Indigenous financial technology and human capital management solutions powerhouse, SystemSpecs, recently conducted a grand-scale brand refresh and corporate restructuring, which is believed to be the final piece in the puzzle of elevating the company to continental prominence. In this interview with GEOFFREY EKENNA, the Managing Director of the firm, John Obaro, sheds light on the constitution of the activity, including the revamping of its corporate identity, the revised corporate strategy division of the company, into four Strategic Business Units (SBUs) and the launch of a new product, Paylink.ng
We are apprised with the recent activities your organisation has undertaken. Can you tell us what they are and the reasoning behind them?
For 28 years, we have provided cutting-edge payment and HR technology solutions in Nigeria and across Africa. For those years, our identity has largely remained the same, especially for our corporate brand. It however is a time of new beginnings for SystemSpecs; the time has undeniably come for a refresh. And we decided to formally announce our vision for the next millennium on a unique palindromic date, 02.02.2020. It is for this reason that we are announcing a new era in our history marked with a revamped brand identity, new products, a new business structure and an inspiring corporate head office. As it stands, not only has our corporate identity changed to reflect our business aspirations and cultural heritage but we have also launched a new product, Paylink.ng, to accelerate the growth of microbusinesses.
Speaking of your corporate identity, can you explain why you decided to change the old one and also give the rationale for the new one?
The old logo was with us from the start and withstood the test of time even when the logos of our products changed. However, we have decided to give a new meaning to the brand and display both our progression and aspiration. Our new identity is made up of two colours, three dots and the inscription of our name. The logo is indicative of our past, present and future. The three dots above the inscription of our name represent our progression as a company that commenced operations in Nigeria, to one with footprints on the continent of Africa, then emerging as a global leader in the technology space. Furthermore, the primary decision that led to the full lettering of our name is to ensure that our brand resonates maximally in the minds of stakeholders and declare to the public that we possess staying power. Finally, with regards to the colour utilised for the logo, we decided on green and black because black signifies strength, integrity and solid character while green is associated with life and growth.
We debated at several times in the past if to change the logo or maintain it. The change is also in line with our view of sustenance and longevity as a firm as we believe the sum of our activities on the second of February will remain with us for a long time. We have also added a contemporary feel that shows our youthful renewal from the inside and to connect with our new generation of customers and partners.
How differently would the company operate on account of the activities it has embarked on lately?
There are several layers to our restructuring, beyond the launch of Paylink and a revamped corporate identity, which includes the change of our corporate headquarters. There are however a number of reasons behind our change of office address such as the fact that our previous environment, Obalende, is no longer in the quiet state it was at a time we moved in but owing to the up-shoot in population and commercial activities. The move to our new office is not only a physical change of address but also a strategic business decision that includes the revamping of our identity. Our new head office is also situated at a strategic location in metropolitan Lagos that brings us closer to critical stakeholders such as clients, partners and suppliers. SystemSpecs, in essence, is a new entity as a result of the brand refresh and corporate restructuring.
We now have four distinct Strategic Business Units (SBU) focused on different segments of the local and international markets, yet under the SystemSpecs brand. The first SBU, Infrastructure and Payment Gateway, undertakes the provision of critical connectivity between us and other ecosystem players such as banks, payment processors, aggregators and other service providers. In our bid to operate in a more strategic manner, we carved out this function as a separate business unit in order to provide this service directly to the market. The unit possesses Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) designed to serve us, partners and even competitors because we already have an efficient network with a number of service providers. We are committed to extending these APIs and other similar backend services directly to merchants and by extension to individuals and businesses in need of such services. The second is the Vertical Markets which is saddled with the responsibility of providing customer-centric applications like Remita and our recently launched, Paylink. The Division is responsible for all our retail customer-focused financial payment products. Our third SBU is focused on providing Human Capital solutions and services. This Division is responsible for managing all our payroll and human resources management products and services, which we were primarily known for before the rapid popularity of Remita. Surprisingly, not many people tend to remember this side of our history as a result of Remita’s growth. This Division works with organisations of all sizes to relieve them of the task of managing their people, by leveraging technology, so they can be freed to focus solely on their businesses. For further clarity, we shall be managing the people of other organisations from a human capital and planning point of view coupled with payroll, tax management and other services related to staff. Lastly, our fourth SBU is the Public Sector and Special Projects Division. As you know, our Remita serves as the payment gateway into the Federal Government of Nigeria’s Treasury Single Account (TSA) while we also have footprints in about 22 states nationwide. Hence, we constituted this business unit to strategically manage this aspect of our business. We believe this approach would help people better understand the SystemSpecs brand, thereby quashing the notion that we are all about TSA, and enable them to understand that TSA is under the jurisdiction of just one of our four SBUs.
