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‘Data Wunderkinds’ change how banks innovate

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Over the past few years, many companies have pursued the benefits of big data, yet are still struggling to see this material. YASAMAN HADJIBASHI, Chief Data Officer for Barclays Africa, explains the secret to her success in building a revenue-generating data team.

Banks are still in their big data infancy. Many players have created big data operations that incorporate technology, data science and analytics in search of deeper and more sophisticated consumer insights. Yet many financial institutions are finding these sizeable digital investments are not reaping the expected commercial gains, leaving senior management to question what other key ingredient is missing from this recipe.

The availability of open-source big data technologies makes the development of new products and services faster and truly scalable for big organisations such as banks. However, the barrier facing banks realise their big data potential is the lack of systematic and sustainable processes for translating and implementing insights and predictions into meaningful products and services. Until recently, these data-driven insights vanished alongside the temporary campaigns they once supported.

As with any large established organisation, there is an expectation to remain flawless and preserve one’s reputation. The reality is, the larger the institution, the less forgiving the consumer will be. However the fear of unsuccessful experimentation and reluctance to test new concepts within the banking environment is equally risky, stifling an institution’s ability to innovate and prosper in an extremely competitive environment.

The Rise of the Data Wunderkind

In order to extract genuine actionable value from banking data, institutions need to pay attention to the emergence of a new breed of Product Manager, or, as I call this rare employee, the ‘Data Wunderkind’. This new genre of data talent combines expertise and skills across six frontiers: big data and analytics, commerce, agile execution, design, digital and customer experience.

A Data Wunderkind bridges the gap between the back office and the frontline by decoding the complex algorithmic output of the data scientist into ‘wow’ experiences for the customer. Using modelling, engineering and development, the Data Wunderkind works closely with various client-facing teams to define and optimise the final customer journey. Whilst this may sound familiar to financial start-ups and adjacent fintech companies, historically, back-office intelligence would not usually filter across to the customer.

Continuous tracking of data intelligence at an individual user level and back into products and experiences is how a legacy corporate businesses can create personalised customer-centric products, on top of re-establishing the lost intimacy and trust between customers and banks.

Here at Absa, a subsidiary of Barclays Africa Group Limited, we’ve seen the benefits of this new breed of data expert through a number of large scale customer pilots that focus on providing tailored and engaging experiences across our overdraft products and credit line limit increases.

Of an initial 422,000 customers who have been part of Absa’s smart predictive SMS alert pilot―warning customers of future spending shortfalls and providing personalised options―more than 66% proactively took action following the alert to manage their payment obligations better. In a follow-up survey, respondents gave a Net Promoter Score* of +80, confirming they had found the personalised SMS service useful. In this case, the leadership and smart execution of the Data Wunderkind resulted in the creation of a ‘wow’ experience for the customer and increased conversion rates by 10x.

The Data Wunderkind and Growth Hacker Partnership

In addition to the Data Wunderkind, the current phenomenon of the Growth Hacker―a smart ‘whiz kid’ who uses creative analytical means to drive user adoption and increase customer retention―has also started to find its way into the banking space.

Absa has introduced this role in South Africa as part of our Data Products and Platforms teams to target the continent and our customer base with special focus on the millennial, who comprise the majority segment of Africa’s population. In partnership with the dynamic capability of the ‘Growth Hacker’, the Data Wunderkind can optimise product adoption across various channels leading to a boom of new data-led innovations.

The Future of Banking and Data

As banks continue to acquire the next generation of data skills from progressive players in the same space or adjacent industries, the winner will be the one who takes best practice and proof of concepts from a lab environment into a streamlined factory delivery mode.

Ultimately the role of big data teams in banks is not only to build infrastructure and platforms, or for data scientists and analysts to churn out models in the background but, rather, to generate tangible pieces of value that find their way to the customer for test, trial and mass launch.

The sooner banks roll out the secret recipe of product management across their data investments via Data Wunderkinds, the faster they will achieve their desired material returns via an increase in product uptake, improved customer satisfaction and higher Net Promoter Scores.

Typical marketing campaigns see an uplift of 2-3% to 10-30% using real time data-driven solutions. However, as per our pilots, by combining real-time data-driven intelligence with the capabilities of Data Wunderkinds and Growth Hackers, success rates can increase by a further 30%.

A true data-driven approach with optimised customer experiences across various user touch points is where banks today can witness the holy grail of connecting with their customers in new and intimate ways. It is the continuous focus on the end user throughout the data product lifecycle which will achieve the ideal benefit that all businesses strive for: A Net Promoter Score greater than 40% and customer satisfaction results greater than 80%.

