What's happening at Wallets Africa?
A.k.a How not to handle a crisis
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How not to handle a crisis
Wallets Africa describes itself as “one digital wallet that lets you pay everywhere.” Translation: the company issues physical USD visa cards to individuals and businesses that they can use to make payments anywhere. It’s a compelling promise for users in Nigeria where restrictions on online foreign payments get more ridiculous everyday. Three weeks ago, I wrote this: “Until April 2020, it was possible to spend $3k monthly on international payments using your Naira MasterCard.” Today, you can pay a maximum of $20 with your Naira card–you can find a timeline of international spending limits here.
These limits are stressful considering that people need to pay for a raft of USD-denominated subscriptions: Spotify, Apple Music and the like. Small business owners also need to buy goods from foreign online vendors. This tough spot has made USD cards necessary, but it doesn’t mean they’re easy to get from Nigerian banks. When you open a domiciliary account in Nigeria, the odds are that you will need to buy USD from the black market to fund said account—it’s a hassle.
Fintechs like Wallets Africa promise to help people scale these hurdles, with virtual USD accounts and physical USD cards. The company’s website says it has 230k personal accounts and 30k business accounts. Records from Crunchbase also show that the company has also raised funding twice since it launched, although the exact amounts it raised are unknown.
Despite what sounds like a solid business, when you Google Wallets Africa, the top stories are about the company’s failure to verify a customer’s account despite receiving payment. In another story from the publication, FIJ narrates how a customer couldn’t get back N255,000 from the company after a failed transaction. From these news stories, it’s easy to get the idea of a worrying pattern of behaviour from the company. Yet it gets worse.
I spoke to two other people who have had similar negative experiences with Wallets Africa and read hundreds of complaints online about this behaviour from the company. In several online complaints, users can be found calling out Wallets Africa for “holding on to their money” and getting blocked by the company’s Twitter handle. You can find other such claims of the company blocking users who make complaints on Twitter here, here, and here. Desperate users often tag the company CEO, John Oke, who’s often careful to not speak on the issue. Yet, whenever he tweets, he’s inundated with mentions that he often hides.
A look at Wallets Africa's twitter page may give the impression that everything is hunky-dory at the company. Tweets marketing the service still go out every other day and whenever another thread accusing the company of not releasing people’s money goes viral, there’s often a standard response like this:
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On the Google Play store, the app is rated 1.6 Stars, with hundreds of poor reviews, and on Twitter, several affected Wallets Africa customers are creating directories of those who have been affected. The aim is to report the company to consumer protection agencies. The substance of their complaints can be roughly categorised into three: first, lengthy identification verification times even after funds have been deposited which prevents customers from spending or withdrawing said funds. There’s also a problem of being unable to reach customer support, with several customers pointing out that the company’s in-app support is always offline.
Several ex-employees who spoke to me claimed that they had no idea what the issues with Wallets Africa are, and an email to the founder went unreplied at the time of this report. Whatever the real issues turn out to be, this whole incident is a masterclass in how not to handle a crisis.
What I’ve been reading
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Ben Bernanke winning the Nobel Prize in Economics is a sick joke
How Dalu Akabogu turned a tough break into a series of big breaks