Notes on Ope.

In April 2021, I wrote Cowrywise, cut soap for us!, a viral piece for Culture Intelligence, on YNaija.com. When I worked at Culture Intelligence, I often explained the how behind innovative Nigerian businesses. I wrote that Cowrywise is “a wealth management application that is democratizing access to savings and investment products for the growing demographic of underserved Nigerian millennials and middle-class”. I added that it is excelling at this mission by remaining aware of its market, maintaining an intuitive user experience, adding exciting product features, supporting social causes and importantly, churning out engaging content.

The event that followed this article was amusing and particularly fulfilling for me, who was writing anonymously at the time. I had rhetorically asked Cowrywise to “cut soap for us” and they did just that. Well, what they did was design a branded soap and share it on social media. Fast forward to May 2022, Cowrywise launched its newest innovation. Ope from Cowrywise wrote Ope’s Money Diary and CEO Razaq Ahmed called for volunteers, to read and review. I was keen. It took me two months but ta-dah, here we are! Welcome, please take a seat.

Me, My Money and Ope.

Money is a fascinating topic — everyone talks about it but no one does. Not really. You know, like Bruno. For valid and corny reasons, people do not like to disclose their earnings. There is so much wishful talk on the internet about making more money, it overshadows the how. How can we make money? How can we save the money we make? More importantly, how can we increase the money we have? Our time and energy are limited so how can we increase the money we have without exerting more time and energy? These questions and more are what Ope from Cowrywise seeks to answer. This time around, they (the pronoun I use to refer to Ope in this article) rolled their sleeves and compiled 21 lessons on how money works.

I am unsure of what a middle-class Nigerian looks like, but I like to call myself one. For most of my adult life, I have been there in the middle — not having enough to be called rich, quite comfortable with my essentials, not too far away from “God, abeg”. I am a saver and I have always taken pride in that. I remember saving to buy my Nokia Asha 201 in 2012. It was a difficult process that involved me trekking a long distance to my UTME lessons and skipping lunch. But on some sunny day, at Olukayode Shopping Mall in Akure, I proudly purchased that phone. I would continue to save after I resumed at OAU and I have remained a saver to this day. In December 2017, I read Rich Dad, Poor Dad by Robert Kiyosaki and made important resolutions in 2018 — to hustle harder and save more. In 2018, I hosted maybe two events a month, wrote, interned, and ultimately, saved N360,000 by the end of the year. I wrote all about it on my WordPress, many people did not believe me.

These days, it does seem like suicide to me — living without saving. Spending all my money is unimaginable. I prefer to live far below my means — whatever I cannot purchase three times, I cannot afford. And oh, I am not afraid to say that I cannot afford things. I call myself broke for humour. I am religious, sanctimonious about being financially healthy. I agree with Ope and many others — it is best to save and invest when one is young. I agree with Ope a lot. I am a big fan.

Crypto, Agritech and DD.

In Chapter 1, Ope asks, “Are You The Money Doubler?”. The chapter was difficult to read because it touched on scams, Ponzi schemes, fraudulent investments and the necessary due diligence required to spot them. Meanwhile, I have a recent, painful experience with a failed agritech investment. Not failed, fraudulent.

In July 2020, at the height of global economic uncertainty, I threw N500,000 (all my money at the time) into Goatti.ng, an investment platform that claimed to provide funding to livestock farmers. I perused the website, social media platforms, insurance statements and investment contract. Everything looked good because everything was a lie. Ifedayo Oniyide of Goatti.ng and his family defrauded me of N500,000, my friend, of N1,300,000 and many others of millions. This is Nigeria so Ifedayo still wanders free, attending owambes and devising even newer scams. Ifedayo, I will find you. Occupy till I come.

I also have a tragic crypto story which I should not tell because I still consider my loss notional. One day, by the special grace of God, Eth will rise to Q1 2021 levels and I will go on my vacation. For months, my brother and I have discarded the Binance app. We do not want to see it, we are too young for our hearts to beat like siren. La ise Arsenal fan.

Well, if you have lost money, you are not alone. Whenever you see me, come for a hug. I continue to the invest though, you should. The lesson from Chapter 1, Chapter 2 and several others is this — be patient and do your due diligence. Also, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

The Good: Lessons and the Products.

In Chapters 2 and 13, Ope considers the Nigerian myth of “village people”. Are we really haunted? Are we ever? Ope says, “maybe we should stop blaming village people and the devil for things we used our own hands to cause.” Before Ope’s Money Diary invites us to subscribe for Cowrywise’s many products, it consistently advises us to be discerning and disciplined.

Chapter 2 is also instructive because Ope states clearly that wealth building is a long game. The notoriously Nigerian use of the words “hammer” and “blow” trick a lot of young people into thinking that someday, things will suddenly change for the better. But there is usually nothing sudden about wealth. No, that retweet will not do it. No, God will not make you a millionaire in an instant. No, you have a near impossible chance of winning the lotto. Wealth building is a long game, and if you read Ope’s 21 stories slowly and intently, you might learn a few things about how to begin your own journey.

Ope knows. Ope knows that the issues that precede investing and wealth building are budgeting and saving. This is why in many chapters, Ope takes on Parkinson’s Law, which denotes that our expenses rise to exhaust our increased income. For many of us however, financial discipline does not come easily. So, it is important that we automate our savings. In response, Ope’s Money Diary demonstrates the importance of Cowrywise’s products. In Chapter 3, Ope urges us to improve our discipline by saving daily. Enter, Cowrywise’s Daily 2k Savings Circle which compels consistency by not only automating savings, but provoking peer pressure from the user’s clique. In Chapter 9, Ope stresses the importance of being denied access to our savings. This is why in place of the traditional kolo, Cowrywise locks your funds for a set period.

