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Nigeria has experienced impressive growth in digital services, says Ifedi

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Charles Ifedi is the Chief Executive Officer, eBanqo, a cloud software provider. He spoke to BENJAMIN ALADE on the challenges of digital services in Nigeria, and why organisations need to prioritize instant responses to demands of customers as part of the new normal in the business world. Excerpts:

Many customers are unhappy with digital services in Nigeria, due to poor interaction and engagement between organisations and their customers especially when they have challenges using the platforms. What do you think can be done differently going forward?
When organisations provide digital services to customers, they mostly focus on the specific services that they want their platform to deliver to customers, while giving little thought to the processes to deal with platform glitches and customer issues. They focus more on how to win new customers, and less on how to give excellent services to their existing customers. This is counterintuitive because we all know that it is easier and cheaper to retain an existing customer than to win a new one. I’d typically recommend that companies should spend time planning for when things do not go as planned. Very few companies provide good support, so providing impeccable support can very easily be a competitive advantage. If a company already provides good customer service, the next step is to eliminate delays in providing responses to customer enquiries and speed up the resolution of customer challenges; this can be done by utilizing direct messaging platforms that can deliver instant responses to customers, instead of the traditional phone and email alternatives.

What kind of growth has Nigeria attained in digital services?
Over the years, Nigeria has experienced impressive growth in digital services. It is the largest mobile market in sub-Saharan Africa, and also has a strong mobile broadband infrastructure and improved international connectivity. Data from the International Telecommunications Union, (ITU), reveals that Internet usage in Nigeria is currently at over 27 per cent, above the African average of 22 per cent. Even though these numbers are still very low, the growth in the last 10 to 15 years has been very significant. What is really impressive is that Internet speeds have increased and Internet data tariffs have decreased because of Nigeria’s connection to undersea international cables. This means that more people have access to the Internet and businesses ought to exploit this increased access to extend their services to more platforms.

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How can direct messaging platforms, and eBanqo help to curtail the spread of COVID-19 in Nigeria?
It is common knowledge that the easiest way to curb the spread of COVID-19 is through social distancing. To achieve social distancing measures, businesses operate remotely. But this posed a problem for most support teams because they relied heavily upon on-premise software to do their jobs. As a cloud software provider, eBanqo enables support teams to work remotely. All that is needed is Internet connectivity and a laptop.

Also, businesses can use eBanqo’s solution to extend their services to direct messaging platforms thereby reducing the need for in-person visits. Take the simple case of a bank where traditionally customers have to visit a branch to open an account or provide KYC documents; but with our service, that entire process is automated and people can open accounts, authenticate themselves, and upload the necessary documents, right from WhatsApp or Facebook.

With the massive spread of technological innovations across the world and Nigeria, don’t you think the development will take away jobs from many Nigerians who are not tech-savvy?
Technology innovations have varying impacts on jobs. Our focus is to enhance job productivity, up-skill workers, and enable them to transition into more rewarding roles. One of the use cases of our solution includes the use of Chabot or digital assistants in sales and support. This reduces the workload of personnel, enriches their jobs, and enables them develop AI-training skills. They monitor the organization’s Chabot and train it to better understand customer intents and give better responses. AI-training jobs are steadily on the rise in the West, and I am proud to say that we’re bringing it into Nigeria too.

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From Interswitch to eBanqo, how has it been?
It wasn’t really a challenging transition from Inter-switch to eBanqo; it has however been an “interesting” journey having to start another business from scratch after such a successful run at Interswitch. After 15-plus-plus years at Interswitch, I stepped away from my executive position in order to pursue a doctorate in business administration. I started eBanqo towards the end of my doctoral programme, so I had been away from corporate life for a couple of years. The experiences that I had in software development and consulting prior to Interswitch, as well as my learning at Interswitch and Verve, have helped prepare me for my new life at eBanqo. I am so much more experienced now than I was when we started Interswitch, I am more mature, and I also have a stronger network now. I definitely hope to avoid several of the mistakes that I made in the past.
 
How can we tackle the issue of cybercrime with the services you offer?
Our platform is highly secure, complying with various security requirements and KYC protocols. For instance, every interaction on the platform, starting from the customer, through the channels that is, Facebook, twitter, WhatsApp, webchat, eBanqo’s systems, and the client’s infrastructure, is encrypted end-to-end. All messages that include sensitive information are handled out-of-band via a https page, OTP, USSD push, or IVR call. eBanqo ensures that no client’s customers’ private information is stored on eBanqo’s systems and tokens are used to uniquely represent customers and transact with client systems. All sensitive data like API keys are encrypted using AES at rest. The token, which is used to authenticate API requests between eBanqo’s servers and clients or partner institutions, is signed using HMAC with SHA-256 and is validated using a private key in our infrastructure. The token issuer and expiry is validated for each request before the request can be processed.

With the spring up of customer interaction platforms and the services you offer, don’t you think you are taking the jobs of customer relations unit of financial institutions?
As I said previously, we aren’t. By having a Chatbot handle tier-one issues and respond to common questions, we are freeing up more time for support staff, and helping them to devote their attention to pressing issues that cannot be automated.

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Charles Ifedi
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