The lady shaping digital and innovation future at National Bank

BY VICTOR ADAR After ten years of Telco jobs, Sandra Hua Yao is in to change the face of banking at a time when players in the sector are going crazy about new ways of providing services. Currently the director of new business development at National Bank of Kenya – her key tasks involves growing the Chinese business and lead innovation while advancing digital strategies. Ms Yao, 31, has played a central role in leading the creation of the new department thus making bigger contribution in National Bank’s bottom-line. It is second after Equity bank, in capturing this niche market. She saw it as her mission to give financial services access to Chinese. DSC_1276 Yao is unperturbed as she always knew she would bring something fresh, especially to National Bank with the latest success being breaking the barrier which Chinese investors have had for a long time – China Union Pay card is about to be issued by National Bank. Those who are visiting briefly from China will now be able to use this card without the need to apply for a new one. At the same time, the youthful lady engages a growing number of Chinese registered businesses in Kenya, currently about 300 in number, offering a safe and secure place for their savings. “We thought that was a big business opportunity,” she says. “Nothing is that smooth, just different opinions. But so far so good… We have brought Chinese cash to the bank. One of the first in our markets.” If you think about it, Chinese is doing big business in Kenya. A lot of it is infrastructure – like building super highways, apartments, supplying electronics, as well as clothes, handbags, shoes and toys. There is so much investment in town right now with a lot of inflows from China. For Yao, this niche market bodes well being that she has a diverse network of China people. She says that modern day banking need clever strategies citing great success of parties aimed at the Chinese Community. She uses such events to reach out to Chinese professionals and businessmen. Most of the Chinese community know her as Sandra (her brand), an indication that banking is about ‘putting my money in my bank’. It needs to be safe. Customers need to trust you to bring the money to you. “I have my networks of Chinese, so I already have that. Chinese business was easy for me because of my network. They know me, and they trust me so they bank with me,” she explains with excitement. Most people argue that National Bank being national bank has never had a business focus until the new Chief Executive, Munir Ahmed, came on board. That is true. But Yao looks at it differently. She says that bankers are slow. They might not feel the urgency of changing today thus the reason big banks like theirs attracted weird perception. Things have to be done now. It was yesterday bankers should have moved and they are not catching up with the timelines and that is the young executive’s main frustration. “Going to the banking sector…it is basically digitizing it in a much more friendly way and it is easy for me because now I have an open mind,” she says. Staying ahead of the curve Going digital is supper, basically because it provides alternative channels for the customer. What Ms Yao is trying to do at the moment is aligning all these (mobile banking, internet banking…) to develop a digital transformation strategy for the bank because today all their platforms are in silos and not synchronised. It is not only about a deal for transactions, some added value in your banking services is what will entice customers. She says that banks need to interconnect to the peoples’ lives as that is what creates differentiation in the eyes of the customer. Posing clever questions like: “How do I make payments easy and what value do I add in your life for banking with me? Why is National Bank more superior? Is it because of the other value added services it provides or what is it?” Sandra is prepared to ignite growth in her docket big time. “Every bank has mobile banking; every bank has Internet banking… That’s what we want to develop as a bank and that’s what we drive,” she says. Mobile banking is the trend and is the future of payment – these days every industry is focusing on mobile payments especially in e-commerce (picture Alibaba.) When the online shopping platform launched their mobile app, their growth on mobile purchase has increased by 30% a year, she says. Players like Alibaba have discovered consumer behaviour. Consequently, people spend much more time on their phones, on Internet, on Computer, on Tablets and on TV than they do with their wallets. You can go anywhere without your wallet (you might forget it) but you won’t forget your phone. Basically the phone is everything. You need to interlink with your e-wallet with your card and your smartphone and voila. Ms Yao have also noticed that banking is not “signs” anymore. Anyone can provide a place for you to deposit your money and give you an ATM card, to store your value basically. Unless you have cutting edge, you are not competitive anymore. And the biggest competition in banking industry today is no longer banks. It is all of start-ups, the new banks, and techy companies. Many Kenyans have had hard times with banks that fail to innovate. There is no need to go into a bank and spend half the day to do simple transactions. Yao says it is such a shame that bankers in Kenya are slow. “The way bankers think is very traditional. We are not open to new ideas. Or, rather we don’t want to take risks. But in mobile payments and in the future of payments you need to take risks. That’s why there’s innovation. You must change the way you think about banking,” she says. On transformation… How do we change how people think about us? First, by doing things differently, and secondly, by doing new things. That’s why Yao’s department is called business development. It is about perception change. A lot of people think National Bank was for government and for old people. So to change that dark perception, the colour, the logo as well as the brand had to be changed. Her dream of using innovation hub to catalyse growth lives. It is because she comes from Telcos that she tossed a proposal to National Bank about a partnership with Nailab. The thinking behind the idea was how to inter connect the telecommunication and financial services into one. How do we create a platform for the young people who are in techy who can design solutions to help solve problems in the financial industry in Kenya and to create a story line for people to talk about National Bank differently?

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