NICO Group launches Innovation Hub to provide innovative and easy access to its products and services for clients

In alignment with part of its digitisation strategy, NICO Group has launched the first of its kind, the Innovation Hub — an information, communication & technology (ICT) platform, which has been designed in-house to provide innovative; easy access to products and services to its clients across the board.

At the official launch on Monday at Ryalls Hotel in Blantyre, NICO Group Managing Director, Vizenge Nyirenda, said the Innovation Hub concept started as a project for the Group’s subsidiary NBS Bank, which was supported by its international partners Rabobank — of The Netherlands.

“The concept was later adopted as a Group initiative — led by NICO Technologies because it was in alignment with part of our digitisation strategy” — since NICO Group recognizes “the important role that technology and digitization plays, and will continue to play, as a catalyst for development throughout the world”.

Kumwenda and Mtumbuka pose with the Hub’s software developers

He took cognizance that the MW2063 Vision aims to build ‘An Inclusively Wealthy and Self-reliant Nation’ and “technology is clearly highlighted as an enabler to the achievement of MW2063”.

“Specifically, MW2063 states that technology will be embraced ‘to promote development and use of inclusive financial systems’.

“It further states that ‘financial services and products will be offered through diverse and modern digital platforms that are convenient, available and accessible to everyone, especially those in remote areas’.

“We cannot, therefore, expect to be recognized as the leading financial services Group in Malawi if we do not lead in technologically-driven innovation.”

The Innovation Hub housed in part of Ryalls Hotel

The Hub, whose platform is housed in Ryalls Hotel itself, will assist clients to open accounts with NBS Bank on their own without visiting a banking hall or NBS Bank agent — just through their phones or laptops and using their National Identity number.

The clients will also be able to navigate through their accounts for various services that include credit scoring to assess if they could access an instant loan while clients — whose pay point is through NBS Bank — would also apply for a salary advance for that month.

Insurance clients would be able to renew their premiums online while those wishing to join the system would be able to enquire of the products and services available through a chat box and all their queries shall be responded to instantly.

All these services were demonstrated in real time by Edward Molenaars from Rabobank in liaison with the Innovation Hub’s team he led to initiate the project.

The NBS Bank ICT and Digital Banking team comprises young innovative software developers, whom Kumwenda inspired to utilise the platform to transform the economic development of customers in particular and of the country in general.

Under the theme: ‘Innovate to Lead’, Kumwenda said the Innovation Hub will be key to the NICO Group in “maintaining a leadership position in the industry” and thus looks forward to the “innovative solutions that will be developed in this space — for the benefit of staff, our customers, the financial services industry and indeed, the nation”.

“Colleagues, let me impress upon you that the Innovation Hub is key to our very survival in the industry. As consumer needs become more complex, those who are better positioned to quickly respond to changing needs and trends will be the ones customers turn to.

“We need to ensure that customers can access our products at the tips of their fingers, from anywhere and at an affordable cost. Fully digitised processes and products are what will help us to achieve this — and such solutions are what I am expecting the Innovation Hub to produce.”

He also acknowledged the team that built the Hub led by Rabobank’s Edward Molenaars, who worked alongside NICO Technology CEO Clarence Gama and his team; NBS Bank Chief Operations Officer, Shadrick Chikusilo and his team of NBS Bank ICT and Digital Banking.

“They worked on bringing the concept of the Innovation Hub to life,” Kumwenda said. “Let me also thank all the NICO Group CEOs for your support of this project.

“As the owners of the businesses, I task you to keep tabs of the goals for the Innovations Hub as it is has set up to help you achieve your digitisation goals. Indeed, let each one of us embrace this initiative as we ‘Innovate to Lead’.

In his remarks, Clarence Gama, the NICO Technology CEO said NICO Group has embraced the need for innovation and technology to continue leading in the financial services industry.

“NICO Technologies, as the chief information officer of the group, is very happy to play a key role in enabling that leadership journey and this is therefore a very happy day — not just for the technology teams present today — but all ICT and digital teams in the group.

“The works of setting up the Hub that have led us here today date back as far as 2019 and since then the hub has recruited and trained software developers that have been working on several software solutions.

“We identified a space in this hotel which is our main operating space, setup with an ambiance to promote critical thinking and innovation.

“The journey has been exciting with so much input from stakeholders to ensure that in the end we created something of value to the NICO customer — and that’s what we are trying to achieve at the Hub — value.”

Gama emphasised that the hub delivery’s value is to engage closely all the companies in the Group — “by understanding their business, asking critical questions and thinking outside the box to come up with a solution which is then turned into a technology solution”.

“Therefore, the hub alone without the involvement of the companies, is not capable of delivering any value, and that is something that we understand very much.”

He acknowledged support the project received from NICO Technologies board through its chairperson Matthews Mtumbuka — an accomplished ICT engineering expert — who graced the launch and applauded NICO Group for the innovative platform.

He said as someone who has a lot of experience in science and technology, he was very impressed with what he has witnessed — saying to him it was like he was having a sumptuous meal.

He described NICO Group and its partner Radobank as pathfinders of new way of developing the economic landscape of the country while also encouraging the Hub’s developers to enhance the system to be very secured against cyber crime.

He concurred with GMD Kumwenda that this is indeed part of the aspiration of the MW2063 that technology should be embraced to promote development for use of inclusive financial systems.

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