Kofo Akinkugbe's decision to leave banking and become a secure tech entrepreneur has had consequences of continental proportions.
Gbemisola Esho, bird story agency
When it comes to manufacturing smart cards and providing digital security devices, there are only six plants in Africa that offer world-class facilities. One of those, certified by VISA, Verve and Mastercard, is in Lagos. And it is run by a woman.
The SecureID offices, located in the metropolitan area of Lagos are a hive of activity on this regular weekday. The company's executive is laser-focused on a system in front of her, making decisions that will affect the lives of millions, around the continent. What is immediately apparent is that this is a highly complex operation.
“We saw a gap in the payment industry in the country where there were no manufacturing facilities and all the cards were imported. And this would cause cards that would ordinarily be gotten in 24 hours to take weeks and sometimes months. We saw that the market was huge in Nigeria, being populous,” explained technology entrepreneur and founder and CEO of SecureID, Kofo Akinkugbe, of the company's early beginnings.
"The story behind it is that of a company that offers security and management systems such as Closed Circuit TV, using biometrics, and card assessment. We did that for about nine years and we were invited to be a member of the board of trustees," she said, of the company's transition to a full-blown security solutions group.
Kofo’s SecureID is today a globally recognised market leader in African smart card technology as well as the digital security industry. It's an industry that is constantly evolving and Kofo has shown herself to be adept at moving with the times.
"SecureID itself is a layer of layers of innovation," the entrepreneur explained.
“We made sure we also had the capacity to offer our services outside Nigeria, as well. Today, Secure ID Limited is a market leader in smart card technology and digital security, one of the six world-class manufacturing facilities with its plant in Africa that produces smart cards, the only one in West Africa catering to 21 countries and certified by VISA, Verve (GSMA/SAS), and Mastercard,” she explained.
The group advertises itself as Africa's leading manufacturer of smart cards and other identity documents. According to the company's website, its SecureCard Manufacturing is the "first smart card manufacturing plant in Nigeria and the first polycarbonate card manufacturing plant in Africa". The group also offers end-to-end identity management and digital security solutions to the public, private, finance, telecoms, and retail sectors.
But the entire operation may never have come into being if the award-winning mathematics graduate from the University of Lagos, and Chevening Scholar, had not started feeling she was done with her previous career.
“I actually started in the banking sector but I came to a place where I felt unfulfilled. I felt I needed to rediscover myself and my purpose and at the same time be available for my girls who were little at that time. So I left banking,” Akinkugbe explained.
“In 1998, while I was at home working, an idea came to me. It was about biometrics, security management and engineering. At home back then when I started SecureID, it was called Interface Technologies. We started with one engineer, then grew to 40 and I started my first company,” Akinkugbe related.
SecureID is an offshoot of one small department of Interface Technologies.
In January 2015, SecureID commissioned a modern and advanced production facility in Lagos state, focusing on the production of bank payment cards, SIM cards, telecom industry SIM packages, and other identity cards with high-security features, all made from durable polycarbonate materials.
When Omobola Johnson, the then-Nigerian Minister of Communication, and Chairperson of the Alliance for Affordable Internet (A4AI), commissioned and endorsed the facility, she described it as one of the most sophisticated smart card production units on the continent.
“Smart cards with embedded chips are key to our digital existence. SIM cards, biometric identity cards, debit and credit cards are used extensively and they are becoming part of our personal and corporate staple,” Johnson told BusinessDay, a Nigerian business paper, at the time.
Johnson herself has been a trailblazer in the digital and financial inclusion space. The company behind the facility Johnson commissioned has since gone from strength to strength, offering African capacity to international organisations.
“We applaud their foresight in making this investment in providing improved quality service to their customers and we are pleased to have partnered with them,” said MasterCard Vice-President and Area Business Head for West Africa, Omokehinde Adebanjo.
In 2015, SecureID launched an online enrolment solution for Nigerian lawyers. The system aids the seamless enrolment of members to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). Then, in 2017, the company commissioned a SIM card manufacturing line to support the country's rapidly growing mobile telecoms sector.
Today the group offers digital security solutions for the financial services sector, telecommunications, government, education, healthcare, transport systems and private enterprises, impacting millions all over the continent.
Akinkugbe is an astute entrepreneur. As a recipient of the prestigious Africa Awards for Entrepreneurship Mature Business Award and Fate Foundation Model Award, she also mentors youth, particularly women, encouraging them to strive for excellence in their careers, against all odds.
Despite all these achievements, Akinkugbe constantly innovates and believes a company should be proactive. SecureID still benchmarks the facility against global standards, constantly getting certifications to maintain high standards, creating an environment that is innovation-friendly, and building a company that can absorb shocks by diversifying. Looking ahead to a cardless future, she has begun diversifying in that direction.
“I said I would rather disrupt myself than have external companies disrupt us. So this digital company looked at everything we do and saw how it could disrupt whatever we’re doing. So if we have physical cards, we can also have digital cards, right? If we have a physical driver’s licence, we can have an electronic driver’s licence, and so on, and that was how our fintech company was founded,” she said.
With contactless payment security uppermost in most users' minds and an entire industry ready to be disrupted, the future looks bright.
Akinkugbe's mantra rings very true: "Always seek and harness innovation for business success".
bird story agency