Influenced by the seeming reluctance of commercial banks to give credit to the informal sector, platforms offering collateral-free loans have become increasingly popular in most developing countries.
These platforms are tackling a missing piece in Nigeria’s financial sector — access to micro-loans. But with recent developments, they may soon come under scrutiny.
Taking note of its dwindling revenues from its browser platform, OPay launched into the fintech space in Africa with a loan feature to rival other players such as Carbon, FairMoney, and Branch, among others.
Research by Hindenburg — an entity that claims to carry out forensic and financial investigations — shows that Opera’s revenue from its browser has suffered due to the pressure from Google’s Chrome and Apple’s Safari
Apparently, Opera’s browser platform recorded a negative $12 million operating cash flow in 2019, a poor showing compared to its positive cash flow of $32 million in 2018.
The company also offers collateral-free loans across three markets: Opesa and Okash in Kenya; OPay in Nigeria; and CashBean in India.
With seemingly deceptive descriptions meant to lure borrowers, Hinddenburg suggests that the company may be running afoul of Google’s policies for loan apps and investor interests by failing to inform them of Google’s policies.
Google’s policies and money lending apps
In August 2019, Google updated its policies for micro-lending apps as it witnessed the proliferation of these platforms in its app store.
“We do not allow apps that promote personal loans which require repayment in full in 60 days or less from the date the loan is issued,” the policy states.
Similar to OPay, in the respective descriptions on Google’s Play Store, most micro-lending apps claim to offer a repayment period of 91 – 356 days, but the actual repayment dates can be as low as 15 days, much lower than the required threshold of 61 days.
Also, Hindenburg suggests that Opera claims to offer a 33% annual percentage rate (APR), but the actual percentages being charged are between 365% – 438%, flouting Google’s policy against misleading descriptions that are meant to lure in users.
However, while this is clearly a case of exploitation, several other lending apps are also guilty of this and have been seemingly untouched by Google since the new policies were published.
In discussions with users of other platforms like Branch, Carbon, FairMoney, and Aella Credit, we were able to confirm that the minimum repayment period for these apps is usually a month.
In most cases, the average APRs of these apps hit 250%, but are instead disguised as low monthly interest rates of 20%.
As for APRs, Google states that it has country-specific policies for micro-lending apps, but it only details those for the United States and says nothing of other countries.
Opera has reportedly released a statement, declaring the content of the research as unsubstantiated and logically defective.
To improve lending to the real sector, the Central Bank of Nigeria ordered deposit money banks (DMBs) to increase their respective loan-deposit ratios to 65%, and with these new findings, will users cheaper turn their sights to the cheaper rates on offer by these banks?
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