In Conversation:Matshidiso Kereteletswe (Head of Technology & Operations, Stanbic Bank Botswana)

From being a founding member and first president of her high school's Computer Club in her formative years to now being the Head of Technology & Operations at Stanbic Bank Botswana, Matshidiso has always been a tech geek at heart. In this interview, she takes through where her love for computers started, her new role at Stanbic Bank Botswana, the Bank's digitalization strategy roadmap and much more!

In your own words, please tell us who Matshidiso Kereteletswe is

If I had to describe myself best, I would say that I am a person who is driven by a purpose to make the world a better place.  Driving this purpose makes my goals crystal clear.  I know exactly what they mean to me, and those around me in a big way.  I strive to leave anyone – person, organization, or place - in a better state than how I found it.  

I am an adaptable individual who embraces change and appreciates the presence of an enabling and stimulating working environment.  I am passionate about improving the lives of the communities we live and operate in.

I am focused.  No matter what comes my way, I always find a means to overcome it.  I get excited by challenges and opportunities to explore how I can more effectively manage time.  There is a tool called “Wheel of Life” or “Wheel of Balance,” which I adopted a long time ago after undergoing some leadership training.   I love it because it helps one appreciate how they spend their time, and how you can refocus your time on the right things.  

I am a very reflective person.  This helps me identify opportunities for self-improvement.  After key engagements, I like doing what in medical terms is called a postmortem.  In the business world simply means” how did it go?  During this process, we review, give credit where it is due, and identify opportunities for improvement where we have not done so well.  

Last but not least, I enjoy the company of people who choose to have progressive and meaningful discussions.  

On a more personal note, I was born in Bobonong, and raised by parents (may their souls rest in peace), who believed in the value of Education.  During my tender years, I spent most of my holidays together with my siblings at the lands, when our parents instilled values, and taught us skills that made me the woman, wife, parent, and professional I am today.   I am the fifth of six children.  I am married to Dr. Omponye Coach Kereteletswe, and we have been blessed with two adorable children: Thuto and Lesedi.

Briefly take us through your journey to being Head of Technology & Operations at Stanbic Bank Botswana

Interesting journey, I must say. From the day I started school, I have always found mathematics to be natural for me.  My interest in Technology expressed itself more when I was in high school.  This was after I learned that there are tools that could make things happen faster than one can imagine: computers.   I became more familiar with the existence of computers and started using them.  With a few of my colleagues, and our ever-supporting Class Teacher, Zwide Mbulawa, the school Computer Club was formed, and I became the first president of the club.   Some of the key activities that we used computers for was to play games.  This was when I learned and grew interested in chess, which I later played live.   When I completed O Levels, I was clear on what my dream was:  I later studied for my Bachelor of Computer Science (Cooperative Programme) at the Technical University of Nova Scotia, popularly known as TUNS, in Halifax, Canada.  I then entered the corporate world and have since had a great and rewarding journey.  I have crossed paths with great people and even world leaders and continue to learn and grow.  

When it comes to my Technology profession, I have never taken my eyes off the ball.  Not even once.  I have consistently and objectively worked at keeping myself relevant.  I moved and continue to move with the times.  In organizations where I worked directly in the technology area, I have had the opportunity to code and lead some key technological developments and solutions. 

I started working from the time I was given a desk and space to work as an intern.  I have always believed in the difference I made. I can happily say that I have worked for incredible institutions such as Standard Chartered Bank, United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF), Absa Bank (then Barclays Bank), First National Bank, and now Stanbic Bank Botswana (once again).

On coming back to Stanbic Bank, I can only say, I am delighted.  What is exciting and energizing for me is the opportunity to lead and drive the Technology agenda.  There is no better time than now. I really have no words to describe how I am humbled to be part of this new normal.  The buzzwords - digital transformation, 4IR, cloud computing, self-service, agility - are written everywhere.  It’s time to get things done.  

Please tell us what your job entails. 

As Head, Technology & Operations, I help drive holistic and sustainable progress in the Bank’s transformation agenda, catapulting Stanbic Bank into its vision of a platform business and bank of the future. This includes supporting the Bank’s strategy around building local capacity, unlocking the full potential of teams and business, and promulgating sustainable value creation for and with all stakeholders. The right technology and sound operational practices are integral to this. I also serve as part of the Bank’s Country Leadership Committee (CLC), which means influence and leverage around delivering on our strategy, ensuring the business is fit for purpose and indeed delivering on our Purpose: Botswana is our home, we drive her growth. I work with incredible colleagues all united in this endeavor and in a truly transformational time. 

What would you say is the most exciting part of your job?

This is a truly unprecedented time we find ourselves in, and yet an equally opportune one. We sit on the cusp of an entirely revolutionized industry and indeed economy. The bank of the future is very much within reach; we are evolving, adapting, and growing to become even more future fit for purpose, building a financial services partner that not only brings consumer needs into a single and harmonized ecosystem (a platform business) but creating shared value at every turn by unlocking possibilities for and with our people – colleagues, clients, community and country. It sees not simply a mindset shift at an individual level, but a collective movement to empower, train and educate more so that our people truly wield positive progress. 

