It is yet another beautiful Sunday evening as the Readers’ Hub brings to you a most exciting and thrilling encounter on its Social Convo session. My name is Bassing Kamal your moderator for tonight’s session.
Tonight on the Readers’ Hub Social Convo, we invite one of our ardent Readers to take us through the compendium of his life’s journey thus far.
Our guest is a financial inclusion evangelist, fintech enthusiast, and published author. He is the Country Director of JUMO Ghana Limited where he oversaw the company set up and growth to 5m+ in customers and $1bn+ in disbursement.
He is most excited by driving game-changing financial services with a focus on new delivery channels, product design and value optimization. He is skillful across a variety of channels including branch-based as well as through partnerships with Mobile Network Operators, commercial banks and insurance companies.
Prior to exploring the digital finance space at JUMO, he was heading the Unsecured Lending Unit of afb Ghana Plc where he oversaw the development and growth of a 100% unsecured loan product for the informal sector as well as a direct-debit-only payday loan product.
He it was who championed alternative distribution models for life insurance in Ghana. In 2011, he was a key member of the team that developed and launched the first bancassurance product in Ghana. He also worked to develop informal sector insurance.
At the core, he has always been interested in exploring ways of sharing the benefits of quality financial inclusion to all segments of society.
Over the course of his 15+ year career, he has held various roles including; Board Chair, Mutual Fund Director, Head of Sales & Operations, Business Development Manager, Senior Sales Manager, National Training Manager, Project Manager, Sales Manager, and Corporate Business Executive.
He holds a BA in Geography and Rural Development and an MBA in Global Business. He is currently studying towards a Doctor in Business Administration with a research focus on Inclusive Innovations.
Please help me welcome our guest for tonight’s Social Convo session. Mr.Arnold Elton Kavaarpuo.
Bassing: Please sir you are most welcome!
Mr.Arnold: Thank you and I am absolutely delighted to share some perspectives here
Bassing: We are most grateful. To put the records right about your personality by yourself, who is Mr.Arnold Elton Kavaarpuo?
Mr.Arnold: I will be extremely candid in this conversation, believing that we are speaking amongst friends and that somehow an honest dialogue will reveal important nuances that is often lost. Arnold is someone who feels absolutely privileged to have access to multiple platforms and who desires that his best efforts should be for the good other people and nature, that I share this space/earth/universe/biosphere with.
Using the word platform in a generic sense, I want to live my truest self and my truest potential in any platform I find myself in and once optimized to seek a bigger platform to create impact to a wider audience.
In doing this, there is just so much I don’t know and clearly can’t even fathom the answers and so to a large extent I believe in learning from every place I can find understanding and improving that space with the experience and knowledge I have acquired in my life’s journey.
Bassing: Interesting perspective. Kindly take us through your educational journey, and social life, highlighting on the key milestones you accomplished and your sources of inspiration and support.
Mr.Arnold: Ok. This is going to be a very long one. Like most people on this platform; my life was impacted by my environment and the people around it. I will describe 4 inflection points that probably highlight the question above.
- I failed in Mathematics after completing St. Francis Xavier Minor Seminary. Looking back, I entered Xavier unprepared. I grew up in villages without access to electricity and where I was usually at the top of my school but during my first exams at Xavier I was ranked probably in the 4th quartile. My lack of means was also remarkably visible and so I sought visibility in entertainment which made me remarkably popular and which also made me less focused.
Failing brought scorn which energized me to refocus. I stayed mostly dependent on family during the re-sit period and produced straight A’s in the 6 papers that I decided to rewrite. But more importantly it made me realize that I was the architect of my own future and to achieve that I needed to be financially independent.
My future could not be realized using other people’s resources who did not have it themselves. And so, I started work at the age of 19 as an Insurance Sales Person and used it to fund my University degree and write a book. Which goes to say I worked throughout my university days, travelling on my Mapouka/rubber-rubber from Pusiga to Hamile and from Gwollu to Wenchi feeling incredibly unstoppable? I produced more than half of all the sales that were produced in my region of more than 20 sales reps.
