Three Tech Graduates That Saved Nigerian Banking – Story Of Highly Profitable AppZone

Three Tech Graduates That Saved Nigerian Banking – Story Of Highly Profitable AppZone

Few years ago, Nigerians used to have issues after making bank deposits. Some will return to their banks, only to be told there were no records of them making any deposit. What of the teller deposit receipt they went home with? That was fake, some banks would maintain. You may pity the banks; they are also victims whenever such happens. The teller had destroyed the bank’s evidence and went home with the depositor’s money.

In some other scenarios, the teller would modify the amount, creating a new class of problem. A man that had deposited N1.2 million would suddenly see N1 million credited in his statement. Though he had a teller receipt of N1.2 million, he would have to haggle to get the rest credited. Banks responded by asking customers to keep deposit slip duplicates in boxes, as evidence, in case issues emanated and reconciliations were needed. In some banks, customers were required to put the slips in two separate boxes and then register the deposit in a book which a bank staff has to sign off.

That was the case in Nigeria, until three Nigerian graduates took action. Obil Emetarom,  Emeka Emetarom and Wale Onawunmi saved Nigerian banking from the problem explained above. Today, when you make a deposit, you get a printed receipt indicating the amount, time, branch location and other details. Three of them co-founded AppZone, which provides financial and banking solutions in Nigeria, and beyond. They pioneered common sense solutions in Nigeria’s modern banking. Indeed, solutions so common that most foreign players did not bother to sell such solutions to Nigerian banks

Obi is the CEO, a graduate of Federal University of Technology Owerri (FUTO); Emeka is also a graduate of FUTO. Across River Niger, from iconic Obafemi Awolowo University, is Wale who studied Computer Science with Economics. Both Obi and Emeka studied engineering in FUTO.

Obi Emetarom co-founded Parkway Projects in 2004 serving as pioneer Executive Director and playing a significant role in driving Parkway Projects to market leadership in the area of electronic payment solutions. In 2008 Obi co-founded AppZone with a focus on the broader view of providing technology to empower people with unlimited access to quality financial services. From inception Obi has led AppZone’s stellar growth and consequent emergence as Africa’s leading provider of home-grown Banking and Payment software.
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Emeka Emetarom is a Chemical Engineer with a bachelor of engineering degree from the Federal University of Technology, Owerri. He has immense exposure in business management as well as the IT industry, at various levels. His entrepreneurial drive led to the setup of Ceerom Ventures, a table water production and manufacturing business enterprise which he co-founded in 2005. At the same time his passion for IT resulted in his foray into the electronic prepaid airtime distribution. In 2006, he championed the development of Nigeria’s premier mobile airtime distribution service. This gave birth to the RechargePlus® brand, a web and mobile based service for prepaid airtime purchase.

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Wale Onawunmi is a graduate of Computer Science with Economics from Obafemi Awolowo University, Ile-Ife where he finished amongst the tops in his class, Wale is known as a Software Prodigy by many as he is versatile in many languages and software application packages. Wale has amassed more than ten years of experience in the modeling, design, and implementation of enterprise software. He has also been involved in intensive research in areas of electronic commerce and payment, portal 

AppZone owns the BankOne brand which supports financial institutions including microfinance in Nigeria. They have increasingly moved into providing solutions in the areas of digital banking and insurance. AppZone is a very critical local player that helps institutions save and has a demonstrated record of delivering highly efficient solution even in cost-efficient model. Its technology makes it easy to enable debit card activation via USSD. That is why this company is great today.

AppZone is one of the leading fintech companies in Nigeria whose aim is to digitise the financial services industry.  By going against the status quo of the brick and mortar system, AppZone continues to create technologies that will revolutionise the financial services industry. AppZone has two main products designed to help improve financial inclusion in the country. These products are BankOne and CreditClub.BankOne, an integrated Core Banking and E-channel software platform, was built by AppZone for the African environment.

The app is deployed centrally as a shared service on secure cloud infrastructure to manage operations and enable alternative service delivery channels for small retail Banks and Microfinance institutions.BankOne helps to reach out to the underbanked and unbanked in the community by digitising the financial services operations and also exposing them to multiple alternative channels such as ATMs, POS terminals, the Internet, Mobile phones and also independent agents

 

Today, AppZone is one of  Africa’s leading provider of integrated banking and payment software platforms and incidentally creator of BankOne; a leading cloud infrastructure for banking and payment processing targeted at small and medium financial Institutions. It is hiring and has many open jobs in the engineering areas.

