The delivery of services in Africa, especially in the absence of a developed traditional services infrastructure, means that data science will play a large role in delivering the services that will deepen African participation in the global economy.
This is especially evident in the financial services sector where fintechs are using data science, including artificial intelligence and robotics, to empower millions of Africans with the ability to transact digitally with each other and the world.
This digital revolution is also bringing about fundamental shifts in customers’ instincts and behaviours, transforming the way that individuals and businesses connect.
In this environment, Stanbic Bank is faced with an historic chance to redefine what banking means to the people and businesses of Africa and has introduced the Data Science Graduate Programme to nurture the continent’s finest talent.
“Leveraging this opportunity requires that we become much smarter in how we use data to guide our decisions and serve our clients,” said Emmanuel Osanga, regional head information management PBB Africa regions, Standard Bank Group.
The challenge for Africa, however, is that these new technological advancements require an entirely new set of skills. Skills that few existing curricula anywhere in Africa supply.
Stanbic Bank Zambia communications and public relations manager, Chanda Katongo, said most universities don’t have degree programmes in data-science that provide “the right combination of subjects like business domain knowledge, computer science, statistics and mathematics”.
Instead, these skills are usually gained when analytically-trained graduates join a quants team, then move to IT, and then on to banking – acquiring a broad range of data, analytical and financial skills over several years.
And even then, while it’s common for individuals to acquire a few of these subject areas, none have them all.
Left to evolve naturally, the process is very slow to produce the right combination of skills, “and certainly not in the numbers that Africa requires,” Ms Katongo added.
The result is that most financial institutions in Africa compete for the same skills – from the same limited skills pool. Mr Osanga said that with the Stanbic Bank’s Data Science Graduate Programme, the bank “took the conscious decision to deliver an expanding pipeline of new graduates instead of competing for the same data science skills – effectively cannibalising the continent’s broader services sector from within”.
The programme kicked off in 2016 with 12 African mathematicians, applied mathematicians, computer scientists, statisticians and economics majors from six of Stanbic Bank’s African operations.
The course involved a three-month immersion in a tech boot camp in India’s ‘Silicon Valley’ in Bangalore, followed by action learning in South Africa for another three months. Thereafter candidates identified a project addressing a real and relevant challenge in each of their home markets.
“A challenge that only data science could solve,” said Ms Katongo.
For example, Olayinka Fadahunsi, a data science graduate from Nigeria, developed a predictive client churn tool. The system blends data mining with machine learning and visualisation to develop a data-driven business story able to identify and predict client termination behaviour. The beneficiary of the Stanbic Bank graduate programme in Zambia is Mwape Rabecca Nthala.
The R10million invested in the first year of this programme is set to kick-start African data-science knowledge bases in Nigeria, Uganda, Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and South Africa.
“This will form the nuclei of an industry which we will take to scale in coming years as our Data Science Graduate Programme adds more countries, elements and graduates,” said Ms Katongo.
This is what Stanbic Bank is celebrating as its first set of data science students graduated on November 2. At a strategic level, funding and implementing this critical data science skills development programme demonstrates Stanbic Bank commitment to positioning Africa as a serious competitor in the world’s rapidly emerging data-driven sector.
As a business, however, this also means that the bank will need to shift from being a traditional provider of financial services – to a data-driven digital services organisation.
“Developing and deploying this new breed of skills will require a change in our DNA as we evolve a culture of learning, operating and serving that meets the needs of a 21st century African service industry leader,” added Mr Osanga.
Critically for Africa, leading the continent’s development of scarce data science skills will enable the bank to service financially excluded populations. It will also help existing clients deepen their engagement with the global economy, ideas and capital. As an African universal financial services organisation, Mr Osanga said this “speaks directly to both our digital and client centricity strategies – along with our broader vision to drive Africa’s growth”.