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Interviews

Award-winning CIO shares insight on personal and company success

Fred Swanepoel, Group CIO, Nedbank Limited

Fred Swanepoel, Group CIO, Nedbank Limited

Nedbank Group, one of South Africa’s largest banks, celebrates five technology-related awards from Global Banking and Finance 2020.  With a company vision of becoming the most admired financial services provider in Africa by staff, clients, and shareholders, it’s clear that Nedbank Group is well on their way. In this interview, CIO Fred Swanepoel, who was recognised as CIO of the Year South Africa, shares his journey to becoming an award-winning Information Officer as well as his personal methods, tips, and advice for those interested in IT management.

Briefly share with us your journey to becoming CIO of Nedbank Limited.

My career began at the Small Business Development Corporation, from where I later joined Nedbank in 1996. In 2004, I became the divisional director of Group Technology and Support Services. I subsequently gained experience at the highest levels of Nedbank’s technology cluster, holding divisional director positions of Finance, Risk and Compliance; Projects and Programme Management; and Group Software Services.

In November 2008, I was appointed as Group CIO and a Nedbank Group Exco member.

What’s your top tip for staying ahead in your field?

I have a passion for mentoring and sponsoring high-potential talent, accordingly, if I may, I’d like to list three:

  • Never stop learning. I believe education and continuous learning to be the bedrock of success. I am privileged to have had the opportunity to study a B. Com Honours at the University of Stellenbosch, an MBA at the University of the Witwatersrand as well as a SEPSA and AMP from Harvard Business School. But learning extends beyond formal education and training. In the prevailing fast-changing and hyper-competitive environment, leaders have had to commit to ongoing agility and learning as we pivot our strategies in response to systemic developments. In short, to remain ahead of the game, you need to keep on educating yourself.
  • There is no substitute for hard work. True passion for technology and innovation is a vital ingredient for a successful tenure in the fast-moving, highly competitive financial services technology ecosystem.
  • Developing a strong network to leverage at critical ‘moments of truth’ is important. Like any asset, this network requires nurturing and investment. Having sponsors who genuinely care about your wellbeing and success has, over time, proven to be invaluable to my career trajectory.

What are the most important functions of a CIO?

Performing a conduit role between business and IT is, in my opinion, a critical component of my role to enable coordination and synchronicity of enterprise execution efforts. Brokering of ‘trade-offs’ has increasingly become an important part of my role as we seek to navigate the prevailing volatile and uncertain competitive economy by maximising the benefits from our substantial IT investments across the various components of our business. Advancing our digital aspirations has, over the preceding years, been top of my radar, given the various benefits emanating from digitisation (revenue uplift, cost-saving, client experience uplift etc). Having ‘the correct people in the correct seats on the bus’ is incredibly important and people remain the biggest component of an effective IT value chain. Only by having the right people will any IT initiative be successful. We have experienced this firsthand with our big transformational programme, Managed Evolution, and witnessed the positive impact that having the right people leading our efforts has on execution effectiveness and operational efficiency.

What’s the most important part of your job and what advice would you give to young people interested in a career in IT management?

‘We have become educators.’

There is a digital revolution taking place. I believe that our role is to consistently educate business partners and key stakeholders about how tech can support, enable, and transform traditional operations in support of sustainable business outperformance. I have a critical role to play in brokering collaboration between the IT and business fraternities in support of accelerated execution, the adoption of digital, system rationalisation, the onboarding and leveraging of new technology deployments, etc.

For young people with a keen interest in IT I would advise the following:

  • You get out of life what you put into it: passion, pride, commitment, and heart. These cannot be taught but they are without a doubt differentiators. Doggedly pursue what you aspire towards – you are the architect of your own future.
  • Be genuine: far too often, I see people living separate personal versus professional lives. It is my considered opinion that being genuine is what will endear you to key stakeholders in this day and age.
  • Learn to become ambidextrous: survival in today’s fast-moving, highly competitive, global technology ecosystem, requires one to be able to manage high levels of complexity, various interdependencies, and various moving parts on a daily basis.
  • Pick your team well! Having a team composed of determined, self-motivated and multi-skilled players to support you in particularly difficult times, is critical.