Being in business for 28 years and operating across several countries is no mean feat. How has SystemSpecs successfully carved out a niche for itself and remain successful for so long?
Our accomplishments have been down to our innovations and divine favour. We have had and still have some of the best minds in Nigeria and they have been instrumental in our growth. Our innovative culture has engendered several remarkable global feats first achieved by us. In 2000, we ran a “self-service” campaign for our human capital management product, HumanManager, which centred around the inventive nature of the product. At the time, our peers around the world provided server-based solutions but we switched things up by delivering self-service functionality on the web to enable employees directly manage their HR activities. Another example of unprecedented innovation is Remita. Remita is about 15 years old this year. Two years ago, I read of one of the biggest global banks celebrating a bank-account aggregation – a feature which is one of the features that has been present in Remita from inception. Besides that, we have innovated many of the features global competitors are just now celebrating. On the flipside, it is also possible that our innovation in this regard was borne out of our peculiar needs as Nigerians; there probably was no need for such innovation from our international counterparts, hence the delay to achieve certain things. The average Nigerian, for instance, has multiple bank accounts which means they own numerous applications on their phones for financial transactions thereby creating a clutter of apps. What we have done with Remita is to provide a one-stop solution that allows seamless integration with all banks on one screen, which takes away the burden of having multiple applications while affording convenience for the user. Now, we have organisations both in Nigeria and across the globe developing similar solutions and presenting them as novel, whereas we have been doing the same for well over a decade now. In this new phase of our business, we would be deliberate in projecting our innovations and intellectual assets to the world to show what great technology solutions come out of Nigeria. Furthermore, pivotal to the survival of any company are its vision and unique selling propositions. I have always admired and applauded businesses who go against the grain to well and truly create innovative technologies. A huge portion of players in the indigenous technology space are more focused on emulating others rather than creating ingenious products. You will be astonished to know the number of companies that went after PSSP licenses with the belief they would be the new TSA gateway, without understanding the market or thinking through what value they can add. There is ample space for innovation in the software space and we pride ourselves in being innovators. Over the years, we have developed numerous products and services by being able to think ahead of others. Being innovative is a prerequisite these days to staying competitive in technology and even other fields, otherwise you run the risk of going out of business in no time. From research, you would realise that some players entered the market with hits and fizzled out in no time. But at SystemSpecs, we prefer to maintain our steady growth and keep innovating. That, we believe, is the strategy for long-term sustainability. Again, due of the deep longing for players to make tremendous cash in the shortest possible time, attention to details is ignored. However, we have an unending commitment to meticulousness. Quality, as it is said, matters and a lot of companies have failed down the years as a result of their lack of attention to quality. Software is such that a wrong placement or an omission of a full stop may have grave consequences. Quality cannot be overstated, and we do our utmost to ensure that it is an integral component of our activities. Many players do not agree with our policy on quality, but it is indubitable in our operations. Another differentiator for us, with the help of God, is our policy to be painstaking and resist the lure to cut corners. When we discover during our interactions with potential clients that they do not operate ethically, we would rather pull out of the deal than have our image sullied. This has come at a cost to us, but we have always been able to weather the storm.
With regard to historical achievements and having operations across Africa, how would you rate the reception of foreign countries to the products and services of SystemSpecs?
