BusinessDay

OREMEYI ADEOLA-AKAH is switching things up at Interswitch

Oremeyi Adeola-Akah is a graduate of Electrical Electronics Engineering from the University of Benin. She obtained an MBA degree from the Judge Business School- the University of Cambridge, UK in 2011.

As regards career, Oremeyi has been a pioneer member of the Interswitch Nigeria team for the past 18 years, where she has worked in several capacities within the African fintech value chain including – software engineering, implementation, training, operations, and business management. She is currently working to execute an integrated customer-focused engine in line with the corporate strategy.

While doing her MBA in Cambridge UK, she served as the Vice president of the Cambridge Nigerian Students’ association. She was also a part of the 5-man team that won the 2011 Hult Global Case Challenge in New York, endorsed by the Clinton Foundation.

She is a speaker on several local and International platforms.

She is excitedly married to her best friend, and they have 3 amazing sons.

Other than work, she supports her husband to oversee a growing church congregation under the RCCG umbrella.

Her hobbies include building her God connection, fashion, and bright colours, learning of the human cause of global warming, and dreaming of exciting travel destinations around the world.

What role has your upbringing played in your life till today?

“Everything depends on upbringing” I can’t agree more with that quote by the famous writer- Leo Tolstoy. I consider myself extremely blessed to have been born into a close-knit family of 2 academician parents; a passionate professor of Chemistry and an astute librarian, and 4 amazing Sisters.

Growing up in such an environment set the standards for academics and personal excellence at a very high level; WAEC and JAMB was one attempt, no jokes.

In addition, my parents raised my 4 sisters and I to love God, and to value hard work with the understanding that you are the final determinant of your life. We grew up accepting that we can be anything we set our minds to be if we worked hard for it.

I am indeed grateful for these foundational principles, they shaped me into what I am today.

Why the passion to share hope and how are you doing this?

My passion to share hope is deeply rooted in the premise that hope can only be real when rooted in the discovery and understanding of a person’s purpose.

The purpose of a thing can only be known by the maker of the thing. God made us so if we want to share hope, we must point people to a real relationship with God

I believe I was not born in Nigeria by mistake, I believe I am an African for a reason, there is a purpose. When I look around, I see people (especially youths) seeing meaning in things that last only a while and the result is emptiness.

The future of Africa is closely correlated to the future of our youth, an empowered and enlightened youth populace. My depth in God has taught me that with all the negativity going on, the youth are sadly losing hope in Africa and Nigeria daily. I am called to share hope to let them see that indeed something good can come out of Africa

I do this by contributing my quota in being an example in my home, career, and daily walk as a woman of integrity. In another light, I also share hope via empowerment programs I sponsor through the 2 NGOs boards I sit on. I also share hope by owning and telling my own story as I am doing now.

Did you always want to study Electrical Electronics Engineering?

I confess that my studying E3 was not born out of some strategic plan but firstly, out of a puerile opinion that an engineering degree would guarantee my ticket to the then envied oil and gas industry. Furthermore, I loved and still love mathematics any day and since it did not seem so cool to study Maths, I decided to choose a related course with a cooler profile hence Electrical Electronics Engineering. I am glad and lucky that such jejune motivation paid off.

Tell us about being a pioneer member of Interswitch Nigeria and why you joined and have remained there till date?

First, being a pioneer member of anything is no small feat; it requires vision and inner resolution to stay.

When I joined the Interswitch team in 2002, I was a young graduate who did not have so much of a vision, but I had a heart for adventure. Good thing that what I lacked in vision our founder and my other bosses made up for it.

The early days were what I term ‘experimental’ and defyingly brave; we were challenging the status quo. Getting the industry to believe in us was not easy but alas, looking back, when I recall the multiple firsts we went through- the 1st online real-time transactions, the 1st web transaction with a PIN; the 1st African Domestic card brand to dare the industry leaders, it was all worth it.

I am a naturally loyal person. I stay and stand by my commitments – this extends to relationships and dealings.