The Industry

The startup ecosystem in Nigeria is very noisy. Some have become lords purely because of the amount of money they raised.  They have neither sold nor exited any company. They just raised capital and they party, publicly. From Forbes to circuits of conferences, we are inundated with stories of raising money from international and local investors in some of these companies. We surely like them and we treasure them, at least they pitched right and some people trusted them to risk their funds on them. It works like that in every part of the world.

That said, most of these companies making noise are years away from profitability. They may do well provided other entrants with fresh capital and new energy levels do not come and supplant them. But at the moment, we are not seeing that value creation, if value is profitability.

Understand that because of the difficulty of raising capital in Africa, when someone does, it becomes a very critical aspect of one’s resume. Few years ago, I watched a video of a South African conference where an entrepreneur was introduced by the amount of money he had raised from investors. Vinny Lingham of Yola and now Gyft and now Civic is noted as someone who raised more than $30M from investors. That tells you that success, for some, is really the amount raised!.

It is the same phenomenon in Lagos. The resumes of the Yaba entrepreneurs are now transmuting into how much money they have raised from the few angels and VCs and not necessarily how much value they have created. You see founders giving their companies away just in the name of claiming they have raised capital, even when that new capital is totally unnecessary. They court the rich people, with largely free equity, thinking that having a popular man in their board will magically solve all their business problems.

In Yankee,  the focus is how much valuation does the startup have and most importantly how successful was the exit or IPO. But here, it is the amount the person raised.  You can give away your company and get all the money in this world and technically own nothing. Only stupid investors will continue to buy that proposition.

That brings us to the real deal. Who are those building valuable companies and making money in Nigeria? You do not see them in talk circuits. They have no time for conferences. They do not even own blogs to waste time as I am doing here. They simply focus on building their companies. And they are doing well. They are displacing the Indian companies in Lagos with core innovation in providing technology in our key sectors. They are young and they are dynamic.

So, despite all the noise you may be reading about the local startup environment, the ones making money are very opaque. You need to work hard to see them. When all things are computed, one of the key ones with profitable business is AppZone. The founders may not have the noise-making skills of other entrepreneurs but they have the skills on how to create value. They are unlike me, trying to be a good entrepreneur – building companies, over writing articles!.

AppZone Innovation

AppZone works at an interface in finance where you cannot displace them easily. What they offer is so vital to their bank-clients and the banks’ customers. They are not looking for clients because they already have clients. They are executing massively well with teams of youthful people. Our recent conversations show they are big in insurance, oil & gas, power sector to provide a system that connect these firms and their customers for seamless payment experience. They go beyond payment to business process advancement by providing software that make  operations work better. Paypal is not a threat to them. They will exist and can easily scale to become a viable IPO quality company in the local stock market. There are a couple of other firms in the nation, we will cover them in coming days.

Their BankOne product supports more than 300 microfinance banks in Nigeria. Many commercial banks are their customers. They have become the operating system that connects the banking sector with their customers, providing technologies that make ATMs work for us across Nigeria. They have key products, all created by them and none is a reseller for a foreign brand. That is the difference here – they are not working for one foreign company that collects bulk of the money at the end.  They create their technology here in Lagos.

Small and Medium Scale Enterprises are the lifeblood of Nigeria’s economy and by extension, so are the Microfinance Banks that support them. However, for Micro-Finance Banks to remain competitive, achieve rapid growth, operate profitably, and make significant economic impact, they also need systems in place to support them as well. Appzone’s BankOne was created to do just that. Having recently signed its 300th Microfinance Bank onto the BankOne platform, the company says it is even more confident of making an indelible mark on the country’s economy.

South Africa’s Business Connexion invested $6 million in 2014 in AppZone. The company was noted to have taken 30% of AppZone at that time, implying at at far back as 2014, AppZone was in the neighborhood of $20 million valuation.

Months after acquiring document management firm, Panabiz Nigeria, JSE-listed Business Connexion Group (BCX) has strengthened its hold in Nigeria by acquiring 30 percent of financial IT service provider, AppZone Limited to enable it provide cloud-based solutions to the monetary sector.

Rounding Up

We do think AppZone is one of the most profitable technology startups in Lagos with its own technology and solutions. This is different from the re-sellers and integrators. These three founders have done us a great favour with their solutions which have become the industry leading brands. You expect a deposit receipt when you make a deposit in a bank in Nigeria today. You have to thank Obi, Emeka and Wale for that.


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