The untold story: how one Nigerian fintech firm achieved many firsts ahead of others globally

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It is true that there are many positive stories about Nigeria, which have either not been told at all or have not been told well enough. One of such stories is of Nigeria’s burgeoning tech space where innovation is now almost second nature and more FinTechs are birthing regularly. Our Yaba in Lagos is now otherwise known as Nigeria’s version of the United States’ Silicon Valley. That much we have heard – maybe we still need to blow our trumpet even louder.

While at it, there is yet another story of innovation that has not been told well. This story is not from Victoria Island, Banana Island, Ikoyi or any lush part of Lagos or Nigeria. This story of innovation is from the heart of Lagos Island, Obalende to be precise, surrounded by the lives and activities of the average Lagosian, the Nigerian. It is the story of how a Nigerian firm founded 26 years ago pioneered many firsts, ahead of some of the biggest corporate entities on the globe. It is a story of visionary leadership.

Until early 1990s, John Obaro was a highflying techie in the Computer Department (as it was then known) of International Merchant Bank (IMB), which by many standards was the leading bank of the period. If anyone knew and experienced comfort firsthand at the time, it was Obaro. So good was life to him that when he told his friends and colleagues he was about to resign and would found his own firm, they thought he had lost his mind. They may not have been wrong – or who else would leave such comfort for the uncertainty of entrepreneurship?

Maybe Obaro indeed lost it then, but several years on, one is certain he is glad he took that leap. It takes some guts to thrive as an entrepreneur in Nigeria! He went on to found SystemSpecs as a 5-man team with the aim of becoming a reference institution in the African technology space. Today, time has honoured that vision and SystemSpecs has emerged clearly as one of the biggest made-in-Nigeria financial technology (fintech) firms.

At the beginning a merely Lagos-based firm, its software solutions were used in all sectors of the Nigerian economy and across Africa. Today, with a staff strength of over 250, SystemSpecs provides solutions to individuals, corporate organisations of all sizes, and government at state and federal levels in Nigeria and on the African continent.

But until about three years ago, not many had heard about the firm till—on the floor of the Red Chamber—a senator had given the firm an unpaid publicity by announcing to the world that Remita, SystemSpecs’ foremost solution, was the driver of the globally applauded Treasury Single Account (TSA) of the Federal Republic of Nigeria.

According to recent data released by National Bureau of Statistics for Q1 2018, 16.4 percent of the total electronic payment transactions that happened in Nigeria during the period passed through Remita. This is a fully indigenous solution we are talking about here, with the potential of being a huge foreign currency earner for the country.

But innovation is not new to SystemSpecs. For several years, the firm had been provided innovative made-in-Nigeria HR management and payment solutions to some of the biggest firms in Nigeria, including multinationals. Its HumanManager is a global trailblazer in the use of web technology for HR/Payroll Management. As a matter of fact, HumanManager pioneered the introduction of the employee self-service concept in HR/payroll management.

So, when on Monday 14th May 2018, the London Metro published on its first page an advert announcing that, riding on UK’s Open Banking law, HSBC accountholders could now view account balances from different banks together on a single screen. It was not news to me. A Nigerian firm had seen far ahead of everyone and had developed Remita, a solution that delivers the one-solution-for-all-bank-accounts service to all its users. What the developers of Remita conceived way back in 2001 and implemented in 2006 was what one of the UK’s leading banks was just implementing in 2018!

Since its establishment, SystemSpecs has clearly evolved from just being a developer of human capital management solutions to being also regarded as a FinTech firm. On a light note, the firm has paid its dues and certainly deserves some accolades. To crown it all, SystemSpecs seems to be a jack of many trades. But this trade I know them well for – FinTech.

Chukwuma Anigbogu, a technology enthusiast, writes from Enugu.

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