The reception of our products has been good across Africa on account of their features and capabilities of our products, and they regularly express interest in exploring how our solutions can make their work and life better. Our human capital management solution, HumanManager, has performed admirably outside the shores of Nigeria. It is tested and trusted by many multinationals with operations in a number of African countries. With its recent reinvigoration, HumanManager is expected to even bolster our presence in new and existing markets. Our major focus was to ensure Remita becomes a major force to reckon with here in Nigeria and then begin to explore taking it out to other African countries. You will begin to hear more about this in the coming months. As a nation, we need to show put a lot more support behind our local content with a view to exporting them to other African nations as well as other parts of the world. It is no secret that Nigeria is blessed with an abundance of talent; what is required now are concerted efforts by both federal and state governments to foster conducive environments for businesses to thrive and take their innovations well beyond Nigeria. This call is not lost on the government and we applaud their commitment in providing an enabling environment for businesses and ensuring that priority is given to homegrown content but if we are to attain the desired status as a nation, we must intensify those efforts. The presidential Executive Order no. 5 and the improvements the country has made on the global ease-of-doing business index augur well for the future of businesses, we only hope that these efforts are sustained and that we have measurable results to show for it.
You earlier mentioned Paylink.ng as the newest product from SystemSpecs, how can it help the public?
Paylink.ng is essentially designed to enhance the operations of microbusinesses and associations. As the name denotes, it is an innovative way of receiving payment through a personalised web link. It affords individuals and businesses, including those that primarily operate on social media, the opportunity to receive payment seamlessly without the security and psychological fears associated with giving out personal or business account details. For semi-formal businesses, among other benefits, they are also able to reposition their brands online, with features that enable to include their brand name and logo on their personalised page. Using Paylink by Remita is so easy as this can be done within a minute, after which users can start receiving funds from home or abroad into their accounts. Especially with its adaptability to social media, Paylink also services such needs as donations to NGOs and religious organisations, event-related collections like payments for aso ebi, contributions for family and friends, and crowdfunding. One of the unique benefits of Paylink is that by providing ease of funds collection to SMEs, it becomes a lot easier for them to reach a larger market, get paid by anyone anywhere even outside Nigeria and ultimately scale. Businesses that, for instance, run on Instagram or Facebook, would similarly be able to convert their profiles to a one-stop shop, where not only would their customers be able to check out products or services in which they are interested, but also be able to easily pay by clicking on the seller’s customised payment links within any of the social media platforms.
How easy is it to setup given that despite the ubiquity of technology, not everyone is a technophile?
Paylink.ng is extremely easy to setup. It was developed with simplicity and ease-of-use in mind. The process of registering on Paylink takes just about a minute and it is configured such that you need no advanced technology skill to set up or use. All the needed details for a transaction can be easily inputted and the link can also be customised to reflect business name, logo and link. Once such a link is sent to the payer and it is clicked, every detail required to conclude the transaction would be displayed. This link can be shared on any and every possible platform including social media channels, WhatsApp and even email. The payer can then proceed to pay into your preferred account using their debit card USSD or other payment options. In addition, the security of Paylink.ng is top-notch, safeguarding the data of users as it sits over the multi-layered and robust security features of our Remita solution that’s been in existence for over 15 years. For us at SystemSpecs, security across all our solutions is of top priority and we keep reaching for the heights in this regard.
Are you considering retiring any time soon? When would you assume the role of chairman of the board?
I love my job and it is my motivating factor for doing it. Also, we have a structure in place capable of running for generations to come without any input from my end. Our culture and values as an organisation permeate our processes thereby influencing our employees and creating the coherent family-based environment we desire. On our management team, we currently have four Executive Directors with varying expertise that can lead the company in my absence. Besides, talks of assuming the position of Board Chairman are premature as our current Chairman, Dr. Christopher Kolade, has occupied the position for the past decade, and he does a great job. Moreover, the title of Chairman is rather heavy, and I do not think I am ready for it as yet.
When would SystemSpecs get listed on the stock exchange?
To be honest, I did not give much thought to it until the commencement of the FGN TSA project. Developing solutions and innovative products for me will always be a passion and to the glory of God, we have found success in it. We were not on the public radar prior to the TSA project and everyone suddenly wanted to know more about us. However, we have come to a realisation that de-risking the business might not be a bad idea. Furthermore, there are individuals who would blatantly refuse to invest in companies except they are publicly listed. In light of the foregoing, we engaged the services of consultants to provide us with a roadmap on the best possible route to go public. Despite that, we are not in a hurry to list on the stock market. We need to evaluate the progress of similar companies that have listed on the market before us. Such insight would probably enable us better understand market acceptance of companies in our sector. In all, we do not have a date for public listing, but we are considering some form of ownership diversification.