Our Success is measured by our contributions to the development and well-being of our stakeholders – Agada
...including the markets that we operate, particularly, Nigeria
Agada Apochi is an Organisational Psychologist & Change Leadership Specialist. He was appointed Managing Director/CEO of UP in 2011. Prior to his appointment as CEO, he was an Executive Director. He joined the services of UP in 2005 after 13 years of service in 2 Nigerian banks. Agada is the Founder and Director of Nigeria’s premier digital-first bank, Hope PSBank. He is also the Founder and Director of the Digital Payment Scheme and Financial Technology Company, PayAttitude.
Under Agada’s leadership, UP became the first and only financial technology company in Nigeria to own a banking subsidiary, Hope PSBank which is Nigeria’s premier digital-first bank. Similarly, another UP subsidiary, PayAttitude is Nigeria’s premier digital payment scheme. He also led UP from being a single scheme service provider to becoming the first and only nonbank Nigerian entity to become Principal Member or Licensed Acquirer of all major global payment schemes. UP has diversified into different businesses including B2C (Business-to-Consumer).
Agada obtained his Master in Organisational Psychology with specialization in Change Leadership from Columbia University in New York. He also holds a Master Degree in Law, is an Alumnus of Lagos Business School and Cornell University. He has attended different executive learning programs at Harvard Business School, Insead Business School, and Bank Card Business School in Cambridge. Agada holds several academic honours and awards including best graduating student. He was called to the Nigerian Bar in 1992 and has since worked and gained experience in company law & practice, banking and financial services, electronic transactions, retail business, administration, strategy, execution and change leadership. His areas of interest include diffusion of innovation.
Agada is an Organizational Psychologist, Innovator, Entrepreneur, Honorary Chartered Banker, Chartered Mediator & Conciliator, Barrister & Solicitor, Certified Associate of Capability Maturity Model Institute, Fellow, International Academy of Cards & payments, Certified International Cards & Payments Professional (CICPP), Fellow, Institute of Credit Administration and has to his credit, different professional and technical papers.
How would you define Integrity?
Integrity is about truthfulness, honesty and consistency in upholding values. It’s not sufficient to be consistent because if you are doing the wrong thing consistently, it does not amount to Integrity. It is first about honesty, truthfulness and consistent adherence to the values that should promote a good society. Whether it is in business or it is in your private life, the value of integrity should be the same. As individuals, particularly those of us in business, you have your private life and also your professional life. Your values should remain the same and you should remain consistent in upholding those values, not only in your private or professional life, but in all.
How have you been able to apply integrity into the daily activities of UP?
What we do first, is to let every member of the UP family appreciate that the organization has a character and personality. The character and personality of the organization are defined by values and those values must be upheld at all times. Members of the UP family, whether you have worked here for many years or new, must appreciate that the culture that we build is informed by values and the values will remain consistent whether it will make us win or lose business. For that reason, members of the UP family understand that it is better to lose a business than to win a business and compromise on the values of the organization. Through that, we have remained consistent. We do not just define the value-based rules, but uphold our rules by creating incentives that discourage breach of our values and incentives that encourage adherence. Our reward system is also defined by our values.
In terms of incentive, when people are rewarded for upholding the values, even at cost to the company, then they are assured of what is most important to the organization. On the other hand, when people win business and they are not applauded but sanctioned because they did not adhere to the values of the organization, then we create a disincentive for acting contrary to the values that we preach. At our leadership levels, we walk our talk. The UP family sees that at the leadership levels, the values are being upheld. Therefore, it is a lot easier for the leadership to punish deviation or breach of our values. We have very tight boundaries around what is permissible and not permissible. That is how we have been able to promote the culture of integrity.
We also define our policies and processes in a manner that achieves the objectives that are anchored on integrity. For example, our reward system for performance is such that every member of the family can tell how they have performed. At the beginning of every appraisal period, key targets are defined for every employee and y signed by the employee and the supervisors. That means, at the end of that period, it becomes very easy to measure performance. It is no longer discretionary for the supervisor to say you performed or did not perform. Because we have defined what is to be achieved how performance is to be measured.
