Harvard Graduate Set to Start Nigeria’s First Online-Only Lender

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Two entrepreneurs are set to unveil Nigeria’s first online lender in New York on Thursday.

Marketed as a digital bank that will have no branches, Lidya will be based in Lagos, Nigeria’s commercial capital, and offer small and medium-sized businesses unsecured loans of between $500 and $15,000. While it will initially focus on Nigerian customers, Lidya will target cities across Africa, according to Tunde Kehinde, a co-founder.

“There are no real products catered to these customers today,” Kehinde said by phone from New York, where he’ll announce the formation of Lidya at a financial technology conference. “What we’re trying to do is introduce a lot of technology, algorithms and machine learning to industrialize the credit assessment process.”

Kehinde, a Harvard Business School graduate, is a former managing director of Jumia, Nigeria’s biggest online retailer. He currently runs Africa Courier Express, a logistics company, along with Ercin Eksin, the other founder of Lidya.

While Kehinde and Eksin are the majority owners, they will look to bring in other shareholders and raise more than $1 million in the next few months from investors, primarily in the U.S., Eksin said.

Lidya will be opened next month and also partner with Nigerian banks to allow them to use it as a platform to target small businesses.

“Because of how the banks are set up, with bricks and mortar networks, they’re more inclined to service multinationals and large government institutions,” Kehinde said. “Their cost structure isn’t favorable to servicing small businesses. Because we’re using technology and algorithms to assess the risk, it allows them to offer financial products to these customers at a low cost.”

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