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Digital Bank Sparkle in Plans to Manage Payments and Tax Calculations For Nigerian SMEs

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Sparkle launched in the fourth quarter of 2019 by offering a personal account that lets individuals save, manage personal finances and send payment requests with one link. 

In the period since, the startup claims to have more than 20,000 customers and processed $16m in transactions. Now, they are taking their journey a step further with small and medium scale businesses in Nigeria, by offering a suite of digital payments and business management services.

Uzoma Dozie, the founder and CEO, says the plan for the new product is to provide “a one stop shop, to help individuals to launch their businesses digitally, while meeting existing SMEs’ pain points, and allowing them to pivot to the next level of success.” 

“We have been afforded this opportunity due to our extensive research and access to data, which allows us to know what exactly SMEs are looking for. We are truly excited about the initial results from the beta test and are looking forward to impactful results for small businesses in the near future.”

Sparkle for business will have four main components, according to the company; inventory and invoice management; payment gateway service; tax advisory; payroll and employee management.

Taken together, the new rollout is designed for small business owners who are familiar with digital platforms. The pitch is to help such entrepreneurs control payment requests, manage single and bulk payments, track business performance, calculate tax filings and administer employee benefits.

Sparkle users will find the services on the existing mobile app, though it is only for those who have registered businesses in Nigeria. New users are required to have a Tax Identification Number and an email address connected to the number.

The team at Sparkle love to emphasise that they are more than a digital bank or a mobile app. “We are not a bank, we are a tribe,” is the screaming slogan on their landing page. They hope to be at the intersection between individuals’ and small businesses’ finance and lifestyle aspirations.

In theory, that means relying heavily on data from the user’s behaviour and broader industry trends to recommend what might be suitable for each unique user. But as with other digital-only financial services solutions in Nigeria, Sparkle is still on a product-market fit journey and it is still unclear when any of the contenders will attain that height.

Dozie says Sparkle’s mission is to “allow individuals to be free,” a mission that is not unlike another Nigerian digital bank Kuda.

Dozie was the last CEO of Diamond Bank before it was bought by Access Bank almost exactly two years ago. The bank was known for experimenting with technological leaps in customer delivery. With Sparkle, the first-time startup founder’s agenda is to create a technology-first environment that challenges the banking status quo.

“We’re excited to roll out our new products and services, and to continue to grow an increasingly busy and entrepreneurial group of business owners who don’t want to accept that banking halls and physical paper trails are the only means of conducting business in Nigeria,” Dozie said.

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Ethiopian Marks 75 Years Amid Tough Year For Airlines

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Ethiopian Airlines on Thursday marked 75 years since it began commercial flights, with CEO Tewolde GebreMariam warning of ‘a serious challenge posed by COVID-19’.

On April 8 1946, the company operated its first-ever commercial flight. It flew from Addis Ababa, the Ethiopian capital to Cairo, Egypt.

The carrier’s initial fleet consisted of five C-47s acquired from the US government. It has since grown to 127 aircraft.

As the coronavirus pandemic continues to affect international travel, Tewolde said tough times still lay ahead for aviation.

“The route we chose to overcome this challenge is to tighten our belt, change the way we do business and be agile,” he said in a statement.

A special event was held to mark the anniversary on a flight to Cairo.

Ethiopian is Africa’s biggest airline by revenue and profit, according to the International Air Transport Association (IATA).

The pandemic has hit African airlines especially hard. According to the International Civil Aviation Association (ICAO), African airlines were at risk of losing $6 billion in revenue and 3 million jobs in 2020 compared to 2019.

Namibia folded its airline in February while the flag carriers of South Africa and Kenya have indicated they will need millions of dollars in cash assistance to fully restart operations.

To mitigate the damage, Ethiopian quickly jumped on the opportunity to move tons of medical supplies meant for coronavirus response in Africa.

On top of its 12 dedicated cargo aircraft, the company reconfigured 25 passenger planes to turn them into freighters to respond to increased cargo demand.

“We remain the only commercial airline that hasn’t sought government bailout and didn’t lay off a single employee,” Tewolde said.

Last December, the company announced the launch of a cold chain air freight to transport temperature-sensitive medicines. It has been contracted to deliver shipments of coronavirus vaccines to various countries in Africa.

