In April 2020, staff of People’s Pension Trust met our new CEO, Saqib Nazir, after the sad and sudden demise of the former one, Samuel Waterberg. Mr. Nazir was however not completely new to the team, having served as a board member previously. What was new however, was working and interacting with him very closely and to follow his lead towards achieving the company’s vision. And, it has been quite a journey so far!
As a fintech enthusiast, it has been inspiring to learn from him the many possibilities that exist when technology is used right to impact human lives, especially that of informal sector workers who are normally excluded from social safety nets. Well, as 2020 draws to a close we sat down with him to talk retrospect, purpose, vision, and direction for PPT in 2021 and beyond. He also gave us a sneak peek into his personal life.
So, we would like you to also meet our CEO- Saqib Nazir.
PPT - So first question is about your work with the company so far. You have been steering the affairs of the company for a few months now. What about PPT will you say gets you out of bed in the morning?
Saqib - Very interesting. Well, I'm very excited about PPT, even from the very early days, It's still the same feeling for me. Well, when I say early days, first the reason why I got involved as an investor, but now, recently, since Samuel’s passing, because of COVID, for me it presents a perfect scenario for me, personally, this is a company that is going to use technology to help people to have some income security, whether now or in their old age. And its financial services, it's reaching out to the informal population. It's a commercial enterprise, but really, it's also going to do good.
So, for me, that presents a lot of opportunity in the market to really reach out and grow our customer base once again using technology. So, all these things, keep me very excited. And the more time I spend on this, the more and more I get excited about the potential opportunity, and how we can all get involved to address the situation.
PPT - So beyond the potential that you see, are there any threats or some weaknesses that that you think would impact the business going forward?
Saqib - COVID in itself was a huge threat. And companies do organize scenarios around what they call black swan events, there's high risk, but low probability of it happening, but that's what's happened this year, with COVID. Okay, who would have foreseen it coming? When companies do their planning scenarios, pandemics is always a big issue in it. But the chances of it happening are very low. So, there are always risks in everything we do. And I think that's where the entrepreneur mentality really comes into play.
That am a bit more able to handle risks, and to take it one day at a time. So, the risks are there, but what are the real risks? The real risks are, is it competition? But you know, it's a long-term game. Who else wants to do this? It's a long-term return. Who else has the patient capital to do this? Who else has our understanding of the market today, who else has invested in the way we have now invested in technology to get this to happen? So, I'm not worried about competition.
The market is so big that if other people want to get involved to help the informal population, they are more than welcome. We will even share our experiences, whatever we have to share. But assess the risk of situations like these, poverty, situations that can impact the informal economy to slow it down, that could in turn have an impact on our go-to customer strategy.
PPT- So what does growth look like for you in 2021, that’s just around the corner.
SAQIB - In 2021, we want to reach 100,000 customers, or 110,000 customers, if you add the formal and the informal, and we want to have an AUM of about $5 million. So, very aggressive, and of course with much higher activity rates. I think considering the investments we are making, considering the funding we've received, considering the efforts we're making in technology, we should be able to do better than that. So, for 2021 that's what I'm looking at, to touch at least 100,000 informal workers and get them to save at least about GHs20 ($3.40) a week. That's the average I'm looking at.
PPT - Like you said, that's an aggressive target or a very ambitious one. So of course, I guess you have some expectations of the team, what's will these expectations be?
SAQIB - I think it's the expectation for the team to be aligned. For the team to be the best that they can be in their field, to really understand what we are doing, and to understand where the whole world is going. So more than skill, it's a mindset of what's happening in the world.
Everybody is using a mobile phone, everyone is using WhatsApp, everyone is using Facebook. How is that translating into how we see that as our business? And so more than skill, skill can always be learned, it is a mindset of understanding that we are one team, that we've got to work together.
There's no right or wrong, but there is what is to be done for the company. It's not about who did it, it's about what's right for the company and working hard. To be willing to learn, to be willing to jump in, to get hands dirty, to be willing to explore, be curious, be adventurous, and to understand where we are going and also to have a passion beyond just wanting to earn an income, to understand really why we are here. Yes, we are all here for money. We are all here for a salary. But thankfully at least what I have found is a purpose, and I hope everyone can also find that purpose. So, for me that's brings a lot of satisfaction into the job. And of course, in meeting the target is also that additional reward.
PPT- You are very big on technology, at least from the interactions we've had with you, it shows in the way that you want to lead the company, but then again, we are dealing with an informal sector that is not going at the same pace as the world is moving and i think that presents a very big challenge. As the CEO, what are your expectations and strategies going forward.
