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Sola David-Borha, Standard Bank Group Africa Region Chief Executive Officer

The delivery of services in Africa, especially in the absence of a developed traditional services infrastructure, means that data science will play a large role in delivering the services that will deepen African participation in the global economy. This is especially evident in the financial services sector where fintechs are using data science, including artificial intelligence and robotics, to empower millions of Africans with the ability to transact digitally – with each other and the world.

This digital revolution is also bringing about fundamental shifts in customers’ instincts and behaviours, transforming the way that individuals and businesses connect.

In this environment, the Standard Bank Group is faced with an historic opportunity to redefine what banking means to the people and businesses of Africa.

“Leveraging this opportunity requires that we become much smarter in how we use data to guide our decisions and serve our clients,” said Sola David-Borha, Standard Bank Group Africa Region Chief Executive Officer.

The challenge for Africa, however, is that these new technological advancements require an entirely new set of skills. Skills that few existing curricula anywhere in Africa supply.

Most universities don’t have degree programmes in data-science that provide, “the right combination of subjects like business domain knowledge, computer science, statistics and mathematics,” says Emmanuel Osanga, ‎Regional Head Information Management PBB Africa Regions, ‎Standard Bank Group. Instead, these skills are usually gained when analytically-trained graduates join a quants team, then move to IT, and then on to banking – acquiring a broad range of data, analytical and financial skills over several years. And even then, while it’s common for individuals to acquire a few of these subject areas, none have them all. Left to evolve naturally, the process is very slow to produce the right combination of skills, “and certainly not in the numbers that Africa requires,” he adds.

The result is that most financial institutions in Africa compete for the same skills – from the same limited skills pool.

As such, the Standard Bank Group’s Data Science Graduate Programme, “took the conscious decision to deliver an expanding pipe line of new graduates instead of competing for the same data science skills – effectively cannibalising the continent’s broader services sector from within,” says

The programme kicked off in 2016 with 12 African mathematicians, applied mathematicians, computer scientists, statisticians and economics majors from six of Standard Bank’s African operations. The course involved a three month immersion in a tech boot camp in India’s ‘silicon valley’ in Bangalore, followed by action learning in South Africa for another three months. Thereafter candidates identified a project addressing a real and relevant challenge in each of their home markets. “A challenge that only data science could solve,” added Osanga.

For example, Olayinka Fadahunsi the data science graduate from Nigeria, developed a predictive client churn tool. The system blends data mining with machine learning and visualization to develop a data-driven business story able to identify and predict client termination behaviour. This will, “dramatically improved the ability of the Nigeria business to develop engagement strategies that target the right clients upfront – while also avoiding the behavioural pre-conditions of termination,” explained Osanga.

The R10million invested in the first year of this programme is set to kick-start African data-science knowledge bases in Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa, “forming the nuclei of an industry which we will take to scale in coming years as our Data Science Graduate Programme adds more countries, elements and graduates,” said Osanga. 

This is what the Standard Bank Group is celebrating as its first set of data science students graduate on 2 November 2017.

At a strategic level, funding and implementing this critical data science skills development programme demonstrates the Standard Bank Group’s commitment to positioning Africa as a serious competitor in the world’s rapidly emerging data-driven sector.

As a business, however, this also means that the bank will need to shift from being a traditional provider of financial services – to a data-driven digital services organisation. “Developing and deploying this new breed of skills will require a change in our DNA as we evolve a culture of learning, operating and serving that meets the needs of a 21st century African service industry leader,” said David-Borha.

Critically for Africa, leading the continent’s development of scarce data science skills will enable the bank to service financially excluded populations. It will also help existing clients deepen their engagement with the global economy, ideas and capital.

As an African universal financial services organisation this, “speaks directly to both our digital and client centricity strategies – along with our broader vision to drive Africa’s growth,” concluded David-Borha.

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