It means being an enabler for socio-economic progress, financial wellbeing, and prosperity. The harmony of people and technology is changing how we think, live, and work, and we are a part of that every day. These are exciting and intriguing times, and the fact that I work in an environment wholly alive to this and with people attuned to it is phenomenal. 

As the Head of Technology & Operations in a bank situated in a country where technology adoption by the populace is growing but still arguably low and slow compared to other tech trailblazing countries in the continent, how do you and your team plan to surmount this challenge in order to ensure that you execute your digitalization strategies?

It is very much about thinking and working strategically. The fourth industrial revolution is here; it is no longer revolutionary in some ways because it is part and parcel of our daily lives. What is key, however, is how we as a business, as a business community and as a country embrace what it stands to offer us. Yes, in some regards, Botswana may feel slightly behind the proverbial curve in executing transformation digital progress – but we are not ones to be left behind for too long. We are learning, we are capacitating, we are evolving, and we are determined to unlock infinite growth and prosperity through what modern technological advancements have to offer. What is key is how we embrace, leverage and optimize this in line with the vision we want – the Botswana we want, the Africa we want, and the world we want. 

At Stanbic Bank, our strategy and our team are cognizant of this potential, and of the reality, it can help usher us into. We have invested in the talent and infrastructure to actually ensure progress in this regard; the core banking system of the business was upgraded to a phenomenal value; this is unlocking a number of exciting new abilities both internal and external, ultimately creating greater value for the customer. We are using robotics and AI to better understand our customers, and in doing so be able to enhance their experience with us, and a number of exciting developments will soon be shared in this regard.  These are but a few examples, and supporting this, our Human Capital team is the driving force behind ensuring our people are trained, upskilled, and capacitated for the journey. We know where we are going, and we know how we are getting there. 

Stanbic Bank has been recently accelerating its digital growth, with a recent example being the launch of the Unayo app. How important and effective do you reckon these digitalization strategies will be to both Stanbic’s customers and its bottom line?

As people say, the future is digital; and that’s very much true. While it by no means sees us leave behind traditional banking platforms and services, it of course presents many an opportunity for growth. Above and beyond value to the bottom line through revenue generation and internal efficiencies, it means we are giving our customers what we know they want and need. We are taking financial services to them in a way that we know aligns with their lives and businesses. 

Unayo is a great example because it is affordable, convenient, and inclusive. It empowers both individuals and businesses or merchants, providing a single hub for economic activity. This innovation is demonstrative of our Purpose: Botswana is our home, we drive her growth. True to its name “Unayo,” which means “You Have It”, or “O Na Le Yone” puts the power in people’s hands to improve their financial wellbeing and ensures they are part of a growing and thriving economic ecosystem. It is about creating value and changing lives, and this is what is very much at the heart of our efforts as a business.

As you assume your new position with the Bank, where do you envision its digital technology growth to be in say, the next 3 years?

Stanbic Bank Botswana, and Standard Bank Group, have a clearly laid down strategy.  I see the Bank achieving this strategy.  We will be amongst the significant players in the digital technology space.

With the Unayo app having done so well at launch, are there any interesting upcoming digital products that you can give our readers a sneak-peek into or hint about?

I cannot quite share details as yet, but I can say we have some exciting solutions and platforms in the pipeline… so watch this space. 

With the digital world constantly and rapidly changing through the introduction of new technologies, how do you ensure that your skillset always remains relevant?

If you had a sneak peek at my CV, you would realize that I have not stopped learning.  In fact, remaining relevant is part of my personal strategy.  The new world of online training has made it easier as there are so many things to learn, at your own time and pace. Continuous learning and improvement are the way to go. 

What’s something you know now that you wish you knew earlier in your 26-year professional career?

Keep your friends and family close as these will be the first and last people you spend your life with.  There was a time when I gave work too much time; now, I have learned to balance.

What would you say is the best advice you have received in your career?

To always believe in me.  There is nothing like a small dream; a dream is a dream.  What is even more fulfilling is to realize it.  

Lastly, as a woman in a tech management position in a national bank, you will be a role model to many young girls and women interested in pursuing careers in tech. What advice can you give to them?

To the girls and women out there, the Technology industry is ever-evolving, with some of the latest advancements being in machine learning and data science.  You have an opportunity to help contribute to new discoveries and solve problems across the world.  Be and remain yourself.  It’s great to be a girl; it’s great to be a woman.  There is a reason for your existence.  To the parents out there, please afford your children equal opportunities from day one, regardless of gender.  Let them be.  

I believe it is imperative to find the right person for a role regardless of their gender. However, that being said, we are all working to ensure greater gender parity in the professional environment. Stanbic Bank has an inclusive diversity agenda that strives to ensure equal opportunities for men and women. There is no discrimination and indeed we have a number of acceleration and empowerment platforms to close the gender gap, including the Ignite Women’s Circle. These are things I look forward to experiencing more and getting involved in, for their positive impact is clear to see in a simple fact that we now see near-perfect gender parity in the Bank’s 15 CLC members of impeccable skill and experience, an achievement we remain proud of and which I am proud to see in my personal capacity too. 

My words of wisdom to young women and girls looking to thrive in technology careers is that this is your time, seize the opportunity. 

NB: Interview has been slightly edited for clarity

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