Chibuzo Ofulue is a Co-founder and CEO of Africlaim, a claims management start-up involved in helping air travellers claim compensations for flight delays, disruptions, cancellations and other irregularities. In this encounter with Bologi M. Maikudi, Ofulue shared the vision and mission of the establishment. While expressing optimism that the Nigerian aviation sector will bounce back from the coronavirus shock, Ofulue harped on the urgent need to get a national carrier in order to be able to compete favourably in the international airspace.
Q: How did Africlaim come about?
A: It all started in 2017 when my co-founder and best friend was on a delayed flight coming back into the country for one of the long holidays. In a frustrated rant, he tweeted something about the flight delay and a couple of fishy ‘bot’ accounts spammed his mentions claiming they could help him get compensated by the airline. Back then, it was pretty much unheard of to get any sort of financial compensation for something as common as flight delays. He didn’t pay it much attention until some weeks later when it casually came up in a conversation we were having.
We decided to dig deeper into the whole thing and with the support of some friends with legal background we were able to claim his compensation (about €600) from the airline in a little over a month. It felt so unreal at that time and we knew almost no one else knew anything about this. In a genuine effort to spread the word, we opened a twitter account to tweet at random Nigerian passengers who had tweeted anything about flight delays in the country. Once they responded, we would then send them additional information regarding their eligibility status. A few would then reply asking us to help them out – which meant carrying out the entire claim process on their behalf.
Before we knew it, the news of what we were doing spread like wildfire and the rest is history. Today, we’ve helped over 4,000 people and counting and claimed over £150,000 in compensation for our clients.
What is the vision and mission of the company?
Africlaim helps airline passengers get paid when their flights get delayed or cancelled. Many airline passengers in Africa are constantly treated unfairly by airlines, despite many laws and regulations protecting them. Africlaim uses legal expertise and technological innovations to increase passenger access to fairer treatment. Since we first launched our operations, we’ve had the same vision – to create an environment where African passengers are treated fairly and justly.
What are the specific problems your company solves?
Africlaim promotes speedy passenger recovery during service failures by making the flight delay compensation process as simple and quick as possible. There are many barriers to service recovery for airline passengers: in the event of a service failure, only about 5-10% of dissatisfied passengers actually raise a complaint with the airline. This is because the process is often too complicated and time consuming (i.e. they are not sure how to contact the company; they believe the company will be unresponsive; they are uncertain of their consumer rights; they don’t want to apportion blame to an individual staff member). With our platform, we’ve been able to eliminate all paper-works involved in the process for the client and handle the task exploring and enforcing any relevant regulation(s) protecting the client.
How far have you been able to achieve set targets and how far do you believe you can achieve future projections?
In only a short period of time, we’ve been able to have a massive impact on customer service delivery in the aviation industry. However, we’ve encountered some challenges which have limited our growth and impact. The two main challenges we’ve faced since we first launched are a general lack of awareness of air passenger rights in this part of the world, and the public’s lack of trust in the legal system. The first challenge is not just a regional problem, but also a global problem. It’s only recently that airlines became obliged to pay compensation to disrupted passengers, so only a handful of passengers know about this. The airlines also try to keep this information a secret to avoid paying out huge sums of money to the passengers. To overcome these challenges, we’ve had to learn and adapt to the market at a rapid pace. This is where having an exceptionally brilliant team really helps. Generally speaking, we’re really optimistic about the future.
Why did you choose this aspect of the aviation sector?
Before we officially launched our business, we did some research and found out that customer service delivery is one aspect of the aviation sector that is largely disregarded. We had no doubt that we could really add a lot of value to the industry. In 2019 alone, there were over 30,000 unresolved complaints from Nigerian passengers who were short-changed or discriminated against by foreign airlines and Nigerian carriers.
What is the present scope of the company? Any national spread?
Africlaim is currently headquartered in Lagos, but our impact spreads across all airports in Nigeria. The good thing about this digital era is that you can have as much impact anywhere in the world without being physically present there. All our clients can file and track their compensation claims digitally without having to come into our office. That’s the beauty of tech! Our product is very scalable.
- How well do you think the federal government has handled the gradual opening of the airspace?
I must say, the federal government has done a really great job reopening the airspace. It’s a huge challenge trying to re-accommodate millions of disrupted air passengers, while also trying to meet maximum Covid19-related safety requirements. The aviation industry is a huge driver of the economy. In 2019 alone, it single-handedly contributed N198 billion (0.14%) to Nigeria’s economy. With this in mind, you can only imagine the amount of pressure the government must be under to restart the sector as quickly as possible. In aviation, the key word is safety – absolutely nothing is prioritised above safety. The focus on safety has really reduced the recovery speed as there is still a lot to be learned about the coronavirus. Although the process has been slow, we’re seeing a gradual recovery in air travel demand which we hope would be sustainable.
Where do you see Africlaim in the next 10 years?
In the next 10 years, we aim to expand our business across the sub-Sahara African region, and to also influence changes in existing policy frameworks to further protect airline passenger rights.
2020 has been a challenging year for Nigeria and the rest of the world and the aviation sector was badly hit. What was Africlaim’s experience like?
It’s been, without a doubt, our most challenging year in business yet. We initially started the year with a lot of optimism and plans around growth and expansion. By the second quarter, once the pandemic had really hit Nigeria, we had to quickly go back to the drawing board and re-strategize for survival. Our cashflows were largely affected and we also lost a couple of potential investors. It has been a crazy period, but we’ve really come out stronger. It has also been a really massive learning experience, and we’ve particularly had the opportunity to learn more about our clients’ real pain points. Before the end of the year, we plan to launch a new product extension to better serve our clients, so that’s really something to look forward to.
Where do you see the Nigerian aviation sector in the next few years in view of the hit it took from the coronavirus pandemic?
Although there is generally a lot of pessimism around the recovery of the aviation sector both in Nigeria and around the world, I choose to remain optimistic that the aviation industry will bounce back stronger and more resilient than ever. For a chance of a sustainable recovery of our aviation sector in Nigeria, we need to review policies that put the foreign airlines before the domestic airlines. It’s about time we establish our own national carrier to reclaim the routes and revenue opportunities currently dominated by foreign airlines.