- And now my second inflection point. I think the second inflection point was when I was poached by an ex-special forces guy into the consumer finance space. Here is the actual job description that I received before joining. My first day at work went like this. “You are welcome Arnold. Now let me take you to our National Operations Center which is something like our Command Center. You will gain the most visibility from here.” When we entered, he said, “Good morning gents, Arnold is with us from now.” Then he looked at me and said, “Make yourself useful”.
I didn’t have a desk and no one was even interested in me. After a few minutes I asked to be directed to finance where I asked how I could acquire furniture and it was promptly procured. Then I began by self-orientation from NoC. Day 2, he brought me keys to a Ford Everest and said “I always keep my promises.
From Day 3, I embarked on a nationwide sales training beginning from our Adabraka branch. I had broad remit and soon realized that I was supposed to reorganize the organization for a rebranding exercise and preparation for the future. It was the fastest space of work I have ever done. I sometimes worked 3 days without any sleep.
My work was also frustrated at every turn by the establishment whilst I faced enormous pressure from my boss. I was broken but I refused to quit. But through the efforts, sales went up by 62% and the business was somewhat ready for a mass restructuring. I felt I needed to build a successful prototype for what I wanted to achieve so I drove to Tamale changed the dress code and led sales tried to improve the culture. Performance doubled. After one (1) month in Tamale, I returned to Accra and on my first Monday, no one wanted to speak with me. I was ostracized and scorned.
Bassing: Very determined, I guess.
Mr.Arnold: That was the beginning of a nationwide strike asking that I and the Country Manager be sacked. For 2 weeks the branches refused to sell or service clients. They put a tracker on my car and printed out all my personal documents and just left them about on every desk. The staff also petitioned the Group Board Chair and Group CEO.
The Founder however maintained that the staff does not decide who their manager is- that was the function of the board. I was subsequently involved in designing ways to build structure and get the organization back to performance. We hired a CFO from Deloitte and a HR from Pz Cussons (this was relevant to inject confidence and experience). Practically though it was difficult for me to be directly involved in the business. I was given the opportunity to start an unsecured lending unit separate from the rest of the business with a seed capital of $100k. It was a remarkable success scaled in 5 branches with 54 staff and then opened in Kenya. The business model terminated as 4G Capital in Kenya and a mobile lending product.
- The 3rd inflection point came when my father died, and I was still in my 20s and had to perform his funeral and assume his responsibilities. My younger brother and wife were both in University and my father was also taking care of an orphan girl and her son (the girl who was the last to complete, finished her nursing program this year and her son is doing well too).
I became remarkably overwhelmed with everything from donkeys, goats and sheep that run away from no one being there to take care of them to family conflicts and bills that needed to be paid whilst doing my day job. I had to grow up fast.
- The 4th inflection point came in 2 ways. I woke up in Dar es Salam at 5am to receive our usual call with my then girlfriend and after speaking with her it occurred to me she was visibly ill and the thought of her staying up patiently waiting at 2am (Ghana time) to speak with me each day, then dawned on me. I realized that in my career pursuit I had forgotten about others. I went to the office, quit, bought a plane ticket back to Accra and got married in a few weeks. My company later rehired me to set up and run the Jumo Ghana business.
Bassing: Wow! Impressive! That was a brave attempt anyway.
Mr.Arnold: I knew it was the right thing to do. I had always done what I knew how but I clearly had blind spots which sometimes needed time to become visible to me.
If you like the second of the 4th inflection point for me went like this and it is very raw. During the night something had triggered multiple deductions to people owing on our platforms. By the time I got the office, it felt like everyone was out to get me – angry calls from banking partners, call centers, group etc. I had calls coming from Slack, Skype, WhatsApp, phone, emails, messages and I will be interrupted between on Slack.
