While the world is moving towards a cashless system, especially with the rave around fintechs easing financial products and services, Kolo Lagos believes we can still promote financial literacy the old-fashioned way. By utilizing actual piggybanks or “kolo” – as they are known in Nigeria. The kolo brand hopes to promote a savings culture among Nigerians. This is because, despite the rapid adoption of cashless systems and fintechs, a large percentage of the population still depends on cash to carry out daily transactions. “That is our audience,” says Ufia D. Aniebietabasi, who founded the company four years ago. “But it is not just the cash users. We want to serve as a reminder for people to save and invest, whether you use a kolo or a digital platform.”
From addressing childhood nostalgia to fusing Afrocentric designs on the boxes, and customizing the kolo boxes to match the users’ saving goals, the entirety of the Kolo brand is patterned to inspire the average Nigerian to save. “We want people to be excited about saving,” says Aniebietabasi. “We want you to be inspired enough to save because the box is aesthetically pleasing or because it has your business name on it.” The company attends to people of all ages. And has a customer base that extends outside the continent – no small feat considering the significant number of fintechs that primarily offer savings features. “We have had non-Africans buy these boxes just because they like it. Most times, they do not even use it to save money,” she says.
Aniebietabasi, a mass communicator, was inspired to start this business after an experience in school reminded her she had no savings. “During my final year at the University of Lagos, there were so many extracurricular activities that required me to spend money,” she recalls. “That is when I realized everyone around me had a side hustle or savings to fund themselves. And I did not.” As a student, Aniebietabasi had regular spare cash she withdrew from the bank that she would spend miscellaneously. “I remember getting a kolo box as a child. My parents would give my siblings and me money in the hopes that we would save. Then one day, they will ask you to show what you saved up. I used to have no savings because I would have spent my money on Beloxxi biscuits,” she says.
Aniebietabasi wanted to recreate that. When she could not find a piggybank vendor online, she got a local carpenter to make one for her. “The prices were outrageous, though. Especially for the quality, I got,” she says. Eventually, she found a good vendor. “I mentioned online that I was embarking on a savings journey with “kolo”. Surprisingly, I got a lot of requests to join,” she says. “People were actually requesting kolo boxes.”
Businesses such as Kolo Lagos play a significant role in today’s financial literacy. The World Bank’s Global Findex Database shows that savings in Nigeria are at a ten-year low. In 2021, only 17.7 per cent of the adult population (15 years and above) saved at a financial institution, which is way lower than it was in 2011 when it was 23.6 per cent. It also shows that cash remains the most preferred method of payment in Nigeria.
Meanwhile, producing these boxes does not come cheap. To get durable kolo boxes, Anie has to use quality raw materials and the services of skilled artisans. “Initially, we held a sort of audition to filter through the numerous artisans,” says Aniebietabasi. “We wanted ones that had quality control on their end, from the wood sourcing down to finishing.” The boxes sell from N4000 ($9) to N14,000 ($32). As expected, the price of the kolo depends on the size, raw materials, aesthetics, and in some cases, special requirement from the client. “Currently, production happens in Lagos. We have tried to source for artisans outside Lagos to see how we can get suppliers outside Lagos so we can streamline the cost of production by some percentage,” says Aniebietabasi.
One of the boxes, the “Maxi Kubwa” is designed with oak wood. Upon first sight, you are met with the natural grain that breathes elegance and can fit into any modern decor. The boxes are sturdy and impenetrable – save for a small incision that allows the currency notes into the box. It is common to see people complain of rodents destroying their piggybanks before they get to break them open. “Some boxes are so solid that when you consider the stress it takes to break them, you would rather see your saving plans to the end,” says Aniebietabasi.
Kolo Lagos’ goal extends beyond instilling a savings culture. By encouraging people to save, more people are becoming conscious of investments. One customer, Amah Nwankwo bought a big kolo box to fit her big saving goals. “I am saving to buy a house this year,” she says. Another customer, Kelechi Ezeofor, says he realized he had been spending way too much on rechargeable calling cards when he got a kolo box.
Aniebietabasi intends to forge partnerships to help spread the message of the “Kolo” and revive a saving culture among people. Currently, the company runs a financial literacy session for kids through workshops and seminars on the importance of saving. The brand plans to expand this by collaborating with schools to set up clubs where they can teach children about saving. Kolo Lagos also intends to have more distribution centres in its top-demand states like Abuja and other states in the southwest. For Aniebietabasi, the dream is to inspire a savings culture that goes beyond digitisation. “At Kolo Lagos, we see ourselves as custodians of this culture. And we will keep inspiring people to save.”