Every week, Zikoko seeks to understand how people move the Naira in and out of their lives. Some stories will be struggle-ish, others will be bougie. All the time, it’ll be revealing.
The 27-year-old in this #NairaLife worked security jobs for nine years before saving up to launch his POS business. But now, he might need to find something else because the current cash scarcity is a sign of events to come.
So, what are his options?
What is your first memory of money?
I’d say it was earning my first salary at my first job. 15k in 2011, and I’d just finished secondary school.
Why was this a significant moment?
My mum didn’t want me to get a job because she wanted me to go to school, even though it was almost impossible at the time. She was raising four kids on her ₦20k teaching salary. At numerous points, she picked up extra tutorials and even had a small shop, but what she made was barely enough to cover the family’s basic needs.
You must have noticed I haven’t mentioned my dad.
I was waiting for us to get there. Where was he in all this?
I’ve never known my dad to keep a job. He was a real estate agent, but it was never a regular stream of income. So he didn’t contribute financially, even though we all lived together.
My mum carried all the load as best as she could. We lived in a single room until we could afford a 2-bedroom apartment. I didn’t even see a TV set in our house until I was 16 or 17.
Ah, I get it. Back to the job
I knew working was the only way I could help ease my mum’s financial burden, so that ₦15k was everything. My boss liked me for some reason and made me a supervisor, so I didn’t have to operate the machinery or do any heavy lifting. However, I walked almost 40 minutes to work every day the entire time I worked there, which was about two years.
Out of curiosity, what could ₦15k do in 2011?
It wasn’t what you would call big money, but it was good for me. For context, a bag of rice was about ₦7- 8k, and I could get a pair of jeans for less than ₦4k.
This job gave me my first taste of financial freedom.
However, I quickly realised I wasn’t good at keeping money, so I did the next best thing.
What was that?
My older sister was much better with money. Somehow, she always managed to keep money aside for future use, so I asked if I could save with her. At the end of every month, I’d send ₦4k to her and forget about it. Two years later, I had about ₦92k saved. I left the factory job around this time too.
Why did you leave?
A guy I worked with at the factory had moved on to a security company. In 2013, he reached out and asked if I’d like to join him. I got the job and my pay jumped to ₦25k.
In the beginning, I worked single 24-hour shifts and took the following days off. Later, I picked up extra shifts on my days off. My salary increased to ₦45k, but I also had to go to work every day. This went on for a year and a few months.
In 2015, my former boss at the factory contacted me to tell me he could use my help. He offered me ₦30k/month and an opportunity to work night shifts to increase my earnings. I accepted the offer — the pay wasn’t as great as what I earned from my double shifts at the security company, but at least, I didn’t have to work every day of the week.
That makes sense
I should mention, I’d increased my monthly savings to ₦10k/month.
A few months after I returned to the factory job, my mum picked up the conversation about my returning to school.
See, it took a lot of strength to agree to it. I feared that returning to school would affect my earnings and cash flow. Secondly, I didn’t feel particularly book-smart. But my mum wouldn’t let it go. In 2016, I got into a part-time programme at a polytechnic. I was 21 years old.
How did that go?
The polytechnic is in another state, so I quit my factory job. One of the first things I did upon resumption was to find another job, and I started working as a security staff again. My salary was ₦25k and I only worked single shifts because of my class schedule.
Three years later, I wrote my final exams and got my diploma.
Thanks, man. This was 2019, and I’d managed to save about ₦200k with my sister’s help. When I returned home, I started planning to launch a business. First things first, I needed more money to raise some capital. So I returned to the one thing I knew how to do and had contacts for.
Another security job?
Yes. I picked up two shifts and earned ₦55k from both. Fortunately, one was at an office that closed by 4 p.m., giving me a break for the rest of the day.
The goal was to save enough money to raise business capital, so I started keeping ₦25k with my sister every month. I was also sending ₦20k home to my parents, so I was relying on the tips — anything between ₦500 and ₦1500 — I got during my shifts to cover my basic expenses.
I finally quit in February 2022 after saving ₦500k. It took three years, but I could eventually leave the security gigs behind and start something of my own.
Whew. Did you know what business you wanted to pursue?
It took some time, but I decided to start a POS business. A close friend had been in it for a few years and promised me it was profitable for him. He was making about ₦15k per day, which I thought was fair.
The only problem was I still hadn’t learned to handle cash without spending it. But I braced myself and decided I would be disciplined with money.
How does someone set up an agent banking business?
First, you need to find a suitable spot, preferably one where people can easily find you. Then you find out who is in charge of the spot and talk to them about renting it. If it’s a piece of land, you need a kiosk or something you’ll use as a shop. Most importantly, you need to apply for a POS machine. My friend helped me apply for mine — I submitted documents, paid ₦30k, and got the device almost immediately.
The whole process cost me about ₦100k. I kept another ₦100k in the wallet and ₦200k in cash. And I was in business.
It started a little slow as I was making between ₦1500 and ₦1800 every day. But when I considered that I could make up to ₦70k a month — more money than I ever made at any of my security jobs — I saw it was a good call.
My customer base increased in months, and so did my earnings. I’m not even sure when it picked up; one day, I just realised I’d started averaging ₦200k/month. This was in the second half of 2022.
