Dr Emmanuel Eze, Chief Technology Officer and Executive Director of SystemSpecs, in this interview with JUSTUS ADEJUMOH, spoke on the significance of technological innovation in Nigeria, and how SystemSpecs is at the forefront of financial technology (FinTech) revolution with its array of solutions such as Remita payment, collection and payroll software, and its role as the software powering the country’s Treasury Single Account (TSA). Excerpts:
Talking of technology, perhaps we can look at it at the macro level. How would you assess the impact of technology on our national economy in Nigeria today? How much do you think the government or the corporate world agrees with this element of technology?
In recent times, the administration in power has made some efforts towards embracing technology in running the affairs of government.
One of the many examples would include the technology that makes it easier to now register new businesses with ease and efficiency. This is recognised by World Bank and reflects in the progress we made in the world ranking on ease of doing business.
Another example is the Treasury Single Account (TSA). This has not only introduced efficiency, accountability and transparency in the way government manages its funds, but it has also saved billions of naira for the country.
Whilst technology powers part of our national economy, there is need to deepen the trend by deploying more e-services for the citizens and businesses.
We still require proper implementation of numerous policies that we have. One of them is the Local Content Act, which can have good impact on the economy if rightly implemented. Agreeing with the element of technology must start from recognising and favouring Nigerian solutions over foreign ones.
There is a lot we could do as a country in terms of leveraging technology to drive our economy. I believe we will get there with time and ultimately improve our country a lot more with technology.
SystemSpecs is a major player in Nigeria’s FinTech space, can you give us an overview of the how the industry has fared in Nigeria as at today?
FinTech is not particularly new. It has brought a lot of transformation in both financial services and technology industries. It’s a big space with a lot of players.
Part of what FinTech companies do is to design and build technology solutions that drive traditional financial services. Whist some people misconstrue FinTech to mean just payment services, it actually extends beyond payments.
So, within FinTech you find lending, investment, commerce, insurance, asset management, blockchain, amongst others.
Within the Nigerian FinTech ecosystem, different companies including fully established ones and start-ups offer diverse services. We have played in the FinTech space for over 12 years since the development of the first version of Remita.
Right then, we set out to solve a very simple problem by ensuring that when people are paid salaries, monies automatically get into bank accounts. Things have evolved over the years – we have not only been able to make sure salaries are automatically paid into bank account; we also power other types of payments and ensure efficiency.
We provide technology that makes it easy for e-commerce sites in Nigeria to integrate and accept payments. We make it possible on our platform, for borrowers to access funds from lenders and also repay. That way, the borrowers’ rating will improve and they could always come back for more; thereby keeping both lenders and borrowers happy.
FinTech has made it possible for customers to enjoy rapid loan approvals and disbursement without completing lengthy paper forms with rigorous and multiple stages of approval. Customers now enjoy efficient bill payment or money transfer. There are still many more seamless digital services coming the way of Nigerians, courtesy of FinTech.
To an average person, the services you render may look like it’s only the government or corporate organisations that can benefit from them. What can individuals benefit from your solutions?
Remita is for everyone! It is not just for organisations in both private and public sectors. Whilst corporate organisations use Remita to pay vendors, accept payments from their customers, process and pay salaries for their staff, and so on; individuals and MSMEs also use Remita. They can pay bills, execute money transfers, manage their accounts on one platform, access loans, and so on. With Remita, they can also control and view all their bank accounts on a single platform. That’s the beauty Remita creates for everyone.
It is a known fact that TSA has actually impacted on national development. But beyond TSA, is there anything that SystemSpecs is collaborating with government on?
We actually set out designing and developing Remita with focus on solving problems in financial services. It just so happens that with Remita comfortably playing in that space, government took an interest. When government was looking out for a solution that could power TSA, we placed a bid and got selected for it.
So, beyond Federal Government TSA, Remita still manages and processes payments, collections and payroll. We also have state governments using the application to implement TSA in their states as well as process payroll for their workforce.
Many companies across Africa use Remita to accept payments from their customers, pay vendors, process and pay staff salaries. You have individuals using Remita; I use Remita for all my payments. People can download the Remita App to pay billers like CAC (Corporate Affairs Commission) or other government agencies as well as billers from the private sector like when they want to buy electricity token or top up their internet subscription.
SystemSpecs also collaborates with some government agencies in a supportive role by having some of her staff serve in some committees that are relevant to our industry and with huge potentials to improving Nigeria’s economy.
As a business, has it been a smooth ride for SystemSpecs; and if there are challenges, what have you done to address them?
