African Banking: Transform, innovate and succeed

The banking industry in Africa is experiencing rapid innovation at the hands of new-age non-banking entrants as well as some incumbent banks. But what causes these players, especially the incumbent banks among them, to innovate successfully where so many others have failed? James Buckley, from Infosys Finacle, looks into this in more detail.

Innovation leadership in banking belies the hype and investment associated with it. The 2019 Innovation in Retail Banking report presented by Efma and Infosys, which surveyed more than 300 banking leaders globally, states that only 14% of banks think they are innovation pioneers and 35% believe they are fast followers.

It is no coincidence that the respondents who rate themselves as leaders also lead Digital Transformation in their markets. The research finds that banks that are able to innovate effectively are better at leveraging data and technology and also are better at Digital Transformation.

Not surprisingly, their organisations are very customer-centric, with a clear idea of customer goals and how to achieve them. Leaders were also found to be measuring their Digital Transformation progress effectively while most mainstream players and laggards reported a lack of definite KPIs to measure the success of their transformation efforts. A huge factor in their success is that the banks have also transformed their organisation and culture to suit the requirements of the digital age.

These expectations are largely borne out in a scan of Africa’s most innovative banks, which have clearly taken the lead in transforming their systems and technologies, overtaking not only domestic banks but also those in other countries.

A number of factors underscore the need and urgency for transformation – the first is the consumers, who are heavy users of online, mobile devices and applications and display a rising preference for digital channels. Second is the relentless pressure from digital players, such as mobile money transfer companies and FinTech, which are attracting such consumers with their digital, innovative offerings.

And third, African banks also need to transform in order to be able to adopt a platform business model and ecosystem banking once Open Banking arrives in the region.

Unlike typically risk-averse financial institutions, African banks – even the big ones – are willing to experiment early on with new technologies. The innovative Standard Bank, the continent’s largest, is shifting production workloads, important core banking software and even mission-critical applications to the AWS cloud to become Africa’s ‘first bank in the cloud’.

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