3 Low-Risk Plays on the Expanding Nigerian Financial-Services Market

Several years ago, investors would have run away if an advisor recommended putting money in Nigeria. Unfortunately, thanks to scammers sullying the nation's name, Nigeria has become known for credit card fraud and identity theft.

However, Nigeria is now turning a corner. Thanks to support from governments worldwide, some analysts consider it to be among one of the world's best frontier markets.

Even so, thanks to its checkered past, many companies such as Visa  (NYSE: V  )  and MasterCard  (NYSE: MA  )  have been late to the party. However, astute companies, such as Deutsche Bank  (NYSE: DB  ) have been active in the market since the mid 1970s.

Today, Nigeria has 12,000 ATMs and 131,000 point-of-sale machines, mostly dominated by the country's own Verve brand of electronic payment cards, carried by 72% of the country's card users. However, there is still plenty of room for growth.

Growth continues
Nigeria's GDP has been consistently growing between 6% and 7% since 2007,but according to some figures, there are only 26 million bank accounts for 164 million people, and this provides huge opportunity.

Indeed, MasterCard has recently joined with the Nigerian government to issue 13 million dual-identity and bank cards (identity cards coupled with MasterCard's payment technology) for residents of the West African nation. Eventually, this program will reach all the country's residents over the age of 16. This follows a similar program undertaken by MasterCard within South Africa, where the company has issued 10 million "smart" (biometric) cards to welfare grant recipients.

It would appear the Nigerian government and MasterCard go well together, and MasterCard appears to be single-handedly reshaping the economy. The firm has been behind a revolutionary "comprehensive Internet payments solution" for small and medium enterprises within the country,and recently the company partnered with I&M Bank to create the first multi-currency prepaid card, which originates from Kenya but is designed for travel around sub-Saharan Africa. This is ideal for doing cross-boarder business within Nigeria.

Going mobile and stopping fraud
Surprisingly, fraud in developing Nigeria is lower than global averages, according to Visa,which is positive considering most customers use debit cards. The value of purchases and ATM usage has tripled between 2009 and 2011, driven by the country's drive for people to make cash-less transactions.

Indeed, the authorities have been encouraging electronic payments to relieve the strain on the country's overloaded banking system.This is where Visa is looking for growth as the company is hit by proposals to cap debit card fees within Europe.The fast-growing African economy offers many opportunities.

Visa is also active in the fast-growing mobile-payments sector of the Nigerian market. It is estimated that 73% of Nigerians have a cell phone,and Visa's subsidiary, Fundamo, based out of Cape Town, South Africa now offers a new mobile-payment service. The service extends to Nigeria, Uganda, and Zimbabwe allowing Nigerians to send both cross-border and domestic transactions directly from their cell phones.

Growing wealth
As I mentioned, Deutsche Bank has been active within Nigeria since the mid 70s, and the bank is now using its presence within the country as a springboard to expand throughout Africa.

What's more, the bank is focused on the facilitation of trade finance and has recently considered entering the wealth management business inside Nigeria, a business that could be extremely lucrative for Deutsche, considering Nigeria is the second most popular destination for foreign direct investment from the United States.

Furthermore, Nigerians are growing rich from the country's oil wealth. The country's GDP per capita has exploded over the past decade, growing by 200% since 2003 and 300% since 2000. Deutsche is seeking to capitalize on this growing wealth with its aforementioned wealth management business, and the bank recently gathered 300 financial professionals in Nigeria's capital, Lagos, to discuss the country's potential.

Indeed, Nigeria's stock market has been a good barometer of rising investor confidence within the market during the first half of this year -- rising roughly 20%.

Foolish outlook
There is no doubt that investing within emerging markets can be risky. However, Visa, MasterCard, and Deutsche Bank all offer plays on the rapidly growing Nigerian financial-services market with a certain amount of diversification and less risk.

More global stock picks
With the American markets reaching new highs, investors and pundits alike are skeptical about future growth. They shouldn't be. Many global regions are still stuck in neutral, and their resurgence could result in windfall profits for select companies. A recent Motley Fool report, "3 Strong Buys for a Global Economic Recovery," outlines three companies that could take off when the global economy gains steam. Click here to read the full report!


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