11000 people packed into the Sandton Convention Centre for Africa’s largest annual gathering of business leaders, professionals and entrepreneurs. Featuring over 250 talks and exhibitions at this year’s event it is a market place of ideas covering venture capital, education, digital, insurtech, AI, banking and much more. During the day I presented a talk on FNB’s Smart Financial Solutions for Business Owners and participated in two panel discussions; Organisational Agility and The Future of Banking in Africa.
HR Future hosted the panel on organisational agility which also included Andy Wilson from PWC and trend analyst Dion Chang. Moderated by Sarah Babb from Stellenbosch University Business School we talked about innovation, culture, agile and a range of topics aimed at assisting the audience grapple with issues of achieving breakthrough performance in their teams and companies. Dion’s recent international search for the X factor of innovation caused a number of unexpected “aha moments” while Andy gave the inside story of Standard Bank’s successful journey of scaling up Agile. FNB’s innovative culture already fosters a high degree of agility and I described how digital transformation at FNB is about smart helpfulness built on top of platform business thinking.
For the HR practitioners in the audience I explained how they play a crucial role in helping reshape and retool a workforce by coaching employees through individual re-alignment and team level understanding of agile principles. Tech buzzwords such as AI and robotics shouldn’t be feared because business value is usually co-created through experimentation in multi-functional teams. Andy and I also discussed DevOps and how it is another example of “horizontal organisational value” that is complementary to Agile and an alternative to vertical management and silo-structural mentality.
Another value-destroyer is the notion of keeping people busy with make-work activities and clock-watching performance management. I explained that organisational agility contradicts this notion because it originally comes from the Lean movement, at the heart of which is the intention to “maximise the amount of work not done”. It’s also important to see agility as a set of principles from which useful ones can be selected and adapted, it’s not just a commercial methodology that has to be on or off. For example after 9/11, New York’s response was very agile because the mayor had already been practising daily stand ups with his entire executive committee; this was an established rhythm that also proved very effective in crisis management.
A panel on The Future of Banking in Africa featured a discussion on the dynamics in the industry and the evolving role of fintech. I was joined by RMB Foundery head Liesel Bebb-McKay, Kalon venture capitalist Clive Butkow, Standard Bank Moonshots head Wayne Epstein and PWC’s Andy Wilson who umpired the heated debate. He opened the discussion by recalling the first cellphone banking service from 20 years ago which uses simple dial strings on USSD technology and how this kickstarted the banking-anywhere revolution. Building on this I suggested that the rise of smart phone chat banking is the next revolution that offers use cases for AI technology in conversational customer journeys. Absa, Standard Bank and Nedbank have opted to integrate into proprietary messaging apps such as Facebook, Snapchat and Whatsapp while FNB’s integrated secure chat is being built inside its award winning online ecosystem.
Liesl spoke about how the Foundery solves business problems and offers value for the whole group through fintech prototyping. Importantly, structure is not an impediment and the owner-manager culture ensures that innovation is not departmentalised. Standard Bank’s ‘moonshot innovation ecosystem’ is not profit driven but Wayne pointed out that successful customer centric solutions could be monetised. Clive emphasized his neutral perspective on the topic although he has consulted extensively to banks and thinks the incumbents are underestimating fintech disruption and a possible inflection point in the industry. I pointed out that we were still waiting for the anticipated five new local entrants this year despite press releases which have promised improved consumer choice. Possibly the large international fintechs acquiring banking licenses are also a threat and Clive agreed, indicating that he had no doubt his son would open his first bank account through Facebook.
A rhetorical question from the floor was aimed at the incumbent bank’s apparent knee jerk response to fintech and obsession about brand colours rather than listening to focus groups and customer feedback before pushing new solutions. I chatted with him afterwards and as a colour-blind, tech-savvy senior citizen he feels there is too much focus on millennials and “appifying everything” while he still wants to speak to a human to do his banking, even if it’s not in a physical branch. I also chatted with the product owner of Absa’s Whatsapp chat banking capability and learned that the 86000 interactions have exceeded their volume expectations but people are still learning to converse with a chatbot so the useful conversations are still a relatively low portion of that number. However it’s a minimum viable product with a data set growing every day that will be used to train their machine learning software to adapt to the needs of their human customers.
Lastly I presented FNB’s helpful financial management tools in the Simodsia room where early stage business owners were keen to hear how they could save time and money. As a Business Bank that is passionate about the needs of entrepreneurs, we have developed a range of free solutions which over a quarter of a million businesses are already using. This “software as a service” includes accounting, cashflow, BEE verification, payroll, invoicing, doctrail, ewallet pro, name registration, business directory and even staffing solutions for small business employees. The full toolset is a feature rich value proposition that helps SMEs spend more time on their core business so they can scale up and get to post-startup as quickly as possible.