The digital future of banking is complex and daunting. Coding, crypto-currencies, and blockchain are all concepts which need to be to deciphered. However, the industry is very clear on the fact that we need to become “more digital” to be more relevant to our customers.
But getting there is a little less apparent. The journey needs someone, or something, to guide the way, provide the platforms, develop the systems and create the products that will take banking into the future.
To do this at Rand Merchant Bank (RMB), we needed a team with the bravery to challenge everything we know about banking, by dissecting the methods of the past and creating a path to new potential outcomes. And we had to do this while staying true to who we are as a leading corporate and investment bank.
Two years ago, the FOUNDeRY was created to accelerate RMB’s journey of transforming into a digital bank. The FOUNDeRY is RMB’s fintech innovation hub which challenges the traditional ways in which the bank operates by using cutting edge technology. It designs, builds and experiments with new digital pathways in corporate and investment banking.
As an innovation hub, the FOUNDeRY gives RMB the space to experiment safely with new ideas and encourages people to think differently while still striving for excellence each day. It allows the bank to test new ways of moving faster differently, while still growing organically in existing successful business areas.
Starting with a very small team – mostly outsourced – the FOUNDeRY now employs a full- time team of software engineers, creatives, data scientists and visionaries, and augments our skills by partnering with fintechs and other vendors to deliver solutions.
We began the journey by creating a sub-culture within the bank. We wanted to build an experimental zone, with people who did not think like traditional bankers, so we focused on creating a space for innovation with a focus on diversity of thinking. That culture includes a different approach to working hours and dress code and how people like to work, as well as a number of staff with non-traditional banking skills.
Despite this parallel culture, we built the FOUNDeRY on the original FirstRand and RMB cultural concepts, just with a modern twist. We have retained our innovation and traditional values core and maintain the focus on our clients’ needs first.
We realised that a digital future in banking is essential to become more relevant for our clients. We are able to do this in the FOUNDeRY, as we understand technology as well as banking and are able to challenge everything we know about how banking is currently conducted without taking the focus off our existing business lines.
Some new digital products have already been introduced in the bank, while others are in the test phase. One of these is crypto-currencies and blockchain technology where we are working with regulators and the South African Financial Blockchain Consortium (a consortium of multiple financial services industry players all looking at how we can work together to apply blockchain technology in our industry).
We are also quite far down the line with the development of machine learning and artificial intelligence where machines are taught to perform complex transactions, freeing up people to use their skills in ways which require more strategic and analytical thought processes. The benefits of machines or artificial intelligence are that they operate 24/7, with 100% efficiency, are cost effective and can perform tasks faster than humans. Our main focus in this area, at present, is in the risk management space.
While examining and introducing new technologies, we are also re-imagining client relationships, which, in the past, have been driven by dealmakers. We are obsessed by design of the technology but also with the client experience so we make sure we work closely with businesses within the bank to understand their clients’ needs. We’re trying to re-imagine how relationships will work in a digital world and are already testing some products in that arena.
To transform the bank, we also need people within the bank to think differently and are doing this by introducing new concepts in digital technology across RMB.
Recently, the FOUNDeRY hosted the 2017 FirstRand CodeFest (a coding competition which originated in First National Bank) which bought together people from various backgrounds from across the FirstRand brands, for 48 hours of collaboration, coding and innovation. It was a great example of how, in the right environment, people begin to think differently and more creatively – its inspiring to see how teams are able to produce very workable ideas in such a short time-frame.
We believe by encouraging new ways of thinking and introducing new platforms, systems and products, we will ensure that we remain a bank for the future.
Liesl Bebb-McKay, Rand Merchant Bank Head of FOUNDeRY