Banking on change
PROFILE: Barclays Africa chief creation officer Yasaman Hadjibashi
Iranian-born and US-educated Yasaman Hadjibashi has found herself in SA, where she is leading innovation at Barclays Africa
Yasaman Hadjibashi doesn’t immediately strike you as a tech geek. But the unassuming 34-year-old, with a mischievous smile and a twinkle in her eyes, is as techie as they come.
Barclays Africa’s chief creation officer, Hadjibashi is passionate about putting the bank’s mountains of data to work — for its customers and its bottom line.
On the back of the digital revolution, consumers expect on-demand, personalised experiences from financial services organisations, she says. And solving customer pain points is a job she believes is particularly suited to women because they “are damn good at putting themselves in the shoes of other people”.
Iranian-born Hadjibashi speaks five languages: Farsi, German, French, Spanish and English. She was in her early years of primary school during the Iran-Iraq war. As a seven-year-old, she knew where to hide during an air strike.
After finishing high school in Germany, where she is a citizen, Hadjibashi studied business administration at the University of California, Berkeley, and later obtained an MBA at Harvard. She worked at PwC and Deutsche Bank during this time, but decided investment banking wasn’t for her.
“In your 20s, quit often and quit early — you can recover,” she says. “Figure out what really excites you.”
Instead, she decided to join Barclays Plc’s global leadership programme in London, with a view to paying off her US$100,000 student loan and then joining a start-up.
“Six years later, I’m still [at Barclays] and am in my seventh role. It’s been a really amazing journey.”
It’s fair to say the job started with a steep learning curve. Having done only two computer science courses over the course of her degrees, Hadjibashi admits that she had to learn a lot about digital banking from scratch.
A career-defining moment came when Usama Fayyad — former chief data officer at Barclays Plc — approached her to help him build the bank’s data department.
Eight months later, in February 2015, she moved to Johannesburg to become Barclays Africa’s chief data officer.
She was appointed group chief creation officer in November last year and is now in charge of “defining, leading and executing” the group’s innovation agenda.
Though her division falls under operations and technology, Hadjibashi works closely with the bank’s product houses to ensure that platform and product innovations “actually see the light of day”.
Creative problem solving is what she enjoys most about her job. “I love inspiring other people to collectively crack big problems,” she says.
Hadjibashi tries to create as entrepreneurial a culture as possible for her team, which she says is essential to attracting the next generation of talent.
She is optimistic about the group’s future on the continent, even as its parent disinvests. “This is our time to come together as an organisation and define where we want to go without any influence from London. We can define the entire journey.”