What did this mean for you?
I could take better care of my people. I increased my parents’ allowance to ₦60k/month and picked up a couple more financial responsibilities within the family.
It also meant I could expand to a new location. Unfortunately, this didn’t work out as I hoped. I wasn’t making enough to cover the costs of operations, so I shut second shop down.
Finally, I figured it was time to get my own place. I found an apartment in December, and the rent is ₦170k/year.
So much growth. Love to see it
Thank you. One of my goals at the beginning of 2023 was to raise capital for a new business venture. Now, I’m not sure it’ll be possible. Not when the business is being threatened by the Central Bank of Nigeria’s cashless policy. I can read the writing on the wall. POS business will be redundant soon, and it’s giving me sleepless nights.
When did you first think there might be a threat to your business?
From the moment the CBN announced the naira redesign and new withdrawal limits. My first thought was, “It’s time to sit up and think of what is next.”
I can still manage for the next two to four years because I don’t think Nigerians will fully switch to cashless transactions before that time. But I also want to be proactive. The current cash scarcity is a sign of things to come, and I need to prepare for the worst.
Speaking of, how’s the cash scarcity affecting business?
I’m making more money now than I did in the previous months. The problem is it’s difficult to get cash to operate.
Walk me through how you source cash these days
It takes a lot of planning and strategy. I leave my house at 5:30 a.m. to beat the ATM queues. And if I’m lucky, I get to withdraw money from one of the machines. The sad part is most banks don’t allow you to withdraw more than ₦20k per day. Luckily, I have multiple bank accounts. Between them, I withdraw up to ₦100k daily.
But on days when I don’t get money from the banks, I buy money from businesses that operate with cash — mostly filling stations and wholesale stores. For every ₦100k I get, I pay them an extra ₦6k.
It’s stressful and more expensive, so the withdrawal charges have increased. Before, customers only had to pay ₦100 or ₦200 for withdrawals between ₦1k and ₦10k. Now, it’s ₦400 to withdraw ₦2k and ₦1k to withdraw ₦10k.
At the end of each day, I make between ₦13k and ₦15k. More people need cash, so the volume of daily transactions has gone up.
How do you feel about it?
I’m not happy about the increase in withdrawal charges. However, if I don’t get cash, I can’t open the shop, and I won’t make money for that day. It’s either I make the best of it or close down the business.
Isn’t there a workaround that would benefit POS agents and customers?
It’s out of our hands. The banks need to give people access to their money again. The withdrawal limit at the ATMs is currently ₦20k/day, which doesn’t work. When the banks start paying people money over the counter, and the ATM withdrawal limits go back up, everything will return to normal. I expect this will happen before the end of February or when the elections are over.
So how are you planning for when this business isn’t profitable for you anymore?
The plan is to save up for a 2006 or 2007 Toyota Corolla and sign up to be a driver on Uber. Sadly, this will cost me nothing less than ₦2.5m. This same car was about ₦1m two or three years ago.
The second option is to become an agent for online betting companies. Nigerians gamble a bit, and I like businesses that give me cash flow. I believe I can make this happen by 2024, and I shouldn’t need more than ₦1m to be in business.
I currently save ₦150k/month and have ₦600k in my savings. If nothing changes, I should raise the capital I need by the end of the year. I wish I could save a minimum of ₦200k every month, but that’s not been possible.
Family obligations. My sister is in fashion school. I pay my parents’ rent and send them a monthly allowance. Also, my dad was recently diagnosed with prostate cancer, and his drugs cost ₦20k/month in addition to other hospital bills.
I’m really sorry about your dad
It’s all right. I love that I can take care of these expenses even if it means I can’t save as much as I’d like. My thinking is, I’ll still do everything I want to do; it might just take me a longer to get there. I don’t think it matters how long it takes.
That’s a good way to think about it. How much do you make in an average month now?
₦200k – 250k from my POS shop. I make an extra ₦100k from trading gift cards on the side.
Gotcha. What do your recurring monthly expenses look like?
Have you considered other financial management options besides saving?
I feel like I’m a little late to the party. Everything I know about financial management is from accounts I follow on Twitter. In fact, I only stopped saving money with my sister when I found out in 2022 that there were apps that could do this.
However, my constant need for cash hasn’t allowed me to explore financial investments. At the moment, I can’t leave money compounding for years because of my short-term plans.
Where do you imagine you’ll be in five years?
I’d have started another business. The only reason why I want to try out transportation or online betting is to raise money for my long-term project.
Tell me more
I want to open a pharmacy and supermarket within the next five years. I won’t run the daily operations of the pharmacy because I don’t have a license, but I’ll put the money down and be in the background. I’ll need about ₦6 – 7m, so it’s my long-term saving goal.
I think I’ve done well considering where I’m coming from, which is why I believe I can pull it off. Money gives freedom. As I earned more money over the years, I’ve been able to do things I didn’t think I could.
How would you rate your financial happiness on a scale of 0-10?
6. I haven’t totally figured out a primary means of income beyond the POS business. If I had assurances it would still be as profitable as it is now in the next five years, the number would probably be 8.
But there are no assurances. It’s okay, though. I saved my way here, and I don’t intend to stop now.
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