How demand for digital solutions in pensions industry led to rapid growth of IT firm

Nathan Kimutai

Nathan Kimutai and Anthony Komen are the co-founders of Agile Business Solutions Limited. The firm develops tech solutions for various industries, including pensions

Photo credit: Pool

While working as software developers for pension schemes and fund managers back in 2012, Anthony Komen and Nathan Kimutai discovered huge gaps that made the pensions industry appear very inefficient in the eyes of consumers.

For instance, many of the digital systems made for the market could only handle pension administration activities, leaving out key functions such as management of finances and investments.

“Clients needed a system whereby all these functions were integrated. They needed solutions such as mobile apps and web portals that could enable them make contributions, check balances and send in queries with ease,” noted Komen in an interview with Powering SMEs.

There was also need for a unified communication and exchange of data system to streamline communications between key stakeholders in the industry and the pensioners.

“In the pension sector, you find there is the fund manager, there is the custodian, the pension administrator and the regulator RBA. All these people are serving the member. So you find even though all these organisations run independently, they need to report the same thing to the client,” said Komen.

In 2013, the duo left their jobs to establish Agile Business Solutions Limited, an IT company that would mainly be involved in the development of pension administration, insurance and fund management solutions.

“We raised Sh100, 000 through our savings and contributions from well-wishers, which we used to set up the company. By then this amount was significant because of the amount of effort it took us to get it,” noted Komen.

They used part of the money to secure a small office space of about 500 square feet at Trance Towers in South B, then began looking for clients. They had the capacity to deliver working solutions, but did not have a portfolio of clients to prove this.

“We would go to someone and they would ask, who else have you done this for. It was very difficult to explain ourselves when we didn’t have strong references,” noted Komen.

This meant that at times, they had to agree to do jobs for clients who paid below market rates, their largest deals at the beginning ranging at about Sh100, 000.

“At times, this really strained because we could not hire the proper talent to help us in handling the jobs," Komen recalls.

They needed people to help them in office administration and stakeholder engagement, tasks which they didn't know much about, but because they did not have the resources to employ the right talent, they had to do all the work by themselves, often burning out as a result.

"Still, we were grateful to the clients for giving us a chance when they were not sure what to expect," said the entrepreneur.

They tried bringing in people with a lower skillset to train them on the job, but as soon as they acquired the skills, they quickly left for better opportunities, sending them back to the drawing board.

“We finally managed to get a client who trusted us with a couple of millions that sustained us for some time. That really changed our dynamic. We were able to bring in more people, including key staff and partners that helped us move our business forward,” Komen said.

The money enabled them to acquire critical infrastructure such as servers, and security solutions for their business. They were also able to move to an office in Kilimani that was about five times larger than the one in South B, enabling them to accommodate a larger team.

They would later move to an office at Jumuia place, still in Kilimani, that was twice as large as the previous one.

“By then we had expanded our business beyond Kenya. We were able to land clients in Nigeria, Ghana, Malawi, Mauritius, Uganda and Rwanda,” noted Komen.

From just two staff, today, Agile Business Solutions Limited has more than 70 staff. These include web developers, HR practitioners, project managers, financial experts and procurement managers who understand the needs of the client better.

They’ve also expanded into offering solutions for other sectors including manufacturing and education. They’ve also worked with parastatals and regulators, providing solutions that enable them to monitor the market.

“We have done some interesting work with NSE, one is called a virtual trader, which helps someone who doesn’t know much about the stock market to understand it better. They are able to trade with virtual money until they understand how the capital market works,” noted the software developer.

They have also worked with the office of data protection commissioner to come up with portals to enable clients register through the data process.

They have also done the core system for the Kenya mortgage and refinance company which manages loans and internal finance functions. Banks, microfinance institutions and saccos can apply, track and pay back loans through the online portal.

“We have also done an Eboard solution that enables boards of companies to have their meetings online, manage information handled during board meetings, pass motions, vote for officials and track attendance for purposes of payments,” said Komen.

They still grapple with issues to do with finding skilled and dedicated personnel to develop solutions and manage other key processes of the company, but Komen says that they have since devised ways to manage this.

“When we were working in Nigeria, my partner and I used to work an average of 12 hours, between 8am-8pm, sometimes even up to 10pm. Even as recent as 2020, when the pandemic struck, we had a mass exodus. All our top talent left and my co-founder and I had to start writing code again,” he said.

They are trying to manage the talent flight by, for instance, setting up robust training programmes for interns, which makes it easy for them to identify upcoming talent and replace outgoing talent.

Agile Business Solutions now plans to expand its reach further by working with partners to develop solutions specifically tailored to the African market. They are also looking to provide more IT training to upskill local talent.