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Eat’N’Go Expands To East Africa, Projects 180 Stores By Year End

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In a bid to further extend its tentacles beyond the West African market, Eat’N’Go limited, one of the leading Quick Service Restaurant (QSR) operators in Nigeria and master franchisee for world-class food brands – Domino’s Pizza, Cold Stone Creamery, and Pinkberry Gourmet Frozen Yoghurt, announced its expansion into the East African market.

This development comes after the successful acquisition of the franchisee which operated Cold Stone Creamery and Domino’s Pizza in Kenya. This acquisition will see Eat’N’Go limited become the largest Domino’s pizza and Cold Stone Creamery Master Franchisee in Africa with operations in Nigeria and Kenya.

Since its entrance to Nigeria in 2012, the QSR company has grown exponentially and has continuously nurtured the drive to extend its footprint across the African market. This acquisition provides them their first foreign market expansion, making them a Pan African company with a total number of 147 outlets across Africa and a projection to reach 180 stores by end of 2021.

Group Chief Executive Officer and Managing Director Eat’N’Go Limited, Patrick McMichael said that expanding into East Africa represents a very exciting time in the growth of the organization and also a strategic investment for the firm and its stakeholders. “Over the years, we have fostered the mission to not just bring the best QSR brands to Africa, but to directly impact on Africa’s economy and we are glad we are finally on the way to making this happen. Studying the growth of the Kenyan market in the last couple of years, we are convinced that now is the time to extend our footprint into the country.”

“We are very thrilled about this expansion as this move avails us more opportunity to provide Jobs to more Africans, especially in times like this. We remain thankful to all our customers, partners, and stakeholders who have supported us this far and we are more than ready to strengthen our dedication in satisfying the needs of our customers” Patrick added.

Eat’N’Go has over the years maintained its position as the leading food franchisee in Nigeria. As it expands its presence to other parts of Africa, the organization also places a strong focus on the quality of its products and services of all its three brands. The expansion to this new region is in line with the company’s plan to reach 180 stores across Africa by the end of 2021.

The milestone achievement and development will better position the company in its contribution to Nigeria and Africa’s economy. Currently home to over 3000 staff members across Africa, the company is committed to continuously provide job and business opportunities across the continent.

Eat’N’Go launched in 2012 in Nigeria with the vision to become the premier food operator in Africa. Today, the company has over 147 stores in Nigeria and Kenya and it continues to deliver on this promise by successfully rolling out the globally recognised brands Cold Stone Creamery and Domino’s Pizza across Africa. The company continues to expand its presence in key markets by fusing company goals with new strategic development goals and is projected to reach 180 stores across Africa by end of 2021.

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Shoprite Exit: LCCI Explains Challenges Hurting Business Operations in Nigeria

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Following the recent announcement of Shoprite, a leading South Africa retail giant, that it is leaving the Nigerian market due to harsh business environment and tough business policies, Dr Muda Yusuf, the Director-General, Lagos Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) has explained some of the challenges responsible for such decision despite Nigeria’s huge population size.

Yusuf said while such decision is negative for the Nigerian economy, several factors like harsh business environment could have forced the company to make such decision. He said it also could be due to intense competitive pressure.

He said, “Shoprite is an international brand with presence in 14 African countries and about 3,000 stores. The comparative analysis of returns on investment in these countries may have informed the decision to exit the Nigeria market.

“The opportunities for retail business in Nigeria is immense. But the competition in the sector is also very intense.

“There are departmental stores in practically every neighbourhood in our urban centres around the country. There is also a strong informal sector presence in the retail sector. It is a very competitive space.”

According to the Director-General, there are also important investment climate issues that constitute downside risks to big stores like Shoprite.

He said, “These include the trade policy environment, which imposes strict restrictions on imports; the regulatory environment, which is characterised by a multitude of regulators making endless demands.

“There is also the foreign exchange policy, which has made imports and remittances difficult for foreign investors. There are challenges of infrastructure which put pressures on costs and erodes profit margins.”

The LCCI boss added, “But we need to stress that Shoprite is only divesting and selling its shares; Shoprite as a brand will remain. I am sure there are many investors who will be quite delighted to take over the shares.

“It should be noted that there are other South African firms in Nigeria doing good business. We have MTN, Multichoice, Stanbic IBTC, and Standard Chartered Bank, among others. Some of them are making more money in Nigeria than in South Africa.”

He added that some sectors are more vulnerable to the challenges of the business environment than others.

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