Business News

From banker to techpreneur, Kofo Akinkugbe is blazing the trail in smartcard technology

Article Summary

  • Kofo Akinkugbe is a respected techpreneur and founder of SecureID, a leading provider of smartcard solutions in Africa for the banking and telecoms industries.
  • She has a strong background in mathematics and banking, which shaped her management skills and led her to establish Interface Technologies and later SecureID.
  • SecureID is known for its innovative card technology and solutions, being certified by Visa, MasterCard, and Verve, and operating in 16 African countries. Kofo Akinkugbe is passionate about innovation and encourages a creative and forward-thinking approach in business.

Nigeria is leading the way in Smart card technology and digital security in Africa, and we have Kofo Akinkugbe to thank for that.

Kofo Akinkugbe is a highly respected techpreneur and the founder of SecureID, a foremost player in providing smartcard solutions for the banking sector and the telecoms industry in Africa. She is also one of Africa’s thought leaders on the subjects of entrepreneurship and innovation in the technology sector.

Early Life

Koforowola Akinkugbe was the fourth child of her parents and grew up in a home where parental attention was in abundance. She recounts in an interview that her father was very hands-on and made himself available to spend time with his children.

  • “He brought us all together, taught us the rudiments of life, and taught us the values of hard work, discipline and honesty, as well as building up our Christian faith. Being the best was very important to him, and I remember that he would teach us math at weekends because it was important to him that we were all good at math. I had a very inclusive and loving family that was larger than life. I grew up in a very strong Christian background; I also remember how my dad would bring all his children together for prayers at 6 a.m. every day, which has lived with me until now.” –Kofo Akinkugbe

Even after her father passed on at a young age, her mother filled the gap in raising the children to become successful in their endeavours.

She attended Corona, proceeded to the Methodist Girls High School, and went abroad for a short time before returning to Nigeria to attend the University of Lagos where she graduated as a prize-winning graduate in Mathematics. She later took up a Chevening Scholarship to study for an MBA at Strathclyde Graduate Business School Scotland, UK

Over the years, she has also taken other courses including the Owner/President Management program with the Harvard Business School in 2020, the Blue Ocean Strategy Program with LBS-INSEAD in 2010, and the Essentials of Leadership course with the London Business School.

From Banking to Entrepreneurship

It is interesting to see that even though Kofo had always run away from mathematics in her early education, she ended up toeing the path and even winning a prize as the best student in the faculty.

  • “I studied mathematics, which I never imagined I would do. It’s one issue that I know my dad had with me. I was always running away from mathematics, but I ended up choosing it as a major,” she recounted.

After graduating, Kofo knew that she did not want to continue on that path and going into a banking career seemed like a valid alternative.

  • “When I left the university, I knew that I didn’t want to stay on as a lecturer or go on to do a postgraduate degree or anything of the sort. But I loved mathematics so much that I won the first prize in the faculty, but I knew that I wouldn’t continue with it and be in the education field. When I left the university, working in banking was the coolest thing. And I thought, at a young age, that I wanted to work in one of the best banks at that time.”

After completing one year with the Nigerian Youth Service Corps, she joined International Merchant Bank (IMB), a Nigerian affiliate of the First National Bank of Chicago, and later worked for Chartered Bank as a pioneer staff member. She spent a total of 12 years in the banking industry before leaving to start Interface Technologies in 1997.

  • “Banking was very good at shaping my management skills, and it was a career I thought I would end up rising in the ranks. I thought I was going to be an executive director or managing director of a bank. But I think I got to a crossroads when I started raising a young family, and I felt I needed more time to focus on raising my young girls. I wanted to spend more time with my young family. Being at home taking care of my girls, I thought to get another job that would give me more time, but whilst I was home, an idea of biometric technology came up in some discussions I had, and that was how I set up my first company, called Interface Technologies, which allowed me to work from home,” she narrated.

Interface Technologies Limited (ITL) was established as a security management and biometrics technologies company. It provided security management systems, such as access controls, CCTVs, and all kinds of security management solutions for clients. From starting the business in her house with one staff, Akinkugbe moved out and employed up to 40 staff, eventually running the business for nine years.

Birthing a new company out of a department

In 2006, Kofo Akinkugbe started SecureID Nigeria Ltd. This small company was an offshoot of a small department in Interface Technologies and would soon become the first VISA-certified plant in sub-Saharan Africa. SecureID is focused on the production of banking and telecom cards with a mag stripe and chip encoding.

SecureID is not just in the business of creating MasterCard and Visa for several African countries, it “has been recognised as setting the standard for innovation and creativity in the SmartCard Sector in sub-Saharan Africa.”

Since its launch in 2005, SecureID has shown itself to be the market leader that would blaze the trail with innovations in card technology and solutions. SecureID is certified by Visa, MasterCard, and Verve for Chip Embedding, Chip Encoding, Chip Personalization, Card Personalization, and Card Fulfillment.

In January 2015, SecureID commissioned a brand new state-of-the-art manufacturing facility in Lagos state, Nigeria. The EMV-certified smartcard manufacturing plant was the first of its kind in Sub-Saharan Africa and would be used for the manufacturing of bank payment cards, SIM cards, SIM packages for the telecoms industry, and other high-security polycarbonate identity cards.

On May 10, 2015, SecureID unveiled a new online enrolment solution for Nigerian lawyers to aid the seamless enrolment of members to the Nigerian Bar Association (NBA). In January 2017, SecureID Ltd commissioned a SIM Card manufacturing line to support the needs of Nigeria’s rapidly growing mobile telecoms sector.

The company has business operations in 16 African countries, making it another testament to a manufacturing company founded in Nigeria that is competing successfully in a global market. In October 2012, SecureID Limited was named the Most Outstanding Mature Business in the 3rd African Leadership Network Awards for Entrepreneurship, in recognition of its excellent business practice.

Speaking about her entrepreneurial journey, Akinkugbe said; “There were many learnings in finance, so by the time I started my entrepreneurial journey, I knew what it was to try and access finance. I knew what it was to write a business plan, analyse the risks very well, and execute flawlessly.

So, being in finance gave me those skills. Then, whilst I was in banking, I remember that I was in corporate banking and handling many manufacturing companies. So I felt a natural affinity for manufacturing, and going into manufacturing was fun.”

Disrupting SecureID

Despite the smooth business run that SecureID had, Akinkugbe was still on the lookout for ways to do things differently.

  • “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 explained.

In this way, Akinkugbe further branched out into producing digital cards and even e-tickets for the transportation sector so that commuters could download and use e-tickets to board, without necessarily having to get physical paper tickets.

Lover of innovations!

It is no secret that Akinkugbe is big on innovations, and in fact, she has severally been quoted on it.

  • “We need to create an environment that would drive creativity. Do not be afraid to test new things. We must be creative, ensuring we are a step ahead of the competition. Keep innovating! Encourage staff to be innovative, and do things innovatively. There are so many opportunities out there. We live in a digital world, and we must respond to the dynamic changes that are going on around us.”

Back to top button