It doesn’t stop there, when it is time for promotions, we have a promotion policy that allows every employee to know whether he or she is qualified for promotion on the basis of their performance appraisal. Each appraisal must be signed not only by the supervisor but by the job-holder. We are able to define that if you achieve certain levels of performance within a given period of time, you will get promoted. The person who achieved less, will have a longer period to be promoted. And all these are defined such that when it is time for promotion, the human resources department, the supervisors and the individual job-holders can tell whether or not the person should be promoted. If someone who is supposed to be promoted is not on the list, the promotion panel can tell and ask questions. So, it is not left to the discretion of the supervisors when it comes to time for promotions. These demonstrate to everyone that integrity counts. In different ways, we promote that culture of integrity and people will experience it and they will know that there is no alternative to upholding that value of integrity.
What are the business growth strategies that has led to the success of UP?
Our strategy has been defined by cross enterprise alliances. We work with different stakeholders including our competitors to create a bigger market thereby increasing the opportunities for different stakeholders. Success to us is determined by how we contribute to the well-being and development of the market that we operate, particularly, Nigeria. We also offer services to organisations outside Nigeria, and when we do, we also ask ourselves: have we contributed positively to our client/organization and the environment that they operate? We have been successful in different ways, and success may also not mean profitability for us, but to a large extent, we have been very successful both in the areas where we have been profitable and also in areas where profit is not defined by figures but it is defined by other objectives. For instance, when we set out to achieve inclusiveness in any area of our services, we do not measure success by how much money we have made, we measure success by how many people that have been digitally included. Another example, success for us in certain areas means how many more people have gained knowledge in what we do and the level of knowledge we want to diffuse within the environment that we operate.
Like I said, the measure of success is not how much money that has been made, success also means creating employment opportunities, thereby contributing to the development of our country. So, how many talents have we been able to attract, retain and motivate to do what we do? Success means also headcount. It also means the improvement of each individual that is a member of the UP family. When we work with government, the objective, sometimes is not money. Sometimes, our objective is to help government change their processes and how they operate. If we are successful in working with them to improve on their processes and how they operate, we count it as success.
In terms of money, the company is not just a going concern but has continued to grow in profitability – growth that is not at the expense of our stakeholders, the community of people that we serve, our clients and the government. Growth in profitability for us, consistent with our value for integrity also means that we pay taxes as at when due. It means that we also collect taxes on behalf of different levels of government from those that we work with or serve. If another company is doing business with us, we would collect every tax that is due to government and ensure remittance. That for us, is success because we are contributing to the revenue base of the different levels of government, be it the federal or state levels where we have offices or where our employees are resident. Those are different measures of success for us.
In all, we also ask questions: given what we do and how we do what we do, are we creating an organization that would be successful from one generation of leadership and employees to another? So, sustainability is very important to us. We are not looking at the short and medium term, we are also looking at the long term success of the organization and long term contribution to our community and environments that we operate.
Do you think government has contributed significantly to the electronic payments industry?
I would say yes. Because the successes we have achieved in Nigeria as an industry are significant both in terms of the businesses that have been successful over many years and the new businesses that are being set up within our industry.
The growth is huge. About 10-15years ago, there were very few players. In the last 5 years, the number of new players far exceed the number of players that we had 5 years ago. The activities by players in the industry have been able to attract both domestic and foreign investments. That is also an indicator on how well the industry is doing. There are many services and solutions offered in Nigeria that the different countries or markets in the world that we consider to be developed do not offer. This means that there are certain areas that Nigeria is leading. Therefore, it will be safe to conclude that the industry has received support and encouragement from the government, particularly, in terms of regulatory framework from the Central Bank of Nigeria; and the support has been enormous. As operators, we would always ask for more. But it would be a disservice to those who regulate us if we do not acknowledge that the successes of the industry could not have been achieved without their support.
What are the projections of Unified Payments in the area of business expansion?
In terms of expansion, UP will continue to grow. In terms of diversifications, we would be going into new areas as contribute to the development or growth of the different areas that we already operate. Today, Unified Payments has 3 subsidiaries doing different things in addition to what Unified Payments is doing as an organization. We have Hope Payment Service Bank; we have a payment scheme that is a digital-only scheme called PayAttitude; and the third subsidiary that is focused on electronic commerce and value added services called Payarena. These are four organisations playing different roles in different areas. So, expansion to us means the growth of each of these subsidiaries and the parent company, UP. Expansion for us in the next 5 to 10 years, also means new subsidiaries that will contribute to the growth of Nigeria. It also means how many Nigerians and non-Nigerians we would be able to attract and employ within our group of companies. That is the future that we see for Unified Payments Nigeria as a group of companies.