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Robyn King is part of a globally nomadic workforce at RMB. Picture: SUPPLIED/RMB
Robyn King is part of a globally nomadic workforce at RMB. Picture: SUPPLIED/RMB

After living in India since 2019, Robyn King moved to London this month and was amazed to discover how hard it was to open a bank account. She had to go to a bank branch to make an appointment, for which she had to return a week later. 

“Many of the innovative ways to securely transact online that we have in SA aren’t available here. These services are provided by fintechs, or by tech players such as Google moving into finance. It shows how need drives innovation, and how the competitive landscape is changing,” says King. 

It’s a huge change from mobile-friendly India, where King, co-head of structuring for RMB’s markets division, moved just four months before the pandemic hit. “The plan was to build out our digital capabilities in India, where we already have a substantial workforce, while also exploring other innovation hubs, including Belarus for its quants and Lebanon, where RMB’s trading partner Murex is situated.”

“The Indian landscape is interesting. Though there is also a huge unbanked population, the investment acumen of people in India is really high. They have the largest exchange by trading volumes in the world. During the pandemic, retail stock trading exploded in India. We have a lot we can learn from India’s competitiveness and widespread engagement in the markets.”

King is part of a globally nomadic workforce at RMB, which is given the space to explore other countries and financial ecosystems to find the best new ways of doing things. 

“The long-term vision is to upskill people and build our company and our country to be globally relevant.”

King’s team works closely with sales teams and trading desks. “As solution creators we act on behalf of our clients. That means creating the best solution, delivered via the best platform. We need to consider the entire experience, whether it be for retail, institutional or corporate clients.”

Technology solutions have evolved considerably, and banks are moving towards a more open ecosystem. Partnering with smaller, more agile fintech firms is an industry trend. “It is still early days in our fintech journey, but sharing in the risks and rewards of the underlying company, rather than having vendor-like relationships, is gaining a lot of traction.” 

But any such partnership between a big bank and small fintech, is difficult. This is why RMB invests considerably in investigating not just technology, but also the culture of the companies — and countries — that excel in their respective fields. “When you take on a partner you open yourself up to many risks, along with the potential upside, and it’s important to have a thorough understanding of this. Though difficult, it is also crucial to create a supportive environment for an optimal partnership.”

It’s a tough balance, but banks have realised that building all their technology infrastructure themselves is becoming an outdated approach. “Most banks went through a lengthy process of ‘we can build it’. It’s in our DNA to develop solutions,” King says. “But we soon realised there are some things we are never going to be good at — at least not as good as specialist companies. In this space you can’t compete with tech-first companies such as AWS, or specialist providers in the quant and trading space. That said, it’s how you use the technology that really counts.”

RMB is focused on getting the balance right. “We have to make sure our own people are highly skilled, but also assess if entering a partnership is what’s required to elevate our service offerings to global standards.”

This has required a mind shift, which in itself generated the new skill set of finding and working with the right partners. “We have five or six big initiatives on the go that are pushing the boundaries of vendor relationships into partnerships.”

Getting it right is a difficult assignment, as solutions are structured to each client’s individual needs. “For one, communication styles have changed considerably over the past year and a half. Many clients still want to call and interact with a person. Yet more and more clients expect their solutions to be on a platform, and it has to be easy. You have to be able to accommodate both, or be nowhere.”

This article was paid for by RMB.

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