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Tutoring comes to apps

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NATHIER ABRAHAMS started his first tutoring business in 2010. Now the young entrepreneur is hoping to capture a bigger share of the market with a new app he’s named TutorFy.

Don’t for a moment think that tutoring is small fry.

One recent study estimates that the global private tutoring market would be worth well over US$128 billion by 2020. In South Korea, the Wall Street Journal reported in 2013, “rock star” tutor Kim Ki-Hoon makes as much as US$4 million a year teaching English online, in an after-school learning market valued at some $17 billion. According to a Times of India report, India’s tutoring market would be worth $16 billion by 2017. In Japan, online tutors alone do around $10 billion in business every year.

The market is likely more modest in South Africa, but Nathier Abrahams, for one, knows it’s growing.

Abrahams, now 25, had started tutoring maths and physics after he finished school, employed by another business. But he felt he could do better on his own, and set up a company called In Tune Tutoring. He opened a learning centre at a mosque in Rondebosch East in 2010, running classes with a handful of other tutors he’d recruited and trained. By 2012 he’d established a second centre, this time at a shop in Goodwood that he converted into suitable spaces. He also extended In Tune to home tutoring.

The venture flourished, but it took its toll. In 2011, Abrahams, who had cut short his psychology studies at the University of Cape Town, had registered for a BCom degree at the University of the Western Cape (UWC). Keeping tabs on the learning centres and managing the home tutoring business while a full-time student proved to be too many irons in one fire.

“It was a nightmare,” he now recalls. “When tutors cancelled, for instance, you had to run around to find another tutor. It was just hectic.”

At the end of 2013, just as he was finishing his UWC studies, Abrahams closed down the home tutoring part of In Tune.

But he knew he was missing out on a huge market. In 2015, he thought of a way back in – an online marketplace where clients could connect with qualified and endorsed tutors.

And so was born Tutorfy, which serves as a “curated online marketplace” for parents to source tutors. To give them the peace of mind as to the credentials of the tutors – you’re never quite sure what you’re getting on, say, Gumtree – Abrahams would recruit, screen and train a pool of tutors.

“For parents, our main clients, we offer convenience, easy access to tutors, fast turnaround times on bookings, and more professional tutors,” says Abrahams. “There’s a trust factor.”

But remembering his troubles with running a home tutoring programme, Abrahams has in part modelled Tutorfy on companies like Uber and Airbnb.

Clients and tutors meet and arrange scheduling sessions in a streamlined process via Tutorfy, with no need for any centralised administration. This gives Tutorfy an edge over competitors, believes Abrahams.

And much like Uber, Tutorfy makes money by taking a share of the fees paid by clients for lessons. Clients pay Tutorfy, which then pays tutors. (Better than the often casual payment arrangements of private tutoring.) “Tutors love the platform because it allows them to manage their own profile and booking times, and that the website automates the process,” says Abrahams.

Abrahams is not short of business mentors, as his father runs a successful garage-door company. But with Tutorfy, he figured he needed assistance.

He turned to FutureMakers, a Telkom initiative to drive innovation in South Africa’s ICT sector. After an audition process, he won a place on InnoTech, a bespoke programme that aims to take black-owned tech start-ups from concept to market. The programme is run on behalf of Telkom FutureMakers by the Bandwidth Barn in Woodstock, which forms part of the Cape Innovation and Technology Initiative (CiTi). The project provides successful start-ups with R20 000 in ‘angel funding’, as well as office space, internet and telephone access, and business training. (The InnoTech program has been dubbed by some as the “Y-combinator of the Silicon Cape”, in reference to the acclaimed American start-up incubator.)

The input from FutureMakers has made a dramatic difference to his business, says Abrahams. With the funding he has, for instance, been able to brand the company, which includes purchasing the Tutorfy golf shirts that tutors wear to lessons. In turn, the office space creates networking opportunities with other start-ups, and allows him to focus on the business at hand. (“The brain thinks differently at an office than it does while working at home,” he says.)

Tutorfy went live in March 2016. And while it may take a while for Abrahams to match the revenue of a certain Korean tutor, the marketplace does add a fresh new element to the South African market.

Arts and Entertainment

VoD cuts the cord in SA

Some 20% of South Africans who sign up for a subscription video on demand (SVOD) service such as Netflix or Showmax do so with the intention of cancelling their pay television subscription.

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That’s according to GfK’s international ViewScape survey*, which this year covers Africa (South Africa, Kenya and Nigeria) for the first time.

The study—which surveyed 1,250 people representative of urban South African adults with Internet access—shows that 90% of the country’s online adults today use at least one online video service and that just over half are paying to view digital online content. The average user spends around 7 hours and two minutes a day consuming video content, with broadcast television accounting for just 42% of the time South Africans spend in front of a screen.

Consumers in South Africa spend nearly as much of their daily viewing time – 39% of the total – watching free digital video sources such as YouTube and Facebook as they do on linear television. People aged 18 to 24 years spend more than eight hours a day watching video content as they tend to spend more time with free digital video than people above their age.

Says Benjamin Ballensiefen, managing director for Sub Sahara Africa at GfK: “The media industry is experiencing a revolution as digital platforms transform viewers’ video consumption behaviour. The GfK ViewScape study is one of the first to not only examine broadcast television consumption in Kenya, Nigeria and South Africa, but also to quantify how linear and online forms of content distribution fit together in the dynamic world of video consumption.”

