.

Mujib Ishola, chief technology officer, Remita, said it was Access Bank under Wigwe’s leadership that identified an opportunity for the bank to lend to federal workers and collaborated with SystemSpecs to secure the approval of the CBN. This led to other lenders participating in the payday loan market. 

The Remita Data Referencing Services gave federal workers and salary earners access to loans from Access Bank and other lenders. It has also contributed significantly to the liberalisation of the retail lending space, with more than 50 licenced lenders riding on the rail. 

“Herbert was at the forefront of our partnership, as he was able to create a structure that facilitated the completion of the project just within a few weeks. This initiative brought comfort and assistance to many workers who needed money to do things, just at the time they needed it and were experiencing the ease of seeing this happen for the first time. It was pure leadership. The collaboration has opened a new frontier to retail loan provision and the significant expansion of economic activities at the retail level,” said Ishola. 

The BVN, banking agents, and eTranzact

Herbert Wigwe was one of the prominent members of the Bankers Committee that pushed for the adoption of the Biometric Verification System (BVN) in Nigeria in 2014. Also, as chairman of the Bankers Committee in 2018, he championed the creation of the banking agent network in 2018.

Wigwe is also known to have funded Unified Payments and eTranzact at different times. Niyi Toluwalope, CEO of eTranzact said Wigwe had a “profound impact” on the company by his display of exceptional leadership and strategic insights. 

“As a visionary leader, his exceptional leadership and strategic insights contributed to the growth of our organization. The various insights he shared during our engagements with him were also very valuable,” Toluwalope said.

His investments in Nigerian startups are said to be worth millions of dollars. 

“There were numerous investments in Nigerian startups that anyone will struggle to track down following his demise. As a friend put it to me, investments worth millions of dollars were made following conversations with him alone,” noted Feyi Fawehinmi, an investment accountant and author of Formation: The Making of Nigeria from Jihad to Amalgamation. 

For Toluwalope, Herbert’s biggest legacy in Nigeria’s tech ecosystem is best portrayed through his visionary approach to financial technology, which contributed to the transformation of the industry. 

Source: Techcabal

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