CIOs step in to help upgrade Africa’s account management systems

As globalization evolves, accounting becomes more central to the development of a modern economy, with the need for greater trust in digital financial transactions. Some African entrepreneurs have begun to address this urgency by developing atypical accounting automation and new management systems where CIOs drive the ins and outs of the processes to keep up with ever-changing markets.

“Digital transformation is crucial for the sustainability and resilience of professional accountancy organizations to meet changing business and market demands,” according to the International Federation of Accountants.

At the 7th African Accounting Congress, taking place May 15 to 18 in Côte d’Ivoire, digital professionals, accountants, entrepreneurs and other experts will focus on holistic and integrated digital solutions to broaden the tax base in African economies. This sector, according to the International Monetary Fund (IMF), is an essential component of most sub-Saharan economies, contributing up to 65% of GDP, and accounting for up to 90% of non-farm employment. It also includes either family businesses that produce some market value without being registered, or, more broadly, underground production carried out by registered businesses that may not be reported to the authorities in order to avoid regulation or taxation, or because they’re simply illegal. 

The Pan African Federation of Accountants (PAFA), in their program at the Congress, invites future participants to prepare a pragmatic approach to the challenges and constraints for successful digitalization, but also to innovative solutions to expand the digital tax base.

So what are ways to store, structure, analyze, and disseminate data collected and centralized to develop digital solutions that promote this? Some entrepreneurs say they’ve already found solutions to make management easier and more beneficial to organizations.

Before specializing as a payment solution for developers, Lipana, a Kenyan fintech that balances books for SMEs, started in 2021 as a simple accounting software company managing invoices and tracking expenses, according to Shadrack Apollo, its co-founder and CIO.

This young firm reputedly offers businesses a more affordable solution than what is generally available on the market. With a basic $8 fee for access to the service on its platform, the start-up wanted to address the need for a cheaper and easier accounting solution.

“Existing players include Sage and Quickbooks, which are generally too complicated and expensive to use for the small business owner,” Apollo says, adding that Lipana solves this problem by simplifying the accounting application process.

In Morocco, Konta, a SaaS platform developed by Issam Dahman, manages the capture, auditing, approval, posting, and payment of supplier invoices. By using artificial intelligence (AI), this paperless B2B solution automates the entire life cycle of supplier invoices, from the receipt of the invoice to its posting and payment.

“It allows our customers to control costs and payment times throughout the chain, and have reinforced anti-fraud compliance control,” Dahman says. “But it also provides complete visibility of the supplier’s debt at maturity.”

Over in Ghana, Ozé is another platform that helps small businesses grow by digitizing record keeping of sales expenses to debts and receivables. But most importantly, it makes data operational.

“When you record a receivable, for example, you can send an invoice and automatically remind your customer to make the payment directly through our system,” says Meghan McCormick, Ozé’s American CEO based in Ghana. “As an example of how we make this data operational, there’s also inventory management, which is the basis of our shop, so every small business owner can have their own e-commerce site without having to write a line of code.”

This solution, she adds, allows developers to use data and run it through a machine learning algorithm with other users, approvals and third-party data to predict credit risk. “We then have a platform we sell to financial institutions that allows them to create a portfolio of loans to micro, small, and medium enterprises digitally and automatically, and we’ve implemented the entire system in Ghana and Nigeria,” she says.

McCormick believes that record keeping is a means to make better decisions for business using data, not an end unto itself. “That’s how we tend to build our system rather than create pure accounting software and think about the lack of extrinsic incentives to do accounting in our market,” she says. “We really use a behavior change model to help our clients deliver on the promise they made to themselves to digitize their records and improve their business.”

Usefulness to the CIO

In Côte d’Ivoire, a solution Called Keiwa, co-founded by Fabrice Koffi, offers a simplified accounting, financial, and inventory management application, which gives a synthetic activity report that controls management ratios with financial statements and an operating account, all in real time. Across Africa, more entrepreneurs are proposing this type of solution with a view to revolutionize the field of accounting for business, clients, and CIOs.

“The efficiency for clients and the effective use of these solutions for the work of the CIO lies in particular factors, like their customer orientation, design with agile methods, ease of use, and their rapid take-up,” says Jules Broux, a CIO consultant from Côte d’Ivoire. “Anything that contributes to the improvement of a process is always good. Digital in business accounting is the best thing there is. Going digital should be included in the process of accounting processing.”

Others like him sometimes go further than the technological solution itself and add the focus on those who develop them. This is what Apollo explains when he says that with Lipana, it’s not just about creating payment systems for business owners. “We do more by focusing on the developers, the real builders of the technology,” he says.

As CIO, he’s active in the entire implementation chain of his solution. “My main responsibility is to ensure that our digital payment solutions are implemented, promoted and integrated seamlessly within our organization and with our customers,” he adds.

He further says he plays a central role in this process, providing strategic direction and technical expertise to his team, as well as overseeing the development, deployment and maintenance of the digital solutions. “To achieve this goal, I work closely with other members of the management team, including our CEO, COO, and managing director of the business to develop a clear roadmap for our digital strategy,” he says. This involves identifying key areas where technology can be used to improve the group’s operations and customer experience, but also evaluating different digital solutions and suppliers to ensure the right investments are made in technology to drive business growth and success.

“Once we’ve identified the digital solutions that are best suited to our organization, I work closely with our development team to ensure they’re seamlessly integrated into existing systems and processes,” he says. “This involves overseeing the development of APIs and other integration tools, as well as testing quality assurance for reliability and security.”

His role also extends to promoting these solutions to customers and partners. To do this, he needs to work closely with his marketing and sales teams to develop messages and materials that effectively communicate the benefits of digital solutions. “It’s also about monitoring customer feedback and making adjustments to our solutions so they meet our customers’ needs,” he says.

CIO, Digital Transformation, Finance and Accounting Systems, IT Leadership