TBY talks to Abiola Monehin, Managing Director of Bulwark Vault and Safes Deposits, on changing attitudes to financial safety and security, the lack of insurance in the market, and the role financial savvy can play in empowering Nigerian women.

Abiola Monehin
Abiola Monehin attended Lagos State University. She started her career as Customer Service Officer at Media Value Limited in 2005. She also worked at UBA in corporate communications. Before becoming the Managing Director of Bulwark Vaults, she was the Head of Marketing at the same company.

How do you educate and change the mindset of Nigerians to encourage them to use a safe deposit system?

This business mostly works on referrals. Some people come to us as a result of robbery because it makes them realize they need to use a professional safe deposit service. Many people are surprised that a service like this exists. The first three years of business were tough and we worked to establish our business through personal recommendations and referrals. We are fifth in terms of growth in our segment; however, this is a new type of business for Nigeria and it takes time to build a reputation and trust. It will take a long time to build up people's confidence in the safe depository industry here. We continually do software upgrades to improve our security systems and keep up to date with the latest technology so that our security cannot be compromised.

What is the general profile of your clients and how do you expect that to evolve?

We have more individuals than company clients at the moment. The general public is not particularly aware of our services yet; therefore, the reality is that our individual clients tend to be from the elite—well-traveled people who understand the safe deposit concept because they have used it in other countries.

What are some of the unique security challenges that individuals and companies face in Nigeria that would make them think about using a safe deposit service?

As individuals, it is not in our culture to keep things with someone else. This culture coupled with a lack of trust in law enforcement is a challenge in terms of keeping your private possessions safe in Nigeria. In terms of the challenges companies face, there are many fire incidents at commercial properties here; however, many businesses do not take out insurance to protect their premises, nor do they have back-up copies of their vital documents. Hence, when companies have a fire they tend to lose a great deal of documents. We offer them the opportunity to keep their back-ups here. Our services are also useful for businesses that want to compartmentalize their information to maintain the integrity of certain sensitive data. For example, a particular department in a company might use our services because its office systems are not secure enough. There is also a trend toward more marriages failing in Nigeria now and women are starting to understand the need to keep certain valuables safe to protect their financial position and independence. In Nigeria, if a man dies his family will often try to take everything away immediately. Women can keep their possessions safe with us and no one will be able to access them or even know they are kept here. Women will often do this to protect possessions for their children in the future.

What needs to be done to empower and unleash the potential of women and girls in Africa and in Nigeria in particular?

We should start by knowing that we do not just belong to the other rooms, despite what the president said recently about this. Also, if we want to empower women, we have to start with the children and the way we raise them right now. We have to ensure that our children understand from an early age that women are not just supposed to be a wife and mother. In Africa, the attitude of families is generally still that they should pay more attention to the education of their sons than their daughters. It is supposed to be equal. We really need to reexamine the education we are giving our female children and bring them up in the right way so they know they are not just meant to be a wife and mother; they can be a president too.