After hours of the hysteria and feeling of guilt even though it was through no fault of mine, I broke into a huge sweat and went out into the balcony on the 8th floor at the Octagon.
It felt like I needed to escape. I didn’t jump but rather turned my devices off. Drove to the Junction mall, bought some beers and drove to the beach and spent the rest of the day there totally disconnected. In all of this, I learned that mental health is real and breakdowns were very possible and I couldn’t operate at such fast pace over such extended periods of time without breaks and self-care. You need to look after yourself and you need to look after the people around you even whilst pursuing your goals. No one else will.
I hope this provides some perspectives albeit very raw on the question you asked. When you have so much responsibility you can implode. This is probably the reason why suicide rates amongst traders and investment bankers are very high.
Bassing: Indeed, very exhaustive. In a related development, please tell us tell us about some of your childhood fond memories
Mr.Arnold: Looking back, I don’t think I would say I had many fond memories as a child. I spent most of my youth trying to fit in and make new friends. We were always moving. By the time I completed SHS, I had lived in Nandom, Bole, Tuna, Chereponi, Yendi and Gambaga. I think I was mostly trying to fit in and meet expectations. I did however enjoy doing “paa oo paa” when children of my age rotated between working on people’s farms. I liked roasting the yam and if you were lucky to catch some rats too. That was pretty cool. Also liked milking cows in the morning (more like drinking cow milk).
Bassing: Taking it a step further, what are the major pitfalls and challenges you faced in life, how did you cross them or why you couldn’t cross them?
Mr.Arnold: I have come across too many problems – systemic, biases, etc. the business problems are often easier to solve. There are templates, case studies and frameworks but the systemic ones are the ones as someone said the “wicked problems”. I am a northerner and so tribalism will always be one especially in the early days.
These days it is more subtle. I have also worked with over 50 nationalities and so racism will always be one. My approach has often been that of an understanding that there is a significant ignorance issue and for others it is just an inferiority complex issue. I demand respect, nonetheless. I am that Ghanaian that when I am in a room with other Ghanaians in a foreign country who feels that my rights have not been respected other Ghanaians will say “he is too knowing”
Bassing: Wonderful! Briefly, may you please share with Readers, your most valuable experiences, lessons and values in life?
Mr.Arnold: I think my experiences and lessons are defined by my values. I have found authenticity, vulnerability and humility to help me. I don’t think you can be authentic or humble without allowing yourself to be vulnerable. I also think that vulnerability and humility will allow you to get to problems quicker and get to solutions quicker. The experiences and lessons are just a reflection of how you chose to act or react.
Bassing: With this worth of experience and how you handle complex issues. Readers may want to find out who is your career development coach/mentor and how did he/she influence your life?
Mr.Arnold: I have had several people I can speak to depending on the issue. Many of my ex-bosses still look after me and call me out every now then. I also seek out particular people to speak to them about major decisions
Maybe 3 former bosses of mine deserve a mention here – Ed Humphries who now a partner at Mckenzie, Jason Roofe somewhere in the UK (interesting point about Jason when we first met he said I thought you were much better. Well he grew to value my work) and then George Addison who is now Group CEO of Vanguard.
But I think it is important to find people at your level who can give you straight answers. And who may also have similar experiences. For example, I will often speak with Kwame Oppong who is now the head of fintech and innovation at the BoG and Edmund Barwuah who used to be head of airtel money and is now in Myanmar
Bassing: Sir, you have recently been adjudged as part of the Top 50 Young CEO’s in Ghana, 2020.Please kindly take us through JUMO of which you are the CEO; highlighting on its role, success and challenges, if any.
Mr.Arnold: I will provide a general response and then I can hopefully get follow up questions to fill in the gaps. Otherwise my response could be too broad .We are the company behind QWIKLOAN, XpressLoan and AhomkaLoan on MTN Mobile Money.