When asked why I have stayed at this company for the past 20 years- the simple answer is – my purpose as an individual aligns with the purpose of the company- Africa Deserves more. We are the ones to solve our problems.

What makes Interswitch tick?

We believe in a prosperous Africa powered by a seamless exchange of value and commerce, we believe that it will take Africans to solve African problems, we believe we are the ones to do it.

The fact that Africa deserves more is a burning passion and we live to ensure we contribute our quota in a way that truly inspires Africa to rise to greatness.

Read also: Olajumoke Aleoke-Malachi, Lead, People and Culture

How are you implementing an integrated customer-focused engine in line with the corporate strategy?

My current role has been an interesting and challenging unwinding. We are aware that the companies that will outlast are those that have made the customer indeed, the center of the business not by lip service but in reality.

To commence, first, I started by partnering with our human capital to lead an employee cultural change for the business across all our business areas. The focus is to unite and spur the leaders and members of the organisation to consistently deliver customer-driven growth.

Working with some experts, my team then went on to define and map out our customer experience blueprint across all customer touchpoints aligned with corporate core values. We are also deploying listening capabilities to ensure we can feel and measure the pulse of our customers (internal and external) in real and near real-time. These measurements lead us to valuable customer-driven insight which distils into valuable innovation initiatives.

In my role, I constantly connect the dots to show how customer-focused innovation and initiatives deliver concrete outcomes aligned to business growth.

What are your personal and professional challenges?

We are born to Stand and after doing all that is required…remain standing – (Paul of Tarsus)

I don’t mean to sound cliché but we all have challenges. I say the greatest challenge is constantly maintaining balance, balancing my home front and my drive to be more in career and impact.

On this journey of balance, I have come to learn a few things which I summarize like this: Work-life balance is real, but it’s not every day, it’s okay to fall behind in one area from time to time. Don’t beat yourself about it (too much), in life, some things have got to give but if you plan it well, you will be left holding on to what matters most.

After the salvation of your soul, your next most important decision is whom you marry, I cannot say it enough if you must marry, make sure it’s to someone who cares about the relationship genuinely.

Despite being an Electrical Electronic Engineer, when did you realize it was time for an MBA?

I left work in 2010 for leave to study for an MBA at the Judge Business School, University of Cambridge. I found myself on tenterhooks with my job; now in hindsight, I realize what I experienced was a push for a skill gear change.

Being an engineer and working in mainly operations and technical roles, I knew it was time for me to skill up myself when I realized and noticed huge gaps in my business acumen, I desired to move into more strategic leadership roles and the MBA offered me the opportunity to gain the required knowledge at a go.

Finally, my Husband whom I refer to as my adviser counseled me based on candid feedback when he saw my struggles at work- it pays to have a spouse who is also a trusted confidant. He encouraged me and gave me the required support to go for an MBA.

Share your experience being the Vice president of the Cambridge Union of Nigerian Students’ (CUNS) association

On getting to Cambridge in 2010, I made up my mind to get from and give my best to the 1-year experience. I accepted to be the vice-president of CUNS as the initial person offered the role declined.

I worked with an ebullient female president- Isabella Akinseye. While it was challenging and very difficult mixing the exco responsibilities with academic commitments, we successfully held an African-themed Christmas party and hosted an African-focused business luncheon.

In all, my experience as the vice president of CUNS was interesting though short-lived.

Share about being part of the 5-man team that won the 2011 Hult Global Case Challenge in New York, endorsed by the Clinton Foundation.

The Hult Global Case Competition challenges young people around the world to solve the planet’s most pressing issues through social entrepreneurship. It brings together business school students and poses a social problem while allowing them to propose solutions and hence compete for a $1 million prize toward the funding of the winning idea.

I was the only African in the 5-man team from Cambridge and together with my team members, we took on the challenge to propose a solution to the global water crisis since only 1 in 5 people have access to clean water and sanitation globally.