In Chapter 10, Ope points us to the inevitability of risk. Wherever you put your money, there is some risk. The best you can do is understand what you invest in and manage your risk exposure. Cowrywise’s risk assessment tool comes in handy, categorising you into a conservative, moderate or aggressive investor. Choose your struggle — small risk and small returns, or blood money!

The Meh: Economy and Poverty.

For the successful experiment that it is, Ope’s Money Diary is awfully limited in its scope. Although the full title of the book is Ope’s Money Diary: 21 Short Stories on How Money Works, it does not tell us the full story of how money works. Ope assumes that we are gainfully employed already. Their business seems to begin from the point where we have made money, so they tell us how to budget, save and invest. Well, what if I have no money? Chapter 2, which briefly discusses the option of a side hustle, is insufficient.

While they note important socio-economic realities like black tax, little is said about the all-time low the Nigerian economy is experiencing. Is it useful to invest in Naira at all, if inflation is only going to dwarf whatever return on investment Cowrywise is offering?

Relatedly, Ope is numb to low-income earners. In Chapter 16, Ope advises on the 50:30:20 rule. For many, however, the rule is unrealistic. Many earn so little, their 50 is maybe 150. That is, they would need to earn a lot more to even cover their essentials, say less about turnup or investment circles. And for many, their expenses rise to meet their income, not because they are undisciplined, but because they no longer wish to duel with sapa. Sho get?

Ope wants us to save to invest; in Chapter 6, Ope wants us to save for retirement; in Chapter 8, they want us to set aside 15% for a Masters Degree; in Chapter 11, they want us to set up an emergency fund; Chapter 15 urges us to set aside money for black tax; according to Chapter 17, we should consider a trust fund for our children. Oh, Ope also wants us to donate to charity in Chapter 18! Ah, Ope, with which money?

There are parts of Ope’s Diary where they seem oblivious to the important reality that most of us are broke. I earn enough to be Ope’s target audience, how many others do? If you earn N100,000 in Lagos; live in a rented apartment on the mainland, work on the island, I don’t know how you will save or invest oh. For most of us therefore, the first step to wealth building is to make more money. Sadly, Ope does not say enough about this. Ordinarily, she is not obliged to. But how do you (claim to) discuss how money works without touching on how to make it in the first place?

Second, like many other self-help books, Ope ignores the huge role privilege plays in our wealth building journey. Perhaps an entire chapter should have been devoted to that reality. In the end, the easiest way to be wealthy is to be born wealthy. And no matter how hard some of us try, we will never be as wealthy as some who had generations of wealth handed to them. The more important angle to this reality is this — some people can afford to ignore every financial advice in the book and remain wealthy!

Therefore, one will observe that most of Ope’s advice is targeted, inadvertently, to a small sect of young people like me. If you are too wealthy or too broke, you can ignore.

The Terrific: Ope’s Voice and Identity.

In Cowrywise, cut soap for us!, I noted the following:

“Ope surely sounds real. Her emails begin with the name of the customer and she does proceed to give useful advice. Even though the action points in Ope’s emails are almost always subscriptions to a new product, it does sound like she cares about the recipient. Both on the website and in emails, language is informal and clear, the kind that appeals to young, energetic people.”

Overall, I think that Ope’s Money Diary is brilliant. I think it is aware — it knows its audience and it speaks to them. All 21 chapters are titled nicely, mostly with trendy catchphrases that summarise the overall theme. They also end with instructive quotes to take with you as you move on.

Ope has mastered the fine art of writing how they speak. Contemporary writing, particularly the kind that aims to make a point or teach a lesson, does away with diction, style and structure that is inconceivable when we speak. Ope writes like they are talking to a peer. Ope does not say pretentious, impracticable things that have fueled this generational distrust for self-help books.

Ope does feel like a real person, sitting across your dining table, advising you about your life. Ope seems honest and open, ready to draw from their own bad experiences, indiscretions, and desires. Ope loves their job but doesn’t want to work for too long; Ope wants to live in Banana Island when in Nigeria and Miami when abroad; Ope understands the existential crisis that is FOMO (the fear of missing out); Ope has seen the IG influencer who has bought their first house at 21; when Ope is about to make it, their aunty swallows razor blade. Ope is one of us.

Ope’s Money Diary is contemporary, alive. They include their work colleagues in their many stories. Now I know about Feranmi the pizza lover, Tolu the gym bro who’s in it for fitness, Feyi the gym bro who’s in it for muscles as well as the P&C lead who is setting aside 15% for his wedding.

Oh, Ope is also hilarious. But this humour is only used to embellish their deft analysis of important financial issues. In Chapter 6, Ope takes a chalk to the board and draws an impressive retirement plan. Perhaps the best is chapter 7 where Ope likens investments to pizza slices. They then explain mutual funds concisely, in wondrously simple language. Make no mistake, it is a useful book, a must have.

As brilliant and famous as they are, Ope’s identity remains unknown. I could not conclusively tell, still, if they are male or female. Hence, my consistent use of “they”. But it doesn’t matter, does it? We know Ope, Ope is one of us. They are the quintessential, hustling, aspirational, “sapaphobic”, urban-living, middle-class, Nigerian, millennial. With a little more discipline and a lot more clarity.

We saw the beautiful but expensive things life has to offer. We said “God, when?” God sent Ope.

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