We took the decision to let the products run unburdened by personalities or organizational brands. Also, we are a B2B company so we don’t really need to sell ourselves too much. In terms of what we do, we design products, test them and integrate with mobile money platforms to bring the products to market using funding from banks. Since launching in Ghana in 2017, we have disbursed over GHS7.8bn to over 5 million individual customers. Our customers cut across every segments of society with our loans serving different needs – for some it is cash smoothening and for others it is business capital.
I think my proudest moment is not having the haggle with banks about the sustainability or risk of such a business model. Getting banks to classify our products not under existing loan classification is really a big feat for innovation and the growth of the ecosystem. But our best customers pay up on time which is actually more than 97% remarkably higher than other models. I could go into some detail if there is a follow up question
Bassing: Sure, we will come back to that shortly as our Readers send in their questions. But before that, from observations, in the just ended general elections, it appears the contest for a seat in Ghana’s Parliament has become or is becoming a contest for the wealthy, populists and philanthropists but academics and people with very high academic profiles like you, seem to be unwelcome in electoral politics in Ghana. From experience in electoral politics, do you think this assertion is valid?
Mr.Arnold: Before I answer that let me mention 2 points. First, democracy is an experiment. It is not sacrosanct. It is an idea of how we want to govern and want to be governed. It is our preferred option. If it continuous to serve majority of the people, they be active participant in the process and accept the dictates of its institutions. Second, democracy is like any philosophy has to be improved in hopes of a more perfect form, one whose benefits spread out to all citizens. Democracy is not in a fixed state but constantly evolving. So therefore, your observation is a reflection of the way we have allowed democracy to evolve into. The contract between the electorates and the elected are only playing to what has become an established norm. I have been most disappointed in the governance of our country due to lack of interest in making it work by both the citizens and politicians.
QUESTIONS TIME WITH OUR READERS
Aaron: I am quite impressed with your delivery sir. Please what advice do you have for someone who wants to start a new business in the digital world?
Mr.Arnold: Thank you Aaron and that is a good question. We can speak after this but let me provide 3 general perspectives. You need a product that is technologically viable. This means your minimum viable product has to reflect your product specifications. The second point is that you need to have a product with market viability. This means that it must solve a real problem and people must be willing to pay for it. Lastly, you need to be able to deliver the 2 within the existing regulatory environment.
Anonymous: I once applied for QUICKLOAN and I was given the money. However, I couldn’t pay back on time. And even though I finally paid, I was told I am not qualified to apply again on my second attempt. Please why so?
Mr.Arnold: QWIKLOAN like any of our existing products run on over 24,000 unique characteristics that we measure to assess affordability, propensity to repay and fraud. It will be difficult for me to provide an exact reason without examining your unique case. That said, I think the general rule is that you should repay on time
Daniel: Please Sir, in what way is the XpressLoan and QuickLoan different from the traditional banks loans?
Mr.Arnold: I think they serve a broader segment than most traditional distribution model. What we did was to connect bank capital to customers on the mobile money platform. Essentially, we de-risked a market perceived to be high risk because banks do not have enough data on the customers or do not have the technology to assess them or do not have the distribution infrastructure to serve that segment profitably.
In any case it is not profitable for banks to give out loans in this market when you can collect funds at 2-5% per annum and buy Tbills or notes at 16%. That spread is very attractive given that it is zero risk
Anonymous: Is Mr. Arnold available to mentor young entrepreneurs and if yes, how do we connect? I hate to take advantage of my access to his phone number to connect with him without his prior consent.
Mr.Arnold: Yes certainly. Drop me a message first and then we can arrange an appropriate way to engage.
Bagura Shamudeen: What’s your advice to someone who has a very good fintech business idea? After developing the software prototype, what’s the best way to get capital and to legally protect it?
Mr.Arnold: I think we should speak first because funding is not generic. You need the right funding for your business idea otherwise you can run into some challenges. Protecting it is very difficult in this market, I must admit because people don’t respect NDAs. So you have to make sure you don’t give away core IP until you absolutely certain.
