Alat, Nigeria’s first digital bank, has leveraged the country’s recently unified exchange rate to reverse a policy on Naira cards that limited international spending.
On Friday, Alat, the first-of-its-kind digital bank in Nigeria, announced to its customers that they could now use their naira cards to spend up to $500 monthly on international transactions. This new development comes exactly a month after the Central Bank (CBN) floated the Naira. Before the float, the CBN maintained an artificial scarcity of foreign currency by limiting 43 items from accessing FX. As a result of the scarcity, banks placed a $20 limit on Naira cards for international transactions.
Eniola, a freelancer, told TechCabal that the limit placed by banks was an “inconvenience.” “It was a limitation that did not help anything,” he added. Oluchukwu, a writer, told TechCabal he could not do anything “worthwhile” with the limitation. Several fintechs have sprung up to offer virtual cards that allow customers to spend internationally without limits. David, a First Bank (a commercial bank) and PayDay (a fintech) user, told TechCabal that he opened his PayDay account because First Bank had a “ridiculous” limit on its cards.
Alat’s new limit follows in the footsteps of announcements that other startups have made in the last week. Tayo Oviosu, the founder of Paga, tweeted on Wednesday that his fintech could deliver remittances in Naira for “any remittance company looking for a local partner.” On Tuesday, Flutterwave launched Tuition, a product that allows Africans to pay for international school fees with their currencies. Access Bank has also partnered with Remitly, an American remittance company, to allow its customers to receive dollars in their Access Bank accounts.
President Tinubu’s administration has shown that, in its bid to increase how much foreign currency enters the country, it is willing to renege on the CBN’s limiting stance. On Wednesday, the CBN approved Naira payouts for diaspora remittances. With more than $1 billion stuck in Nigeria, foreign airlines were arguably the most affected by the CBN’s limiting stance. This week, Flutterwave announced that it would allow airlines to collect payments in Naira. With this development, the hope is that airline ticket prices will fall (Nigeria has one of the highest international ticket prices in Africa) as airlines can easily withdraw their profits.
Banks and fintechs alike are taking advantage of the new policies to offer new solutions for their customers, but can fintechs innovate fast enough to keep their customers? Dammy*, a designer who works at a digital bank, told TechCabal that she would not have opened a digital bank account if her regular bank allowed her to spend money internationally with ease. Adeoti, a Web3 designer, told TechCabal that he looks forward to banks removing the former restrictive limits. “I couldn’t make payments for tools I was using for work.”
*Name was changed to protect our source.