IT expert paying it forward
B7: Your recent appointment has certainly been welcomed by a number of people and stakeholders – would you mind giving us some background of your professional journey to date?
VA: I am very humbled by the overwhelming support I have received since taking up the positions of COO at Nedbank Namibia.
I started my professional journey at an IT company called Logical Networks (doing a wide range of consultancy work), after which I moved to Telecom Namibia as a systems administrator. My journey then took me to Nampower where I held a number of positions, the last of which was that of information services manager. I then moved to Standard Bank Namibia where I had the opportunity to be part of the core banking implementation team.
I recently moved back to Windhoek from the coastal town of Walvis Bay, where I held the position of ICT executive for Namport, and where I had the opportunity to be part of the new container terminal project.
I have been fortunate to work for such great institutions over the years, and credit them for the significant experience I’ve gained over the years while working for them.
During my career I have learnt a great deal from my mentors, who are pioneers and visionaries within their fields. They have instilled in me a sense of paying it forward and sharing my skills with young professionals.
I am as a result rather passionate about the youth, entrepreneurship and the art of creatively solving social problems.
My journey was also supported by my academic education, which played a major part in equipping me with precious leadership skills, knowledge, self-assurance, and a valuable network of businesspeople.
I hold an MBA degree from the University of Stellenbosch, a B.Tech – information technology degree from the then Polytechnic of Namibia (now Namibia University of Science and Technology), as well as other qualifications in project management, leadership, and general management from various institutions.
B7: As COO of Nedbank Namibia, what is your core responsibility?
VA: In this position, I am largely responsible for the alignment of Nedbank’s strategy to key national initiatives, markets and industry, as well as building and driving operations, innovation, technology and payments capabilities and functionality, by creating an enabling environment for digital transformation, strategy execution and continuous business improvement within the organisation.
B7: How does the role of CCO link to the customer’s experience?
VA: At its core, the COO role owns the customer experience from an efficiency and operational perspective. Together with the game-changing rise of fintech, the role really dictates how the customer experiences the banking convenience that sits at the core of what Nedbank Namibia wishes to offer our clients.
These days, consumer trends have certainly been influenced by the convergence of technology and the physical environment in which we live, work and thrive. Our aim is to focus on ease of use and convenience for all our client engagement channels.
Machines can however only do so much. What sets us apart as humans, is the fact that we have emotions. Technology’s job in our context is thus to ensure that the emotions our customers experience whenever they do their banking with Nedbank Namibia is one of satisfaction, not frustration.
B7: With more introductions of financial technology, are we seeing an entirely new way of banking?
VA: Probably not entirely, but it does create the need for the customer experience to be clear, transparent and consistent — a proposition that works.
The days of products being sold primarily in brick-and-mortar and having tunnel vision when it comes to digital channels are long gone.
Digital applications are reshaping banking for the better and the Nedbank MoneyApp, PayToday and the recently launched Nedbank Send Money, serve as excellent examples. These platforms help our customers to do their banking from anywhere at their own convenience.
For example, the Nedbank MoneyApp allows one to manage accounts, activate cards for international travel, freeze and unfreeze bank cards, make payments and change credit or debit card settings from their mobile device. This enhanced card functionality for a mobile app was also a first for Namibia.
B7: What other innovative ways can banks introduce to make banking simpler?
VA: Innovation doesn’t only come with fancy apps and digital solutions. Customer centricity is more than access to super-fast electronic products and processes. In most cases, it is how we treat people that counts.
As an example, there are more than 50 different transactional accounts among the large commercial banks in Namibia, which pretty much do the same thing, but with confusing rules and requirements. Clients end up making choices that do not meet their needs. Client-centric banking solutions are thus one of the ways to innovatively make banking simpler.
In this regard, Nedbank stripped out the complexity by refocusing its efforts in consumer banking on two accounts only: a bundled and a pay-as-you-use account. Both have the same rules and requirements and provide the same services, with the only difference being in how their pricing is structured.
If you want to manage your fees on a per-transaction basis, the pay-as-you-use account is for you, with no monthly maintenance fees – if you don’t transact, there’s no charge. If you swipe for everything, and transact a lot, then you’d be better off with a bundled account that charges a fixed monthly fee for an unlimited amount of transactions.
B7: What roles can banks play with regards to impact of Covid-19?
VA: Banks have an important role to play amidst Covid-19, as the pandemic placed extraordinary demands on leaders in business and beyond.
Recognising that a company faces a crisis is the first step for business owners. One simply can’t address something you don’t acknowledge. This is a difficult step, not underestimating the possibility of a crisis and the impact it could have on the business.
This crisis is ruled by unfamiliarity and uncertainty, but within Nedbank we are focused on responding to the pandemic, supporting customers and protecting our employees.
It also presents an opportunity for us to test if we are true agents of change with the agility to respond to shifting market realities. Our plans span a wide range of actions which may be beneficial for maintaining operations post-crisis - for example, instituting work-from-home policies, adjustments to ongoing business practices and new tools to aid collaboration.
We have certainly also been fast-tracking technology development to assist our clients to bank securely from anywhere and at any time.
B7: In conclusion, what is your view on tech opportunities within the banking and financial sector?
VA: Even though the impact of financial technology in Namibia has so far not extended much beyond basic transactional services, it cannot be ignored that with the rise of technology, consumer demand for increased mobile and even frictionless experience will create new and unique opportunities for banks and new fintech players alike.
This will inherently breed competition, which will ultimately benefit the customer, making banking more secure, faster and convenient.