Bassing: with this worth of experiences and knowledge, please, do you consider representing your people one day in parliament?
Mr.Arnold: The thought has crossed my mind, but I have a philosophical crisis with the 2 main political parties. Maybe, it is an idea I will thoroughly consider when I am 40.
Bassing: Please sir, where do you see yourself in the next 5 years?
Mr.Arnold: That is a pretty good question. I told myself that when I turned 34, I will take a gap year to figure out whether I wanted to continue on my current trajectory. I failed to do so but it is certainly still somewhere in there. That said, I think it will be quite interesting to have a stint with a non-profit especially on the policy side. So, if I wanted to stretch my legs it probably will be in that space. I don’t give labels to what I want to achieve. I will just be seeking a different platform.
Bassing: As a member of the readers’ Hub, what do you make of this page and what do you suggest we do or needs to be done to keep the page running and better?
Mr.Arnold: First let me commend the administrators for running a very resourceful and disciplined platform. Once in a while I have myself come under the wrath of the administrators for breaking a rule and so I like the level of discipline you have maintained. Maybe something for my own understanding will be if there are engagement sessions for the various segments within the platform to ensure that each segment continues to get the best value. I could imagine mentees being overwhelmed with all the information that is thrown at them
Anonymous: While working in Tamale in 2012/2013, all the marketing guys at afs at the time feared the name Arnold from Head Office. What was it like at the time?
Mr.Arnold: If you were there you will know I wasn’t that scary when I was actually around. I didn’t suffer fools but I wasn’t mean. Like getting to office and someone puts juju in front of your office door. I just throw it away and enter.
Bassing: Which book has been influential in your life that you will recommend for hub members to read?
Mr.Arnold: I read quite a bit and so it will be challenging to single out a book that has been most impactful in my life. I emphasize different management books depending on where I am in my personal life and career. At some stages, I will read more books on leadership and personal growth and at other times I will emphasize organizational development but generally I rotate between those genres.
I think Barack’s Audacity of Hope and Richard Branson’s Autobiography are very good books. I think also that Good to Great by Jim Collins and The Battle Staff – Doctoral Guide to Military Decision Making and Tactical Operations by Norman Wade, The Battle Staff – Doctrinal Guide to Military Decision Making and Tactical Operations by Norman Wade.
Anonymous: Good evening, Kamal. My question -Is he open to physical speaking engagements? Will he consider doing some in the Upper West Region to inspire many ambitious youth like him?
Mr.Arnold: I am positively predisposed to the idea and I will love to be able to come around and engage. If the timing works i will be most delighted. I must also add that I am in school at the moment which makes my diary a bit cluttered but we can always make time.
Bassing: Indeed, we have to make time for the younger ones. Please what do you do at your leisure time?
Mr.Arnold: My work requires me to sit for long hours so general outdoor events like walks, swimming, biking, mountain climbing and long-distance driving.
Bassing: We seem to have exhausted the time allotted to us by our Producer, Dr Hakeem Tahiru Balubie (Dr. Tilapia).On that note, please give us your conclusion remarks.
Mr.Arnold: It was great to truths and I thank everyone for tolerating me. I hope people can find useful intersections as they ply this life. Thank you to you the moderator for excellent set of questions too
Lawyer Shakur: It was a wonderful session. You did a wonderful job moderator. Goodnight
Bassing: Fellow Readers, ladies and gentlemen. This is where we draw the curtains down to today’s Social Convo session. We sincerely apologize to those whose questions could not be asked for want of time. We will make time for you later.
Going forward, I’m convinced beyond any reasonable doubt that, myself like many others, have picked some useful ideas from the candid interaction held supra.Thank you all for your time. Until we meet same time next week, have a restful night……………………….. (Exeunt)
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HUB EDITOR: Bassing A.M.A.Kamal