The study finds that just over a third of South African adults are using streaming video on demand (SVOD) services, with only 16% of SVOD users subscribing to multiple services. Around 23% use per-pay-view platforms such as DSTV Box Office, while about 10% download pirated content from the Internet. Around 82% still sometimes watch content on disc-based media.

“Linear and non-linear television both play significant roles in South Africa’s video landscape, though disruption from digital players poses a growing threat to the incumbents,” says Molemo Moahloli, general manager for media research & regional business development at GfK Sub Sahara Africa. “Among most demographics, usage of paid online content is incremental to consumption of linear television, but there are signs that younger consumers are beginning to substitute SVOD for pay-television subscriptions.”

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New data rules raise business trust challenges

When the General Data Protection Regulation comes into effect on May 25th, financial services firms will face a new potential threat to their on-going challenges with building strong customer relationships, writes DARREL ORSMOND, Financial Services Industry Head at SAP Africa.

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The regulation – dubbed GDPR for short – is aimed at giving European citizens control back over their personal data. Any firm that creates, stores, manages or transfers personal information of an EU citizen can be held liable under the new regulation. Non-compliance is not an option: the fines are steep, with a maximum penalty of €20-million – or nearly R300-million – for transgressors.

GDPR marks a step toward improved individual rights over large corporates and states that prevents the latter from using and abusing personal information at their discretion. Considering the prevailing trust deficit – one global EY survey found that 60% of global consumers worry about hacking of bank accounts or bank cards, and 58% worry about the amount of personal and private data organisations have about them – the new regulation comes at an opportune time. But it is almost certain to cause disruption to normal business practices when implemented, and therein lies both a threat and an opportunity.

The fundamentals of trust

GDPR is set to tamper with two fundamental factors that can have a detrimental effect on the implicit trust between financial services providers and their customers: firstly, customers will suddenly be challenged to validate that what they thought companies were already doing – storing and managing their personal data in a manner that is respectful of their privacy – is actually happening. Secondly, the outbreak of stories relating to companies mistreating customer data or exposing customers due to security breaches will increase the chances that customers now seek tangible reassurance from their providers that their data is stored correctly.

The recent news of Facebook’s indiscriminate sharing of 50 million of its members’ personal data to an outside firm has not only led to public outcry but could cost the company $2-trillion in fines should the Federal Trade Commission choose to pursue the matter to its fullest extent. The matter of trust also extends beyond personal data: in EY’s 2016 Global Consumer Banking Survey, less than a third of respondents had complete trust that their banks were being transparent about fees and charges.

This is forcing companies to reconsider their role in building and maintaining trust with its customers. In any customer relationship, much is done based on implicit trust. A personal banking customer will enjoy a measure of familiarity that often provides them with some latitude – for example when applying for access to a new service or an overdraft facility – that can save them a lot of time and energy. Under GDPR and South Africa’s POPI act, this process is drastically complicated: banks may now be obliged to obtain permission to share customer data between different business units (for example because they are part of different legal entities and have not expressly received permission). A customer may now allow banks to use their personal data in risk scoring models, but prevent them from determining whether they qualify for private banking services.

What used to happen naturally within standard banking processes may be suddenly constrained by regulation, directly affecting the bank’s relationship with its customers, as well as its ability to upsell to existing customers.

The risk of compliance

Are we moving to an overly bureaucratic world where even the simplest action is subject to a string of onerous processes? Compliance officers are already embedded within every function in a typical financial services institution, as well as at management level. Often the reporting of risk processes sits outside formal line functions and end up going straight to the board. This can have a stifling effect on innovation, with potentially negative consequences for customer service.

A typical banking environment is already creaking under the weight of close to 100 acts, which makes it difficult to take the calculated risks needed to develop and launch innovative new banking products. Entire new industries could now emerge, focusing purely on the matter of compliance and associated litigation. GDPR already requires the services of Data Protection Officers, but the growing complexity of regulatory compliance could add a swathe of new job functions and disciplines. None of this points to the type of innovation that the modern titans of business are renowned for.

A three-step plan of action

So how must banks and other financial services firms respond? I would argue there are three main elements to successfully navigating the immediate impact of the new regulations:

Firstly, ensuring that the technologies you use to secure, manage and store personal data is sufficiently robust. Modern financial services providers have a wealth of customer data at their disposal, including unstructured data from non-traditional sources such as social media. The tools they use to process and safeguard this data needs to be able to withstand the threats posed by potential data breaches and malicious attacks.

Secondly, rethinking the core organisational processes governing their interactions with customers. This includes the internal measures for setting terms and conditions, how customers are informed of their intention to use their data, and how risk is assessed. A customer applying for medical insurance will disclose deeply personal information about themselves to the insurance provider: it is imperative the insurer provides reassurance that the customer’s data will be treated respectfully and with discretion and with their express permission.

Thirdly, financial services firms need to define a core set of principles for how they treat customers and what constitutes fair treatment. This should be an extension of a broader organisational focus on treating customers fairly, and can go some way to repairing the trust deficit between the financial services industry and the customers they serve.

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