Our team went from being No 2 in the regional finals to be No 1 in an online wildcard opportunity. Winning the wildcard phase won the team an all-expense-paid trip to New York to present the idea (along with other global regional winners) to former US president Bill Clinton. It was an experience of a lifetime

The final climax was when we clinched the winning prize money as we were announced the overall global winners beating 5 other business school teams from the US, China, Middle-east, and Europe. The funding was directed to actualizing the pilot proposed.

How is Fintech evolving? Are there enough women in that space? What can be done to increase the numbers?

Indeed, the Fintech space is a rapidly evolving industry. As the financial landscape changes in response to new technologies and regulations, so do the products and services that support this industry.

When you consider the fact that for Africa alone in 2021, over $5b was recorded to account for investor fund flows and over 60% of that went into one form of fintech business or the other, Fintech is the undisputed current frontier. What is driving the fintech space is a lot of factors not the least of which is the unrelenting rise in mobile phone and data penetration in developing countries and the preference of the current generation customers for convenience in all areas including the way they offer, receive and exchange value.

Women are showing up thankfully but like many other sectors, we still have some way to go. Fintech space records about 44% of the workforce as females but when you look at founders you have only 12% representation from women. In my view this is not a problem if the ecosystem as a whole continues to present equitably balanced opportunities for all, things will progressively move towards better balance.

I encourage women, youths, and all to not see themselves as excluded from the tech space if they don’t have an engineering/computer science background. There are tonnes of roles ranging from human capital, product training and management, and even customer experience.

Tell us about cofounding ‘African Build Africa’ and the vision

We envision an Africa where indigents are empowered and encouraged to deliberately take on everyday challenges and provide strategic solutions.

We organise child empowerment programs and provide educational resources to drive our mission – “to support the creation of an enabling environment which empowers young Africans to provide solutions to everyday problems”.

In 2019, Our team has implemented the single largest children-themed national showcase of diversity via our project themed MyNigeria. The Initiative promoted patriotism in young Nigerians. We have also provided books on personal development to transform the minds of future leaders to become idea generators, passionate about delivering tailored solutions to the challenges in Africa.

In the works is a Student Bootcamp which we commenced during the children’s day celebration in partnership with linking hands Foundation in 2022. Together with our partners, we are aiding an underprivileged settlement to build literacy skills through the game of Scrabble ®

What advice do you have for upcoming female executives?

My advice for upcoming female executives is unambiguous:

Don’t seek to package hot-air- build real value into yourself so that when people ‘test’ the validity of your value, you don’t come up short.

Be patient to build value- expertise, experience, and value are built over time; don’t be in a hurry to claim to be. Do the work so that when the set stage is revealed, you take it on with grace.

Set and clearly define your standards: young ladies ask me how I maintain my moral integrity- It’s simple- define and stand by your values, don’t test limits unnecessarily.

If you must marry, marry your friend- my husband has been an invaluable success factor in my life, from believing in me, counseling me, and supporting me through all stages of my career- I believe in the sanctity of marriage.

In what ways can technology enhance the economy of a nation. What can Nigeria learn from this?

We can write a whole prose on the ways technology can enhance the economy of any nation.

However, I say a few key things; First, Technology enhances the efficiency of labour thereby maximizing output. Technology multiplies output in geometric multiples- obviously enhancing the economy.

Imagine how the banking industry was before the deployment of technology, you probably needed over 3 different people to enact one transaction. Today, with technology, that job in some cases is fully automated. The same holds for other industries – Agriculture, education, transport.

This implies that the right deployment of technology can lead the superannuation of certain roles and the manpower can now be available to take on more skilled jobs and innovative solutions, thus unveiling new industries which leads to a further positive contribution to the economy.

This is a basic story and for application to our Nigerian context, I say that we: the government and private sector must ensure we are building systems to support this transition and individuals are ensuring they are skilling and re-skilling to stay relevant in this age of rapid revolution.

What is currently on your front burner?

I am glad you asked for the front burner as the back burner is loaded. A few things are the key focus now: Completing my current customer engagement project at work, completing 2 books I am working on, working with my husband to achieve some personal family goals and building out a scrabble club to help some children in a settlement build literacy skills.

Final words

Everyone runs…Run to win!! – Paul of Tarsus

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