Can you surface a recent highlight of your career?

In 2020, Nedbank has been recognised by Global Banking and Finance by winning 5 significant industry-leading technology-related awards, namely:

  • Best Banking Technology Implementation South Africa
  • Most Innovative Digital Branch Design South Africa
  • Most Innovative Retail Banking App (Nedbank Money App) South Africa
  • Best Retail Bank South Africa
  • CIO of the Year South Africa

I am humbled to have been recognised as the CIO of the year in South Africa for 2020. The performance and commitment of my diverse IT leadership team, the support from our CEO Mike Brown, the Board, my Group Exco colleagues, and our staff are the drivers behind us winning these awards.

What are the biggest trends impacting your field in the decade ahead?

  • Client experience focus – delivering leading client experiences, at an innovation cadence that exceeds that of our peer group on a relative basis is, in my opinion, what will separate the winners from the losers going forward.
  • Remote working – the enablement of staff to work effectively remotely is critical to support core business operations and the ongoing profitability of the enterprise.
  • Cybersecurity remains one of the most important trends, in an increasingly digitised ecosystem, as we have a responsibility to our clients to protect them from sophisticated cyber-related attacks, which continue to persist and grow in volume.
  • The pervasiveness of digital / Internet of Things (IoT) – with more and more automation, connected devices will dominate the industry and enable enterprises to cross barriers they have previously not been able to. Nedbank has well-defined plans in place to leverage our vast API network in support of improved client experience and feature functionality offered to our clients.

How would you describe your communication skills and how do you cope with stress?

I’d best describe my communication skills as ‘radically candid and people-centred.’

In the prevailing and tough Global environment, we, as leaders, have had to communicate with care and empathy whilst still being radically candid in the content of our communication. Balancing the sincere care we have for our people and delivering the cold hard facts is something my leadership team and I have not shied-away-from. We have deliberately focused our communication across digital platforms without losing the human touch.

This caring and radical candid communication approach gives rise to a workforce that grows together in and out of these tough times.

Developing skills to manage stress is an important tool in everyone’s armoury.

How do I personally cope with stress?

  • I fly. I’m an avid pilot and love the alone time in the air to reflect on past, current, and future challenges.
  • I leverage a core group of family and close friends to support me in times of need.
  • I prepare. The more stressed I am, the harder I work and, in my experience, the luckier I get.

Who do you most admire in business or who has been your biggest influence, and how have they affected you?

  • Elon Musk – It is inspiring to see how he has transformed a vision into a revolutionary reality by combining technology and business.
  • Mike Brown – Mike’s attitude, aptitude, and energy are, quite simply, extraordinary. His application and consistency over a 10+ year tenure is impressive. His ability to consistently display high levels of IQ and EQ is rare and is what sets him apart from his peers.

What 3 books would you recommend people read?

  • The Platform Revolution by Geoffrey G, Parker and Marshall W, Van Alstyne
  • Goliath’s Revenge: How Established Companies Turn the Tables on Digital Disruptors by Scott Snyder and Todd Hewlin
  • Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap and Others Don’t by Jim Collins

What do you look for when you’re building a team?

‘Strategy precedes structure.’

Having the right strategy to build a team around is the first step. Nedbank’s IT strategy is anchored around 3 pillars: Digitise, Delight, and Disrupt. Each pillar has specific strategic technology focus areas. The right team is an outcome of the strategy. At Nedbank, we have come to realise that our secret to success is the use of technology as an enabler whilst harnessing the power of our people. With these two ingredients, Technology + Our People, we create agile teams that deliver delightful client experiences whilst driving our strategic mandate to Digitise, Delight, and Disrupt the financial services industry.

Global Banking & Finance Review

 

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