Banks may not recognise it, but they have an optimistic outlook in the heated race to attract and groom the next generation of rare data talent. Possession of valuable customer and transactional information combined with their tremendous user reach for product launches gives banks a competitive advantage against tech companies and should be used as a magnet to attract the skills and expertise of the Data Wunderkind.

Their acknowledged need and readiness for investment in this new data space has not gone unnoticed. In the fight to attract the best data talent, compared to the likes of prominent tech protagonists such as Google, Netflix, and Amazon, banks offer an unmatched opportunity to lead beginning-to-end product executions which have the potential to touch a customer beyond that of minimal incremental features or functionality enhancements.

Big data has an exciting future within reach for banks, all of whom have an equal chance to join this growth and innovation journey.  However, it all starts with deep focus on attracting the right new data talent to ensure maximised returns from their major digital investments.

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Low-cost wireless sport earphones get a kickstart

Wireless earphone brands are common, but not crowdfunded brands. BRYAN TURNER takes the K Sport Wireless for a run.

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As wireless technology becomes better, Bluetooth earphones have become popular in the consumer market. KuaiFit aspires to make them even more accessible to more people through a cheaper, quality product, by selling the K Sport Wireless Earphones directly from its Kickstarter page

KuaiFit has an app by the same name which offers voice-guided personal training services in almost every type of exercise, from cardio to weight-lifting. A vast range of connectivity to third-party sensors is available, like heart rate sensors and GPS devices, which work well with guided coaching. 

The app starts off with selecting a fitness level: beginner, intermediate and advanced. Thereafter, one has the ability to connect with real personal trainers via a subscription to its paid service. The subscription comes free for 6 months with the earphones, and R30 per month thereafter. 

The box includes a manual, a USB to two USB Type B connectors, different sized soft plastic eartips and the two earphone units. Each earphone is wireless and connects to the other independently of wires. This puts the K Sport Wireless in the realm of the Apple Earpods in terms of connection style. 

The earphones are just over 2cm wide and 2cm high. The set is black with a light blue KuaiFit logo on the earphone’s button. 

The button functions as an on/off switch when long-pressed and a play/pause button when quick-pressed. The dual-button set-up is convenient in everyday use, allowing for playback control depending on which hand is free. Two connectivity modes are available, single earphone mode or dual earphone mode. The dual earphone mode intelligently connects the second earphone and syncs stereo audio a few seconds after powering on. 

In terms of connectivity, the earphones are Bluetooth 4.1 with a massive 10-meter range, provided there are no obstacles between the device and the earphones. While it’s not Bluetooth 5, it still falls into the Bluetooth Low Energy connection category, meaning that the smartphone’s battery won’t be drastically affected by a consistent connection to the earphones. The batteries within the earphones aren’t specifically listed but last anywhere between 3 and 6 hours, depending on the mode. 

Audio quality is surprisingly good for earphones at this price point. The headset style is restricted to in-ear due to its small design and probable usage in movement-intensive activities. As a result, one has to be very careful how one puts these earphones, in because bass has the potential of getting reduced from an incorrect in-ear placement. In-ear earphones are usually notorious for ear discomfort and suction pain after extended usage. These earphones are one of the very few in this price range that are comfortable and don’t cause discomfort. The good quality of the soft plastic ear tip is definitely a factor in the high level of comfort of the in-ear earphone experience.

Overall, the K Sport Wireless earphones are great considering the sound quality and the low price: US$30 on Kickstarter.

Find them on Kickstarter here.

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Taxify enters Google Maps

A recent update to Taxify now uses Google Maps which allows users to identify their drivers, find public transport and search for billing options.

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People planning their travel routes using Google Maps will now see a Taxify icon in the app, in addition to the familiar car, public transport, walking and billing options.

Taxify started operating in South Africa in 2016 and as of October 2018 operates in seven South African cities – Johannesburg, Ekurhuleni, Tshwane, Cape Town, Durban, Port Elizabeth and Polokwane.

Once riders have searched for their destination and asked the app for directions, Google Maps shares the proximity of cars on the Taxify platform, as well as an estimated fare for the trip.

If users see that taking the Taxify option is their best bet, they can simply tap on the ‘Open app’ icon, to complete the process of booking the ride. Customers without the app on their device will be prompted to install Taxify first.

This integration makes it possible for users to evaluate which of the private, public or e-hailing modes of transport are most time-efficient and cost-effective.

“This integration with Google Maps makes it so much easier for users to choose the best way to move around their city,” says Gareth Taylor, Taxify’s country manager for South Africa. “They’ll have quick comparisons between estimated arrival times for the different modes of transport, as well as fares they can expect to pay, which will help save both time and money,” he added.

Taxify rides in Google Maps are rolling out globally today and will be available in more than 15 countries, with South Africa being one of the first countries to benefit from this convenient service.

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