Nigerians getting over e-payment challenges, says Obaro
With almost four years into the cash-less Nigeria policy, how has the process fared?
Cash-less policy is the direction of the world. The convenience is so obvious. Even in Nigeria, the resistance that was there in the early days is beginning to thin out because people are beginning to see the benefits; they are seeing that this thing works, and things can only get better. So I see a situation in which more players will come. With the banks now fully on board on electronic payments, it is obvious that this is the direction things will go in the country as well.
What are challenges confronting the scheme?
The first thing people always talk about is infrastructural challenges. The mere fact that there are infrastructural challenges has not stopped the rapid growth of e-payment in Nigeria. We are not where we were five years ago. In fact, we are not where we were two years ago. Therefore, many things are improving. We know we are not yet there, but we should not discountenance the fact that a lot of progress has been made. We cannot wait and say we cannot practice e-payment until everything is perfect because that day will not come. Even if you go to the developed countries, you still have occasional failures. You still have communication challenges. It may not be as much as we have here, but they still happen.
Therefore, I really would not want us to focus on a glass that is half-empty, let us focus on the portion that is half-full. We have the opportunities with us here, things are happening, and things are getting better. So, let us focus on the fact that it is growing and the challenges that are coming up are not irresolvable.
What do you have to say about the growing influence of electronic frauds in the country?
There has always been fraud wherever you have man and money. The bulk of cash are now moving from cash to electronic space; of course the robbers will follow. But the good news is that it is actually easier to put in controls in the electronic space. We are not saying fraud will not happen, but it becomes much easier to put in controls.
With tracker, you can monitor where the money is going to and who is doing what. Thieves thrive under anonymity. When they know that they cannot be caught and nobody will know they did it, they will continue. But when they know that in the electronic space, they would be tracked though it takes time, they will retract. Yes, there is electronic fraud, but that I believe is more in the short term than in the long term.
You run an e-payment firm, what have you done to reduce the spate of e-frauds?
As a wholly Nigerian-developed product, we knew from day one that a lot of ambitious people would want to hack into our system. We have built a lot of defence mechanisms from day one. Maybe there might have been some attempts, but none of them has crystallised. We thank God that till date, none has been successful.
This is why players in this industry always put security first. So, we put security first and we are always one step ahead of the hackers. They are there. People should not be discouraged by it. The point is that the level of fraud is still very low across the economy. For nine years, we have never had any case of hacking. This is why we host our system in the same company IBM and other big firms do theirs. Also, we always have our systems checked regularly by independent consultants.
Systemspec and the Federal Inland Revenue Service recently partnered on electronic filing system for tax remittances. What are your expectations from the e-filing scheme?
My expectation is that the taxpayers now know that there are electronic options for them to begin to make tax payments. They may file electronically and effect their payments. They do not necessarily need to go to a bank branch again and they need not move from one bank’s internet banking to another’s again. Log into Remita and make payment from anywhere.
What really does e-filing imply to the taxpayers?
the FIRS has been collecting tax reports manually. They have now created a platform for organisations to be able to file electronically. Now, when you submit your documents into their portal, you will get a reference called document number. You will take that document number to your Remita platform, to make payments and your payments leave your bank account and goes to the FIRS account; you get an acknowledgement and you have proper records of the taxes you have paid.
What exactly is the role of Remita in this scheme?
Remita is a payment engine. Now, a number of organisations today already use Remita to pay vendors, to pay salaries, pension fund administrators and different types of payments. Now, they are able to make tax payments to FIRS. When they pay through the platform, they do not need to submit any document again because we are integrated at the back to FIRS. Therefore, we submit the data that organisation has provided to the FIRS, in addition to moving money to the FIRS. However, does e-filing means that the manual way of paying tax in the country will no longer be in existence? Well, I believe it is going to happen gradually because not all the FIRS offices have been converted. They are doing them in phases. There will be a period of transition, but ultimately the idea is that it goes to a paperless filing arrangement.
There is e-filing and e-payment, are both accessible through the Remita?
Remita is an e-payment platform. It is expected that you must have done your e-filing to collect your reference. When you come to Remita, we will now interrogate the FIRS platform to bring out all your information, and then you make your payment.
What is the relationship between application and the banks?
Now, when customers register on Remita, they fill an application form to their banks. It is their banks that actually register them on the platform. It is a multi-bank platform, so customers come on the platform and put in all their bank accounts. When it is time for them to make any payment, they just select which account they want to fund from. It need not be tied to any particular bank. You may have accounts with different banks. Therefore, you just select the one you want to fund from at that point in time and it goes through the internal approval rule of that organisation.
Won’t the long process involved in e-filing serves as a limitation to an average individual?
For e-filing, we can say that this is the first version of the product. With the first version of the product coming out, there would be some lessons learnt and in the not too distance future, we would expect some improvements. But for clients on Remita, what we have done is to create a simple access point for them to be able to make all their payments and save themselves some cumbersome processes. So, like I said earlier, things may not be perfect, but they will improve with time.
What specific value has your software added to the e-payment space?
Our software is an electronic platform for payment and collection. What we have tried to do is to connect to all the banks to safe the customers the trouble of logging to different websites. What you need to do is to hook up to Remita and you have access to all your banks in Nigeria. That means you can have your bank balances on one single screen and have a total of all your balances across all banks. No need to log in to different banks to monitor what is happening.
From this same platform, you can make payment to all your customers irrespective of where they have their bank accounts – micro-financial banks, commercial banks or mobile wallet. That’s something you can do on Remita. On the same platform, you can power your customers to pay you electronically very easily. This they can do by using debit or credit cards or Internet banking.