Insight Circle

Agile Innovation Key to Africa's Banking Future

Brett Lowe, Digital and Data Solutions, Capitec Bank

Capitec is one of South Africa’s fastest growing retail banks. It is currently the country’s largest retail bank with over 14 million clients and has twice been rated as the best bank in the world by the Lafferty Group’s Global Bank Quality benchmarking study.

Although Brett Lowe has only been with Capitec for three years, he has a wealth of experience in delivering digital solutions for some of South Africa’s best known and most valuable brands. He took some time out to discuss where he sees the digital economy going in the next few years, as well as sharing some of his insight and experience in the competitive African banking environment.

FMCG digital expertise lays the foundation

Brett began his digital career in 1999 working at Acceleration. Brett also helped with the launch of a local business directory, Search24, and then moved on to the Shoprite Group of companies, where he headed up both the digital team and the consumer insights team for Southern and South Africa’s largest retail group.

Reading Brett’s impressive LinkedIn profile it’s clear to see that he not only has significant experience in delivering mobile services at scale, but he has a deep understanding of placing the customer first when designing digital services.

He describes his digital career a bit more, saying: “I’ve rolled out digital channels including USSD, mobi, App, till slip messaging, and websites across Africa. I have worked on collaborative campaigns with all the major FMCG brands like Unilever, Coca Cola, Tiger Brands, Pioneer Foods, and AVI.”

The only constant is change

Brett says it’s the constant change in the digital space that keeps him challenged and excited about the future. “One of the biggest challenges of working in the digital economy is trying to stay one step ahead. I don’t believe any of us entirely know where things are going and this can make innovation in the space very challenging. But it is also one of the things that keeps me engaged and excited about working in this space. To be fair, given the speed of change, you can get things wrong, but sometimes you have to just make the call and jump in with both feet and then keep running. It can be a high-risk game, but when it pays off, it really is worth it.”

With that caveat in place, Brett believes chat commerce will have a significant impact on the chat economy. “The improved efficiency in interaction with brands that chat commerce offers is something that appeals to Capitec. We also see a big win in the self-help improvements that chat commerce can bring. It provides a slick service experience that many clients prefer and helps drive cost efficiencies, which we’re then able to pass onto our clients through affordable bank fees.”

Like many other forward-thinking firms, Capitec is investing in future technologies. It currently has around 42 data scientists looking at AI and other new technologies that will be rolled out in the years to come.

A pragmatic view on tech

While there has been some fun AI proof of concepts in the industry, Brett believes the technology will hit mainstream adoption in the next two or three years.

“We see AI maturing over the next two to three years. As we see more implementations we can expect to see the true value of it as a technology. I also believe that chat in particular and MarTech, in general, will grow over the next few years. The beauty with chat is that it so pervasive and, while apps may not completely disappear anytime soon, the chat will grow as more users move away from USSD and onto smartphones.”

Despite all the new tech on the horizon, Brett points out that Capitec is also focussed on how to use tech to support the branches.

“We recognize that human interaction is very important for South Africans, which is why we are constantly improving the personalized service experience in our over 840 branches. Our use of technology allows us to free up our consultants from the mundane admin tasks, enabling them to deliver an industry leading client experience while we continue to migrate more clients onto digital banking, we have done studies that show that the younger generations are just as keen on branch transacting as the older generation, which is surprising. At the end of the day, we must give our clients what they want.”

Agile innovation makes for a bright future

Looking ahead, Brett says Capitec will be focussing on chat and how it can best be used to make their clients’ lives better. The bank will also be paying close attention to how it can better use the enormous amounts of data it has at its disposal.  The banks will also be looking at voice technology as it matures, and their clients become more comfortable given their phone's voice instructions and dealing with assistants like Siri and Alexa.

“We are pretty fortunate that Capitec as an organization is happy for us to try new things. We understand that even small, incremental changes can have a big impact on your bottom line and so we are free to innovate.”

Brett hopes to leave a legacy that will see him having delivered on clients’ wishes: “I’d like my legacy to be having made a meaningful difference in clients’ lives. I’d like to know that I have happy clients and have been a part of the change that the digital economy offers.”

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