When the BANKSETA (Banking sector Education & Training Authority) selected Henley Business School Africa (Henley) to partner with it to design and execute its 2016 International Executive Development Programme (IEDP), little did it know just how effective Henley’s creative problem-solving methodology and course design would be in achieving the training authority’s mandate of transforming leaders from the financial services sector into disruptive leaders.
According to Caroline King, BANKSETA Acting CEO and Company Secretary, BANKSETA’s International Executive Development Programme is highly sought-after in the banking and microfinance sectors and compliments existing programmes offered by employers in these sectors. “The rationale behind funding this programme was to give high potential senior managers an opportunity to engage in executive development learning as part of BANKSETA’s management and leadership strategy,” says King.
The banking sector has been hard hit by disruption with FinTech startups using technology to revolutionise and disrupt the sector. They have essentially challenged the banking sector to redefine their traditional role and service offering.
Louise Claassen, Henley’s IEDP Programme Director, says banks are being challenged on the range, cost and competitiveness of the services they offer.
“In certain instances FinTechs can offer services cheaper than the banks can and are also able to address specific customer needs in a way that banks can’t. Banks are therefore having to reinvent and reposition their business models to become more responsive to customer needs.
“The customised programme created by Henley for BANKSETA was therefore designed around creative problem-solving and design thinking that effectively encourages the kind of disruptive thinking that talented young bankers in the industry need now to enable them to position the banks to compete effectively with FinTechs. Banks need disruptive leaders that can solve problems creatively and innovatively,” explained Claassen.
The IEDP programme was designed around three core components - digital, disruption and innovation. The participants, who were leaders in ABSA, First Rand Bank (including FNB), Nedbank, Standard Bank, African Bank, Al Baraka Bank, Woolworths Financial Services, SA Home Loans and the South African Reserve Bank, were tasked with coming up with new products and business models that could disrupt the financial services sector. Working in groups, they were charged with crafting disruptive solutions that challenge traditional business models and as a natural outcome of the disruptive process, create a technology app that would address the challenges of financial inclusion, opening the way for the millions unbanked South Africans to move from the informal economy into the formal economy.
The informal economy generates about R20-billion annually, with the majority of informal traders remaining unbanked and unable to access credit to grow their micro-enterprises as a result of not having credit records.
The programme comprised several focus areas including leadership development, disruption, creativity and innovation; and had a strong cultural element.
Puleng Makhoalibe is head of Henley’s Centre for Innovation, Creativity and Entrepreneurship (ICE). She designed and facilitated Henley’s creative problem-solving methodology, which was used to guide the participants through the programme.
“We take every opportunity to take participants engaged in our executive education programmes through our creative problem-solving methodology to introduce them to creativity, a skill needed but seriously lacking in many business environments. Our methodology allows us to solve problems and come up with real solutions that are often a world first, always innovative, imaginative and disruptive, while also making good business sense. It is at the intersection of business, creativity and innovation that new ideas are woven, which produces business results.”
The bank leaders’ IEDP journey began with an immersion in Johannesburg. Henley lives its stated mission of building the people, who build businesses that build Africa and as such designs its programmes to ensure students learn with purpose by engaging in immersive and action learning.
This places students in real life situations they are not normally exposed to. The idea is to challenge an individual’s perceptions of the world, disrupt his or her way of thinking and doing business, build empathy, and promote human-centred and co-creative approaches to business, rather than the purely for profit, solutions-based approaches so many businesses focus on.
Through the IEDP, the young leaders were exposed to different markets and socio-economic environments – they met informal traders at the Yeoville market in Johannesburg, young enterpreneurs at JoziHub - a co-creation space in Johannesburg, and also visited Tanzania and the UK.
“The aim of the immersions is to expose the young leaders to key thinkers, innovative companies and enterpreneurs and engage with case studies from Africa and other progressive financial services environments. Their immersion into different cultural contexts and environments gives them first-hand experiences in different markets, which helps them to better understand their customer and create solutions with their customer’s needs in mind. Africa is the frontier that South African banks are moving into and the UK is a world centre of financial services,” said Claassen.
ICE’s human-centred approach to problem solving is a very transformative process, says Makhoalibe.
“It calls on programme participants to co-create solutions with the clients that they wished to serve. The rigorous, iterative process required IEDP participants to dig deep, challenge their assumptions, and understand the contexts they were working in. They went on a journey of deep engagement with the people they encountered in the informal sector to understand their pains, pressures and desires. This enabled them to build empathy for their clients and understand the enormous challenges informal traders and the like face when it comes to accessing finance to build their businesses and create better lives for themselves, their families and their communities. This resulted in the young leaders really applying their minds and their hearts when it came to creating a solution that met the traders very real needs.”
As a result of this process, the four groups came up with innovative, creative solutions that have enormous potential to solve the issues of financial exclusion and access to credit and financial services for the unbanked in South Africa – something the banks have been grappling with since the dawn of our democracy.
“The solutions the participants came up with really demonstrate the value of a human-centred approach. Not only did they come up with human-centred solutions, they also underwent significant personal transformation through their own disruption,” added Makhoalibe.
Philile Mkhize, Barclays CIB-Corporate Technology Portfolio Manager, was honoured as the IEDP Class of 2016’s top student. She found the programme extremely transformational, both personally and professionally.
“Through robust conversations, many leadership concepts such as personal mastery, Pan African effect, financial inclusion, empathy and innovation emerged and informed ideas that led to the realisation and implementation of financial services solutions aimed at disrupting banks. The Action Learning Project was a great platform to showcase how ideas can be shaped into implementable solutions in a very short space of time.
“The cross disciplinary IEDP group created an interactive learning experience, which is unique in the financial services sector and a practical tool that can be rolled out to cross functional teams in our organisations and diverse communities. Puleng Makhoalibe introduces a simple, easy to comprehend set of design thinking and problem-solving principles, which I am already apply in my current work environment.
“The key learning for me was the impact of empathy - how it brings the human aspect into our leadership ability and how it can be applied to the financial inclusion solutions we bring our communities.
“Guest presenter and Thumbzup Founder and CEO Stafford Masie’s comment ‘it’s not about technology, it’s about humanity’ has become my ethos for developing customer solutions.
“The IEDP has energised me and I am ready to make a meaningful contribution in driving change, innovation and growth. I have also learnt to allow myself to be free in my thinking and to re-examine and reformulate both my professional and personal goals. I am a better Philile because of IEDP.”
Programme participant Priya Thakoor, Head of Digital Strategy at ABSA, said the IEDP helped her contextualise the problems South Africans face as a nation. “Each contrasting thread into our dark past, colourful present and what could be in the uncertain future created a unique cocktail of experiences and learning that has made a long-lasting imprint in my life and leadership journey.
“Key to my learnings was the group itself that represented a healthy mix of inter-generational, gender, cognitive and ethnic diversity. The varied teaching styles and immersions that spanned across industries, countries, disciplines, governments, businesses and markets also contributed significantly to unfolding deep experiential learning.”
Thakoor walked away with a host of fresh ideas about leadership development. These included the need to unlock latent human capital; how to bring diversity and financial inclusiveness into executive leadership conversations; how to create more conviction-led leaders that are rooted in empathy for their communities and fellow South Africans; and the importance as a leader of unlearning and helping others to drive the innovation that is needed to solve Africa’s problems with African solutions.