In this media chat, Chuks Onyebuchi, the Chief Executive Officer of Union System Limited, an indigenous fintech and software development firm with “solid” footprints in the financial sector in Nigeria and beyond, talks about their various solutions in Nigerian banks and how they have been able to deploy world-class financial solutions with a robust support system. He talks about other issues bedevilling the industry such as the dearth of human capacity and skills and the perception of Nigerians towards indigenous software. Anthony Nwosu captures this in an exclusive interview.
Union System Limited has been in the ICT ecosystem for some time, can we know the journey so far?
Our journey spans over 20 years where we started out as a partner to a blue-chip international company. Over the years as we sold and implemented the software products from this company, we discovered a few opportunities disguised as problems.
The products were not able to meet the peculiarity of the region, there was a constant need to source for FX to pay for the systems, and the attendant cost of customization to suit the requirement had become overbearing to customers. The summation of these challenges was why USL, in 2017, decided to write its own products.
USL has been a player in the delivery of financial software solutions to financial institutions for over 2 decades, in this time, we have seen a steady increase in the intricacies of software requirements from these institutions as their processes have evolved to suit the increasing sophistication of their customers. This has inevitably brought about the demand for more efficient but simpler-to-use solutions. This is what USL prides itself in, being able to continuously deliver.
Can you consider your company a fintech considering that you deal with Trade Finance Software?
Yes, USL is a financial technology provider, we however deal primarily with the provision of business-to-business (B2B) enterprise financial software solutions. These solutions have a longer development cycle, and a longer implementation cycle and are very integral to achieving the objectives of the financial institutions that adopt them. Our products range from trade financing software to treasury management applications, integration middleware, core banking solution, payment and messaging hubs, and supply chain finance.
You have deployed your solutions to notable financial houses and banks such as FCMB, Coronation, WEMA etc., how has this been?
USL implementation experience spans over 20 years in Nigeria and other African countries. Most of the trade finance software deployed in many banks in Nigeria was implemented by Union Systems.
These implementations and many others have not only been successful but have helped these banks meet their strategic objectives. Our solutions are very flexible and highly configurable eliminating almost completely the need for customizations. This has increased the rate of adoption within our client’s organization and faster return on investments (ROI).
You recently had a seamless integration into the CBN Trade Monitoring System, (TRMS). How did this happen?
The TRMS is one of several regulatory portals through which the CBN monitors specific international trade and treasury-related transactions. Through collaboration with major financial institutions in Nigeria, we integrated into similar regulatory portals such as the Nigerian Single Window (NSW), Nigerian Custom service (NCS) and the NIBBS portal, so the integration of the TRMS portal was achieved with little challenges. It also helped that we were involved, also through our existing collaborations, with the testing of the initially released pilot version.
Do you think that banks are investing enough in IT infrastructure now that a lot of skills are leaving the country, especially in the area of software development?
Yes, banks are investing more in technology as the volume and sophistication of the transactions and processes they must do is increasing. However, because technology is wide, with many moving parts changing rapidly, banks should concentrate on banking and direct their investments towards technology partners such as indigenous OEMs.
These OEMs or indigenous technology companies are better equipped with the right resources and are nimble enough to keep up with the changing nature of their industry.
Whichever way they choose to invest, whether directly into the business or by paying the right prices for indigenous software solutions, they would be saving money in the long run. These savings can take the form of little or no need to source for FX to pay for the software solutions, training of skill base to man the solutions, the availability of local support for those products, reduced maintenance cost, and management of the dynamic demands of technology.
What is your take on capacity building in the industry?
We are losing a lot of talent to the sweeping “japa” syndrome engulfing us, as such government should encourage universities to build technology clusters that would enable both the public and private sectors to not only build new capacities but retain existing ones. These tech clusters should act as coding centres for younger learners, and there should be deliberate regulations in place to support homegrown systems that are paid appropriately for their solutions. When indigenous software companies receive the right value in terms of payment, they would in turn be able to pay those with the needed skillset commensurably with their international counterparts, ultimately reducing the brain drain plaguing the industry.
Do you think that Nigerians have the capacity to build world-class software?
Definitely yes. USL has demonstrated this already with our flagship Kachasi International Trade Finance solution, our Egora Treasury Management System, our Optimus Multibank Bank Corporate Portal, Our Payment and Messaging Hub Sakobia, our Integration Middleware –Tentacles, and our 24/7 support porta-l ISURA. These are specialist products making waves in the local and international markets.
The same can be said about other sectors of the economy such as health, agriculture, education and so on where we have Nigerians driving change and competing effectively. As the support, adoption, and the right value is placed on world-class indigenous solutions, such as ours, Nigerians will continue to break the glass ceiling and produce software that can compete on a global stage.
Kachasi, tell us how and where you have deployed this important Trade Finance Software.
Kachasi is in production in 5 commercial and merchant banks in Nigeria today. We are in the advanced stages of negotiation with several other banks in Nigeria and Kenya.
What is your support system like?
Our approach to support starts with building capacities within the banks right from the implementation stage thereby ensuring a formidable first line of support from within and that the right sense of ownership is attained before the end of the implementation project. Where the bank is unable to solve the problem with its first line of support, the issue is logged on our support portal, ISURA, where our team of experts representing a second line of support are available for prompt resolution.
ISURA is accessible by all our clients 24/7 for receiving and managing support requests and a dedicated support team that ensures that all support requests are attended to in the shortest time possible. We also provide premium-level support services for clients with more intense support requirements.
What do you perceive as the advantage of deploying an indigenous solution?
Yes, Kachasi (previously Trade-X), Optimus (Single and multibank), Isura, Sakobia, Tentacles and Egora were all designed and developed by USL in our Lagos, Nigeria Head office. Some advantages of adopting our solutions include the elimination of the need to source for FX to license them, the availability of local support, the ability to meet local unique requirements etc.
Our multiple decades of experience, an understanding of the challenges of a particular market, and the ease of configuring our system to adapt to that market while providing international/standard best practices guarantees that all our solutions give the needed advantage to our clients and partners.
What differentiates your Tentacles software from others?
Tentacles are our Enterprise Service Bus (ESB) managing integrations and interoperability between diverse applications, channels, and portals both within and external to a financial institution. The drag-and-drop simplicity of setting up mediation for multiple message types, real-time monitoring of all integration nodes and channels, and the very friendly user interfaces, requiring no technical knowledge are some of its advantages.
Can we know the challenges that you face as an organization?
Every sector has its peculiar challenges, I’d like to believe that one of the major challenges with the sector we operate in is that of mindset. A lot of decision-makers still believe that foreign solutions are always better than indigenous ones and that indigenous solutions are synonymous with less quality, this is not true for us at Union Systems. There is also this belief that indigenous software must be cheap because they believe that it is inferior. What most people fail to realize is that the skillset required to create software abroad is the same required in Nigeria. This is important because we must pay our people commensurably with their counterparts. This faulty mindset and low pricing push local software providers to lower their standards thereby creating substandard products when compared to their international counterparts. Ultimately there needs to be a concerted effort to push for more partnerships with credible and experienced local OEMs and in turn, increased adoption of indigenous solutions.