Things have not been rosy for us. We’ve had a few bitter-sweet experiences here and there. In terms of what government can do to make things better generally within the business space, I think the area of providing the necessary infrastructure and an enabling environment for businesses to thrive is key. In addition to that, government is already doing something in the area of regulation, but I think regulation can be a lot better. In FinTech, we innovate; we break new grounds and come up with something new. We can’t cope with a regulator that sets a lot of boundaries.
We are creating new trends. You find a situation where the regulator is constantly playing catch up, so there has to be some way to resolve this problem. In my own view, I think the regulators have to be a little more agile in terms of how they respond to innovations within FinTech.
Besides the efforts being made by your company and other technology innovations, what other steps do you think can be taken to provoke national development?
The rule of the game in my own view is innovation, I believe innovation is the key and we still need to keep pushing the boundaries and keep thinking and ensure that we come up with world class solutions that can actually solve problems within the economy. Another thing we need to look at is regulation, as we know regulation can stifle innovation if not manage properly.
So, when there is that understanding from the side of the regulatory bodies without attempting to stifle innovation we will be able to solve an array of problems within the economy and everybody stands to enjoy that.
Recently, the Committee of e-Banking Industry Heads, CeBIH visited SystemSpecs, harping on the need to collaborate within the industries so that things can be better. How far has this gone?
Well, it was actually a very exciting meeting because one of the ways to actually move things forward is collaboration and that is the summary of what that meeting was all about.
As a FinTech, we are not banks; we don’t keep deposits. There is hardly anything you can do as FinTech without having to work with the banks. That is what the banks brought to the table when they came around for that meeting. Collaboration is essential and we are working on how to partner with them to ensure that we create a common ground for both banks and FinTechs to excel.
Can you tell us about some of the solutions you have for Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs)?
We offer some solutions to SMEs that make it quite easy for them to sign up to Remita and start collecting money with ease.
We know what an average SME will want to do in terms of financial services and have tailored our solution to suit their needs. Most times, they want some nice and simple ways to receive money; they are either selling on Instagram or on a small website they put up – and that’s what we offer. Registering as an SME on Remita and setting up to start receiving payment from your customers takes only a few minutes.
We also give SMEs the option to make payments to different entities as well, including vendors, tax and pension authorities or their staff. They can use Remita as a one-stop solution. With Remita, they have their financial transactions and records intact end-to-end and as a result are able to enjoy several opportunities capable of growing their business.
You are offering financial solutions, what is the perception of banks towards what you’re doing?
It depends on the individual and the banks, but generally it could be argued that some banks will perceive Fintech as threat as if we will take some of their businesses from them. But as have mentioned earlier that Fintech is not a money keeping bank.
We are not banks and we will never be banks anything we do money has to sit in banks, the banks realizes clearly that money will always sit with them and they will enjoy the float and Fintech is just providing services on top of the banking system that makes it easier for the different customers using our platforms to enjoy the services and ones the understanding is there I believe that problem will go away as perceiving us as threat to their business.
Looking at Nigeria and as a leader in this industry, what further steps do you think you can take to seal SystemSpecs’ relevance in this field?
The rule of the game in my company is innovation. We still need to keep pushing the boundaries, rethinking our solutions, identifying new opportunities, and ensuring that we come up with world-class solutions that solve various problems within the economy.
We also expect commensurate support from the different agencies of government with regards to regulations. Regulation, when not managed properly, has the potential to stifle innovation.
We have survived the last 26 years and will sojourn on with confidence into the future and continue to stay relevant.
Elections would be held in the country soon. What technology do you think can be deployed to actually sanitise the political space for the country to achieve free, fair and credible election and perhaps beyond Nigeria?
There are different models or possible solutions to having Tech play in politics, but some of them are theoretical models and we need to get practical here and it all depend on the resources or the company or solutions or the people that are going to implement it.
Another way is what is termed E-Government and in Nigeria I can say we are trying in that regard a lot of things are getting digital unlike in the past where things are mostly manual . So, E-Government encompasses different ways of interacting with government via E-Channels and we are already doing quite well in that area and I believe we will still do more.
Talking about elections specifically, I did mention earlier about E-Voting system but I don’t think we are there yet there lot of problems with the electronic voter’s card.
I will say we need a central data base for all these things and part of the problem I saw with them is that they use some kind of decentralised databases and it will be good if they can improve on that. Assuming there is a central place where everything is harmonised it can be of good help in the voting system during the election.
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Author: Justus Adejumoh