Last week we caught up with Barclays Africa’s Group Chief Creation Officer – Yassi Hadjibashi. We spoke about the need to forge a culture of experimentation at incumbent bank-level in order to fail fast and forward, the importance of financial innovation in driving financial inclusion and spearheading Africa’s digital transformation and the benefits of fintech-bank partnerships. Yassi is one of the youngest female CxO-level leaders in international banking and as the bank’s first Group Chief Creation Officer, she is driven to accelerate the creation of new innovative consumer solutions and banking experiences for the continent.
FTC: There is a prevailing school of thought that the majority of banks will fail at transformational change with risk aversion as the most insurmountable obstacle. Drawing from your experience as Chief Creation Officer, how can banking giants foster a culture of innovation and need it be top-down to create lasting change?
YH: Across the globe, entire industries and sectors are facing disruption from agile and flexible start-ups that utilise emerging technology in innovative ways to provide offerings to customers. The financial services industry is not immune to this disruption, as fintechs utilise new technology to deliver financial services in novel, more effective ways and, by so doing, create new propositions to meet customer demand in areas such as alternative lending, group savings (known as chamas in Kenya and stokvels in South Africa), and e-wallets (M-Pesa, for example). According to PwC’s latest Global Fintech report entitled ‘redrawing the lines: fintech’s growing influence on financial services’, the clear majority - 88% - of traditional financial services companies are increasingly worried about losing revenue to these innovative businesses.
For banks to survive and thrive, we need to create a culture of experimentation, of fast, iterative and constant change: of creating, testing, and taking quick advantage (or, if it fails) moving on (fail fast, fail forward). In addition, we are partnering with innovative fintech start-ups to empower African economies to leapfrog ahead in terms of financial services. Through initiatives such as the Barclays Accelerator programme, we enable fintech start-ups to gain access to resources, expertise and the mentorship guidance they need to scale faster and grow together with us in order to more rapidly expand the reach of their innovative offerings.
FTC: One of the biggest criticisms of westernised financial innovation is its preoccupation with solving ‘first-world problems’. On the contrary, Africa, Asia and Latin America are home to a variety of (fin), (pay) and (insur)tech start-ups focused on tackling financial inclusion, m-payments and microinsurance. In your opinion, should it be a priority for fintech start-ups, particularly those based in emerging markets to use technology to solve large real-world problems?
YH: In fintech, we're seeing an increasing number of new products, platforms and services emerging and maturing in the payments and financial inclusion space that are helping solve significant real-world challenges. We're also seeing a growing number of innovators in the fields of big data and artificial intelligence, which are gaining traction across Africa. The real innovators are those who use their minimum viable product to forge creative partnerships that help them get their innovation to market rapidly. There are numerous start-ups getting this right in a meaningful way and their innovation is very likely one of the main reasons why South Africa is attracting people from across the world to participate in this space.
Fintech companies have the potential to accelerate Africa’s digital transformation, especially in terms of financial services. By partnering with fintech start-ups, we can bring the innovative offerings of these businesses to customers and play a leading role in driving macro scale change - transforming African finance by making it more efficient and accessible through more channels, and delivering a greater impact in the lives of more people and entities.
FTC: You are now in your seventh role at Barclays in a tenure which has spanned six years and counting. Can you tell us about your proudest moment thus far regarding your role in pushing the bank’s innovation agenda?
YH: Almost seven years later, I’m still here [at Barclays] and am in my seventh role. It’s been a really dynamic and rapidly moving journey. It’s fair to say my career here started with a steep learning curve. Having done only a few advanced math classes combined with basic computer science courses over the course of my undergraduate degree, I had to learn a lot about the technical side of banking from scratch.
One of many career-defining moments came for me when Dr. Usama Fayyad — former Group Chief Data Officer at Barclays PLC — approached me to help him build our entire bank’s data department. Eight months later, in February 2015, I was appointed to move to Johannesburg and become Barclays Africa Group’s first ever chief data officer. Less than two years of an extensive transformation journey, we won the prestigious Gartner Global Excellence Award for best advanced analytics and data science team earlier this year in February for a number of data products we had launched for our customers. This has been one of the proudest moments of my career at Barclays to date.
I was appointed Group Chief Creation Officer in November last year and have since been in charge of defining, leading and executing upon our group’s innovation agenda.
FTC: You have also been at the helm of Rise Africa, Barclays’ African arm of the global innovation network. What is the most impressive start-up you have come into contact with and why?
YH: During last year’s inaugural Accelerator programme, Barclays Africa identified Ghanaian fintech innovator, Asoriba, as a collaborator to remedy a business challenge affecting its Ghanaian business. The Ghanaian banking industry is fiercely competitive, with 26 licensed banks in total, and Barclays Africa Group recognised client acquisition as a top priority to ensure that we remain a key player in the Ghanaian financial market for our clients and customers. With this in mind, our bank looked to Asoriba to assist in bolstering our client base, with a particular emphasis on appealing to their target customer segment – the youth.
Barclays Bank Ghana and Asoriba signed an initial proof of concept (POC) agreement, a common approach used by companies to assess the viability and desirability of a product or service. Under the agreement, requests to open bank accounts with Barclays Bank Ghana would be referred directly to Barclays Africa via the Asoriba app, generating customer leads. Only one month into the POC, Asoriba had generated a staggering 200+ leads for our bank with a significant amount of these leads converted into new accounts.
While the collaboration is addressing our bank’s challenges around sustainable client acquisition, the relationship is proving just as fruitful for Asoriba. Like most start-ups with creative cutting edge technology, Asoriba were still evolving in areas that would enable them to truly refine and scale their business on a global scale. Since participating in the Barclays Rise Accelerator programme, Asoriba’s user base has grown exponentially and their brand identity is getting stronger across the whole continent as well as abroad including attracting attention from Facebook’s top management as recently witnessed in their annual F8 developer conference. In just a short time, the relationship has shown that it drives financial inclusion and creates jobs for young motivated and innovative Ghanaians, with the Asoriba team themselves growing from five to twelve.
FTC: Africa and Asia have become hotbeds of payment innovation largely on account of the financial inclusion agenda and widespread use of mobile-phones as a payment channel. Do you think we will see other fintech sub-verticals such as InsurTech, RegTech and PropTech begin to take force in the continent?
YH: Absolutely, and I’ll reference some of the startups in our 2017 Barclays Accelerator. The Sun Exchange is a South African startup that enables anyone, anywhere to own and earn from solar panels that power Africa, India and other developing economies. The company enables users to purchase solar cells, which are then leased to businesses such as hospitals, factories, and schools, generating an income for users and enabling many more organisations to employ cleaner energy.
In Kenya, the fintech start-up Flexpay, provides an automated and secured lay-buy system that manages the purchase of goods. Customers can choose to pay for goods over varying periods of time, making these products accessible to many more buyers.
We are also working with Sensorit, an innovative start-up that has set out to build technology that improves driving safety and security. Ultimately, customers will be able to benefit from an enhanced driving experience and reduced insurance premiums based on a scoring model deduced from driver behaviour as well as a minimising and positively reducing rate of potential accidents.