‘Our vision is to have one dominant financial operating system built for Africa by Africans’
Obi Emetarom is the chief executive officer of AppZone Group, a Nigerian digital core banking solution provider. In an interview with BUNMI BAILEY, he discusses the impact of the company’s newly acquired $10 million fund and how the company has enabled support for financial institutions in providing more access to unique banking solutions for customers.
What would you describe as AppZone’s unique value-add for Africa’s banking sector?
Appzone is the only company that provides the full stack of digital infrastructure for Banking and payment using proprietary technology. This means that our offerings cut across the entire spectrum of digital solutions that enable Banking and payment, from the touchpoints through which customers initiate payment transactions to the switching infrastructure that processes these transactions to the back office that hosts account balances and runs internal operations of the financial institutions. Furthermore, because we build the proprietary technology that powers this stack, we are able to guarantee world-class quality and deliver innovation that is relevant to the local environment at a fraction of typical cost to Banks
As a B2B company, how has AppZone pivoted to support financial institutions in providing more access to unique banking solutions for customers?
Essentially, we have focused as part of our full-stack strategy on providing solutions that enable Banks transition away from the obsolete branch-based delivery model to a fully digital approach. Some of these include self-service apps on smartphones and USSD, agent Banking functionality on POS devices as well as instant card issuance via self-service Kiosks and through same-day delivery to customer locations. The idea is to empower customers to take complete control of their entire Banking experience thereby enjoying speed and convenience while allowing Banks to significantly reduce operating cost and expand their reach.
What are some of the critical challenges AppZone aims to address in streamlining the banking sector’s payment process?
There are three major challenges that we think we can address within the payment space. These are reliability, dispute resolution and cost. For reliability, the unique architecture of our new payment infrastructure builds in redundancy that enable the network achieve 100 percent uptime and transaction success. Dispute resolution processes are required when customers are debited for transactions that failed at a terminal. Today, these processes are manual, in-efficient and can take anywhere from several weeks to months. We are working on systems that can completely automate this process and guarantee customers refunds within minutes. Finally, because our technology platforms are home-grown so do not require licensing expensive foreign solutions and because our offerings mostly bypass unnecessary middlemen, we are able to significantly reduce cost within the payment value chain.
Could you talk us through the key factors which informed AppZone’s fundraising process?
First of all, I can say that our fundraising was delayed by the outbreak of the pandemic because in the first few months there was a lot of uncertainty and investors all over the world were generally cautious about making new investments. We also realized that as a Fintech Infrastructure company executing an ecosystem strategy with primary B2B focus, it has been generally easier for local investors to relate to the business model and potential. Even though we have a number of foreign investors that participated in our round, we believe that the share obscurity of the Fintech infrastructure value chain in Africa plus the significant divergence from business models in the west created this gap in understanding which we are now closing through proper education.
How does the recent funding from the CardinalStone Capital Advisors Growth Fund impact AppZone’s operation so far?
In the short period since we closed the round, the fund injection has enabled us tell our story a little better and position to showcase some of the innovative stuff we have been working on in stealth mode over the past decade. We have done a brand refresh and also completed a number of key hires into executive leadership roles critical for us to ramp up growth and accelerate execution of our strategy.
How does AppZone ensure its business strategies are aligned with the current business operating environment in Nigeria?
We keep very close to our stakeholders like clients, partners, and regulators and incorporate real-time feedback from them into our product management and strategic planning process. In addition, we have built a nimble organization where rather than have one large monolithic structure, we have several entrepreneurial startup teams that are smaller, agile, dynamic and responsive to change.
With so many firsts under its belt already, how does AppZone ensure that it stays ahead of the innovation curve?
First of all, we have a rich and innovative product roadmap with quite a number of additional firsts in the pipeline and on our radar. We have also established a culture of innovation and evolved a mature systematic approach for incubating new products and businesses within our ecosystem that allows us to determine where the gaps are, assemble the required resources and execute with speed and precision.
What can we expect in the future from AppZone with the support of the funds from CCAGF?
Regarding utilization of funds raised in our recent funding round, our short-term plan is to build engineering and operational capacity to scale existing products in Nigeria and into Africa while delivering at quality levels beyond world-class.
Specific immediate plan for Africa expansion is to extend our footprint within countries where we already have presence like Ghana, Tanzania, Gambia, DRC while establishing presence in others like Kenya, Uganda, and South Africa amongst others. We are also working on launching a couple of innovative new products currently in pilot phase in Nigeria. Subsequent investments will be directed towards our long-term plan to incubate all the innovative product components and develop all the geographical market segments required to deliver this full-stack digital infrastructure for Banking and payment on a Pan-African scale.
What are your plans for expansion especially in the area of talent and operational services?
Our talent strategy is to find and work exclusively with the top one percent who have the superior abilities required to cope with the level of complexity and creativity demanded by the type of heavy engineering work we do in AppZone. We will continue to work with the brightest local talent on the continent to build innovative local technology content that surpasses world-class standards until we actualize our vision to have one dominant financial operating system built for Africa by Africans.