SAQIB - Yes, Very valid question. 2 things, technology is a game changer. If we don’t use it, somebody else will use it and take the lead. You’ve seen how technology has changed the world, with uber, with Airbnb, with WhatsApp, with Facebook, with zoom, with email, with mobile phones. I want to make sure that we are also using the technology as best as we can. I don't want to have any false expectation about technology.
At the same time, technology is just an enabler. So, it doesn't change anything in the end also. Fundamentally, It's a bit of a paradox. It can change everything, but in the end, we are dealing with human beings, we are dealing with financial services, we are dealing with pensions, we are dealing with the informal economy, so we also have to be careful to judge what it is we want to do. If we just roll it out blindly, it will also lead to failure. So that's a certain balance we have to find. How do we push people and yet not push too hard that we fail. And at the end of the day, we also want to challenge ourselves.
We are not here to do things the same old ways otherwise what's the excitement in innovation, so we are here to innovate. We have a certain box that we are in-not everyone has a phone, not everyone has mobile money and not everyone is technology friendly. But part of my challenge that I am setting for myself and therefore the team is to pull everyone through.
If we just take no as an answer the first time, what are we going to do, roll up and die?
So the challenge is, yes, to understand all of their resistance, all the issues, whether they are real or aligned, and to find ways to overcome them, you know, that's the challenge. Not to get too carried away by technology, but also leverage it in the right manner, wherever appropriate. to find ways of convincing people or incentivizing them or educating them to be able to move on with technology. On the flip side, if we don't leverage technology, our business model is not going to work, we don't have an option, but to figure out how to apply the technology in a way that is relevant for us and helps us in our specific environment.
PPT - Will you then consider being able to use technology in the way that you have just described, as the most important achievement you would have been able to accomplish for the company in the future?
SAQIB - I think the most important achievement is really in the end, technology is just a tool, its just the enabler, the most important achievement is to see in the end, how many people we are able to serve. That is the end game. Luckily, it goes hand in hand with technology. But once again, technology for the sake of technology is not the answer. Its the economic situation that we create for yourself and for our consumers. So, I want to be very careful to build the appropriate tools.
It's not just technology, technology is also presenting the story to people on how to use the technology. its the financial incentives, the social reengineering that we have to do to get people to get excited about the products. And this is where we have to come back to look at the work, we did with WURI, it wasn't just talk about behavioural science, about technology, tomorrow, artificial intelligence, data mining and human-centered design, so its the perfect scenario.
And for me, that's when things make sense, when it's perfect from every angle, so it has to be perfect from technology, but it has to be perfect from the human angle, it has to be perfect from the communication angle, it has to be perfect from the operational angle. It has to be fantastic from every angle you look at this, that’s what for me is the alignments of the stars. And that's what really gives you the best chance at success. When everything is aligned when everything is just right. We'll do our best as human beings; we are not perfect. We will do our very best to get everything right, so we get a good chance for our customers.
PPT - Okay, just one question that’s a bit off, you are a workaholic, at least from what we see, how do you unwind.
SAQIB- I used to do kick boxing. But unfortunately, because of the pandemic, I am not able to work with my trainer. So, I'm out of shape. I was doing kickboxing three times a week, at six in the mornings. But because of the pandemic, I can't do it. So, we are all stressed, I won't lie to you. It's very stressful. It's very tough, I'm not able to take a holiday. I don't really feel like going anywhere.
But luckily I enjoy my family at home, I try to read a bit, I try to watch a movie. I feel like I'm behind on my spiritual relationship with God. I wish I had more time to pray and to reflect and to meditate, but I don't. So that is a challenge, but I do my best to carry on. By I’m hoping that the pandemic will be over, then we can have at least some of those things that help us to unwind and relax.
PPT - Okay, so any message for our members and our stakeholders. Christmas is almost here. Any anything for the Christmas and new year.
SAQIB - I'd like to thank everyone for having stood by us during this difficult year. And from the creation of the company and to wish everyone a merry Christmas, a safe time, to stay safe, not to let their guard down. And to really prepare for next year. God willing the funding is in place. We have enough funding for one year. I’m working on more funding. We are working on the technology. And now it's up to us now, we don't have any excuse anymore. And it's really up to us now to deliver. Just as I'm a workaholic, I really expect everyone also to deliver their best. And to add value to the equation for everyone for themselves to gain value.