In 2020 Nicholas Riemer CA(SA) co-founded The Invigilator, an entry-level smartphone application used to monitor online and remote assessments. Since launching the company, The Invigilator has conducted over 1 million assessments and was the No 1 most downloaded education application in South Africa as of September 2021. At the moment the app is used by 15 education entities, including Unisa
Last year Nicholas Riemer walked away as Top 35-under-35 overall winner for making such a significant difference in addressing socio-economic challenges in education through technology. We asked him where it all began.
When did your interest and passion in the education space first begin?
My passion and interest for finance and academia developed in my CTA year as well as during my academic articles. During CTA the finance syllabus just clicked for me, due to the quality of the UJ lecturers. I wanted to excel in the exams and make sure my marks were high enough to be considered for academic articles. During academic articles, I had the opportunity to start lecturing as well as assist on setting papers. Your level of understanding with regard to the CA syllabus goes to the next level when teach it. That’s what I really enjoyed about lecturing. Although you were assisting others to learn, you were also continuously learning yourself as you need to think on your feet and be 100% comfortable with all aspects of the topic at hand.
You spent a year in academia before completing your articles through FirstRand. Tell us more about your time in academia?
Without doubt one of the best decisions I made. That year in academia allowed me to refine my skills as a CA and start to understand the work on a practical level through teaching. The networks and relationships built up at UJ through that year allowed us to start The Invigilator and to have access to what was and wasn’t working in the remote assessment space. Two of my business partners are from the University of Johannesburg, so you could say that decision to spend a year in academia defined my career post articles. I will forever be grateful for what UJ has given me as a professional: from the correct financial foundation to the networks needed in creating a company within the education space.
You then headed up the investment education team at FNB Wealth and Investments. Tell us more about this experience?
This allowed me to take my passion for finance and education and bring it to the corporate world. It allowed me to write articles and conduct interviews on the bank’s behalf unpacking complex investment vehicles and market news in a manner that promoted financial literacy. I really enjoy taking complex topics and unpacking them in a way that allows readers and listeners to make better financial decisions. The strategy within this role was that all South Africans need to be investing: we just need to deliver the correct investment education material to make this a reality.
As an entrepreneur, how would you say your CA(SA) qualification has added value?
The CA(SA) qualification gave me the strongest possible financial foundation in creating a company and competing with some of the big boys within the education space. I have always believed that in order to excel in anything, you need a strong foundation from which you can build. The CA(SA) qualification helped me refine the skills needed in order to create a sustainable company as well as opened up the networks needed in order to excel within the South African and global education sector.
Tell us more about the team behind The Invigilator?
The team is what made The Invigilator possible. Jurie Wessels and Dewald Joubert have been senior lecturers at UJ for close to 15 years each. My brother, Matthew Riemer, was the technology brains behind the solution and coded the majority of the application on his own. The four of us each brough a unique skill set to the table, allowing for a solution with the correct blend of technology and academic insight.
The Invigilator app is one of the top downloaded education apps in South Africa. Did you guys expect Invigilator to be such a huge success?
We backed the idea from the start and thought there was huge potential if we could build the product and bring it to market while the demand was so high during COVID. Did we think it would be the most downloaded education app? No, not at the beginning. When commencing with the build it was about getting a basic product to market that could assist the universities that we had close connections with. But as the company has grown and new features have been created and the app refined, we are all pushing for becoming most downloaded education app globally going forward.
What do you feel still needs to be addressed in the education space?
I think we have all woken up to the fact that technology adds huge benefit within the education space. Its not economically feasible for a university to test students every week in a venue and under test conditions, but with technology this becomes possible. This means continuous learning and continuous engagement with students. This is so much for effective from a teaching and learning point of view as opposed to the traditional year-end exam sitting. In order to utilise technology, students need access to entry-level devices, and I would like to see this becoming part of what is supplied to students to facilitate all-inclusive use of technology within South Africa.
You are a guest lecturer for the University of Johannesburg. For which subject?
Finance honours. It is a subject that I am extremely passionate about and one that allowed me to talk confidently to the media regarding the markets. A sound financial knowledge is also key when looking to grow a business, from private equity deals to financing and funding options.
If you could give the youth a key piece of advice, what would you say?
Don’t become complacent once you achieve your CA(SA) qualification. The road to CA(SA) is long, but once achieved the qualification must be used to its full potential in creating new jobs within SA and excelling in the finance world. We are in an extremely fortunate position to have this financial foundation: it is our responsibility to take advantage of this and become the best version of CAs(SA) we can be.
What would you still like to achieve in your career?
Lots. We have had a good start in creating The Invigilator, but its time to globally scale the business. My goal is to see The Invigilator being used throughout Africa as well as globally, as we know the value it can bring to students as well as teachers and lecturers. I want to continue creating jobs through the company here in South Africa and make the CA(SA) profession proud as we continue to grow and add new revenue elements to the business model.