02 September 2020

South African Fintechs Set to Transform Global Financial Services: Part I

02 September 2020
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5 minutes

The real power of fintech will be felt in the next few years as it matures and tackles the often-outmoded engine rooms of financial services companies. What’s more, you can expect much of that global disruption to come from young, African start-ups, many of whom emerge from under the watchful eye of Dominique Collett. Not only has she stamped her mark on the formal financial sector, but she heads up one of the most exciting fintech incubators on the African continent.

We spent some time speaking with Dominique to better understand what she sees as the main trends in the evolving growth of the digital economy – most especially in Africa.

In our first part of the series, we unpack her journey and how it has given her some unique insights into the role of technology and how it will forever change how the financial services sector operates.

Global institutional experience with a flair for the non-traditional

Dominique is a Senior Investment Executive at Rand Merchant Insurance (RMI) Holdings. She also heads up AlphaCode, RMI’s fintech initiative. Launched in 2015, AlphaCode was set up to identify, partner with, and grow what it describes as ‘next-generation financial services entrepreneurs’ through incubation, acceleration, collaboration and investment.

Dominique says her learning years in Standard Bank allowed her a deep insight into every facet of banking.

“It was while I was with Standard Bank Strategic Investments, that the first wave of disintermediation hit South Africa’s banks. The rise of mobile banking really shook things up in the early 2000s. I was also part of a team that was looking at technologies and possible investments that would help digitise the business. It was during my time working on MTN Mobile Money when I saw first-hand the possibilities of technology and how it could disrupt traditional financial services,” Dominique explains.

In what she describes as a ‘detour’ Dominique spent several years at respected management consulting company, McKinsey & Company before she returned to Standard Bank – although this time in the UK. Her work there saw her engaging with companies across Europe, Africa and the East.

“I returned to South Africa after the 2008 crisis and became fascinated by how banking could be delivered to the communities operating at the bottom of the pyramid. Using mobile technologies we were signing up low-income customers in the townships and, although it was regarded as revolutionary at the time, it helped me realise how difficult it was for large organisations, like banks, to innovate.

It was this realisation that spurred Dominique and a few others to venture out from the sheltered confines of a multinational bank and co-found TYME, a South African-based company that designs, builds and operates digital banking ecosystems.

“We left Standard Bank because we felt that if you wanted to design the bank of the future, you had to do it outside of a bank. The next four years spent building a digital bank were absolutely fascinating.”

Dominique stepped away from TYME when the Commonwealth Bank of Australia buyout came into effect in 2015, choosing to join RMI’s fintech initiative.

Her small investment team was mandated to look at the organisations existing assets, which included great SA entrepreneurial successes OUTsurance and Discovery, and ensure continued growth; it was also tasked with modernising the portfolio by finding the next generation of extraordinary entrepreneurs who would go on to develop companies of real worth. It was shortly after her joining that RMI launched AlphaCode, which Dominique now leads.

Making a difference at grassroots levels

“It’s the intellectual challenge that gets me out of bed in the morning. It’s not the easiest space in the world. To go from traditional insurance to figuring out if and how blockchain will transform financial services can require some mental gymnastics. But this is what makes the job so fascinating. Also, the energy of working with people that are so smart and so driven is a real joy.”

Dominique says she is particularly moved by the chance to make a difference in developing communities.

“One of the programmes we have launched is Explore. The programme is run in conjunction with Explore Data Science Academy and looks to develop fintech skills. In our first cohort, more than half the participants were women and more than 90% were people of colour. While we had two people with PhDs, many didn’t even have matric. The diversity of our programmes means that we know that we are helping our future entrepreneurs build products that are really relevant to our communities and based on their lived experience, rather than us dictating what should be developed based on preconceived ideas.

In the second part of our journey, Dominique shares her insight into what the future holds for South African fintechs as well as how she sees them transforming the traditional financial services industry.

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