In the last couple of years, more Africans have left their home countries in search of greener pastures. Nigeria is one of the countries most hit by mass exodus, and the UK has been one of the major destinations for those migrating. As a Nigerian who left home in 2021 to come to the UK, I am one of those people.

When you leave the familiarity of your home to come to a place where the system is completely different, culture shock comes at you in many different ways, but for the purpose of this article, I’ll focus on the financial aspect.

To start with, you need a place to stay, and even though I’ve seen many communities band together to form a cocoon of integration and protection for their newcomers, unfortunately, that is not always the case for everyone, especially in the UK. This means that even though you might be lucky to find someone to take you in for the first couple of days or weeks, you need to be on a hunt for your own place immediately.

Ordinarily, that sounds pretty normal, until you go for house viewings and you realise that, as a newbie with no records for the referencing companies to refer to, you most likely have to pay a few months’ rent upfront to have the slightest chance at landing a place. For most people, this is hard, considering that the prices are quite expensive compared to what they're obtaining back home. There’s also the likelihood that you haven’t even started working yet.

So you eventually get a house. Here come the bills and the many plans you had for when you arrived in the UK and started earning in pounds. Some people are lucky enough to find a high-paying job in no time, but for the majority, that is not so. The bills will come at you fast, and rent is mostly on a monthly basis. Until you’re able to lock down a full-time job that pays reasonably well, I’m sorry—as my Nigerians say—your mind will not touch ground.

It’s not advisable to go about looking for loans. In fact, the chances that you’ll find anyone to grant you one are as slim as the whiskers on a cat, be it your friends and family or even your bank. You’re new to the country, so your credit score is likely still building up. You might be able to get a credit card or two, but if you seek expert advice, you’ll realise that the credit card money is best left in the card to avoid paying the exorbitant interest rates.

There’s also the fact that unless you came in as an asylum seeker or you’ve attained Indefinite Leave to Remain status, you have no recourse to public funds. To put it succinctly, you are on your own.

So how do immigrants survive out here? Well, it’s not all doom and gloom. We survive not only because we’re resilient but also due to the natural balancing effects that suggest that you will eventually find your way around things and learn to surf the waters. To be honest, once you get over the initial integration period, you should have very little to worry about going forward, at least as far as financial shocks go.

However, one thing I found to be quite difficult for most people even after the integration period is the ability to save and/or raise bulk funds. The ultra-capitalistic nature of the environment means that you have numerous direct debit straws sticking into your bank account and sucking off your pay as soon as it lands in there. Most people depend on the credit system to buy a car, secure a housing mortgage, and most other things. These are long-term loans tied to interest rates that leave you paying much more than the actual price.

Outside of that system, you can probably still buy that car or go on that vacation, but how do you piece together enough money for anything remotely requiring more funds than that? Bank loans are still not an option—unless you’re taking them for business, provided your credit score is good enough to secure them in the first place—and credit card money is still better off on the credit card.

This is where our traditional àjọ comes in. Àjọ is the Yorùbá word for thrift contributions, a financial system whereby a group of people who are familiar with themselves and trust one another come together to contribute an agreed amount of money either weekly or monthly, and then give all that money to one person. In the next week or month—depending on the agreed timing—the next contribution is given to another person. The cycle goes on until every member of the group has been contributed for.

There are many advantages to this system. To start with, it does not only help you to raise bulk funds without really feeling like you owe anyone, but the funds are also completely interest-free. Of course, you will have to make adequate plans to ensure that you’re able to pay your contribution every other week or month, and this might effectively reduce the amount of money left to you after you’ve taken out money for bills and other responsibilities from your periodic pay, but you’re effectively saving it all for when it’s your turn to be contributed for, so that should not be a problem.

This system is the saving grace for a lot of Africans out here, and the chances are that most people you know are into one àjọ or the other at every point in time. Some people even run multiple àjọ at the same time. As long as their finances can accommodate the numbers, it will only increase the amount of money they’ll be able to raise during the time they’re making contributions to the àjọs.

Most àjọ are guided by a guarantor system whereby whoever brought you in would be liable for you in case of a non-payment, so you must be a trustworthy person yourself to be able to find an àjọ to accept you in.

It is also important to note, however, that you should definitely not get into any àjọ if you’re not familiar with or trust the people involved. The reality is that there are always scammers on the prowl, and you do not want to fall victim to that. As much as this system can help you make a down payment for a house, start a business, go on a vacation, or fund a project back home, you should not join one out of desperation or without doing your due diligence. Safeguarding your money is your sole responsibility; do not give it to just anyone.