It’s time Kenya’s financial sector to innovate new ways of working

Columnists

It’s time Kenya’s financial sector to innovate new ways of working

Technology and the Covid-19 have redefined the nature of work. Financial institutions need to find new ways of coping. FILE PHOTO | NMG 

Kenya’s financial services sector has been experiencing disruptions for the past 10 years.

This has largely been brought about by the rise of artificial intelligence (AI) powered banking systems, digital lending apps, cryptocurrency and an onslaught from products like M-Pesa, Fuliza and Pay Bill, among other emerging financial technology (fintech) products.

To say the pandemic has exacerbated an already dire situation is an understatement if the financial results being released by banks are anything to go by. Covid-19 has arm-twisted human resource (HR) practitioners in the financial sector to rethink their people agenda and come up with fitting solutions for the industry to thrive in the new normal.

Fintech companies started offering remote IT solutions in the 90s, for example, remote troubleshooting, incorporating home Internet as part of employee benefit, adopted video conference and skype as ways of holding meetings, launched online learning platforms, incorporated 24/7 on-call IT support services for clients, localised customer experience through agency or dealers such as M-Pesa shops and started redefining the customer experience for the millennials through partnerships and powering sales of online products and services.

This is when new ways of working first emerged. However, during the same period, most financial institutions were scaling up the number and size of brick and mortar branches as ways of enhancing physical customer experience instead.

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The above changes were already calling for accelerated adoption of new ways of working within the banking sector even before the pandemic hit.

The hard questions the industry should be asking themselves are: what new employee skills are needed in the future of banking? How are HR practitioners in bank services expected to tackle serious competition from the aggressive fintech companies that are well funded and are upsetting the status quo daily? Are we going to witness a redefinition of relationship banking? Is the introduction of HR business partner models going to work for banks? How is HR realigning performance management to the new era? Will enhanced employee experience and engagement through digitisation define employers of choice in future? How are players in the sector going to reshape the new organisational culture?

Kenya’s banking sector is ready, but still shy to adopt some bold new ways of working. It is inevitable for the sector to discuss advanced digitisation, including artificial intelligence and robotic capabilities as ways of driving organisational efficiency in the new era.

There is a need to rethink, realign and invest in new employee capabilities to meet dynamic, ever-evolving customer needs and expectations within the localised global environment should be centre stage to all board room discussions.

Further delays in having these tough conversations on the future work in this sector could ultimately see fintech products take over with smart banking technologies turning brick-and-mortar banks obsolete.

This strategic realignment needs to start with banking regulatory bodies creating an enabling environment flexible enough for banks to undertake massive transformation. For Instance, the Central Bank of Kenya and Communications Authority of Kenya can work together on modalities that allow banks to access and use mobile money transaction records as part of the credit vetting process to enable retail banking to compete with fintech products.

The failure to have this will lead to the systematic death of retail banking.

Can the cheque clearance process be digitised and have it done within hours and not days? Can banks be allowed to outsource more non-core functions, can we have banks’ systems interfacing with government systems such as Huduma Number or centre and e-citizen to enhance efficiency and remove some level of knowing your customer burden from banks to government agencies? Can we have a redefinition of branches from brick and mortar to online digital branches?

Viability of the financial services sector rests with business leaders and HR practitioners redefining the future of work while appreciating the diverse and ever-evolving customers’ needs and expectations. Candid strategic engagements with different stakeholders must happen to enable institutions to redefine and reshape the future of this industry.

Mudasia, HR Director Danish Brewing Company &former HR Lead at GT Bank East Africa

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