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'Users are like diners, they don’t necessarily need to know how a dish has been prepared to enjoy the experience,' says Reza Cassim. Picture: SUPPLIED/RMB
'Users are like diners, they don’t necessarily need to know how a dish has been prepared to enjoy the experience,' says Reza Cassim. Picture: SUPPLIED/RMB

Reza Cassim spends a lot of time concerned about return on investment, specifically in the context of technology.

“As an established bank, our return needs to maximise existing, as well as new, technology. Balancing between ‘existing and new’ is a key differentiator between established banks and new players who don’t have to make key trade-offs in evaluating the return on digital investments.” 

Technology investment becomes an enabler for return on investment for RMB’s clients and the bank itself, says Cassim. 

As both the CFO for RMB’s markets division and FirstRand’s group treasury, Cassim has to consider both high-level and granular views of the bank’s operations and the role that technology plays. 

His dual role helps shape the bank’s perspective, because he can simultaneously consider the group’s viewpoint while addressing the needs of individual divisions. This approach is “responsible business practice” he says, because the ultimate goal is the sustainability of the banking platforms. Continued functionality at a high level while upgrades are being done and new functionality are added, is key to the transformation journey.

Almost all executives leading digital transformation in business grapple with the need to break down the silos built over many years. “Working in a silo definitely shapes the way you see something, but we’re changing this to open up blind spots,” he says. “We are transforming something that is well established, internally and externally. Therefore, we need to understand transformation objectives across the entire value chain.” 

It is commonly accepted that there are many risks along the way. There are innumerable examples of big firms losing their way during extensive overhauls of their business using new technology. “Investment in tech is a long-term game. You have to be prepared to continue investing throughout the cycle, and have strategic context for each investment.”

Deliberate choices regarding the right partners is a key consideration in ensuring return on investment. “Five years ago most banks wanted to build their own technology.” This is where banks have learnt the hard way, Cassim says. “This is not to say we would never build anything internally, but now we may partner with an accelerator.” 

Cassim understands return on investment throughout the transformation life cycle, including sustaining existing platforms through improvements and optimisation, while introducing new partners and functionality. 

“You have to strike the right balance between your investment and the return. Investment is about adding value, and one way in which we measure our return is by achieving and maintaining the required efficiency and effectiveness for clients and the bank alike.”

Cassim is conscious of the value proposition of new technology for both staff and clients. Embedding tech in people’s lives forms part of the return. “You can make the biggest investment and have the best tech, but if clients have a bad user experience it hinders the progress and use cases, and results in no return — financial or otherwise.”

Also, the client doesn’t need to be exposed to the complexity of the back end technology, nor do the bankers who are helping them. RMB’s technologists are not just focused on the implementation and running of new systems, but also on ensuring a simpler and improved user experience for their bankers and clients. 

When bankers are empowered with the right technology, their jobs become less stressful, which impacts the entire bank and its clients positively. “Where business and technology align, the entire value chain benefits,” says Cassim. “Our investment in people is an important catalyst. That is why we source, develop and retain new and diverse tech skill sets to deliver solutions.”

“Success is when everybody uses technology and systems as intended. This is the ultimate return on investment.”

There is a misconception that everyone has to be a technologist. “Most people remember the taste of food, even if they don’t know how it was made,” says Cassim. People are naturally curious and willing to try something different, like a new dish. If combined with a good experience, they will continue using it. “The best way to embrace new technology is to learn to use it.” 

This article was paid for by RMB.

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