Innovation is in RMB's DNA - The Foundery's Liesl McKay-Bebb

Liesl McKay-Bebb heads up RMB's The Foundery, which was launched to create a space for innovation & disruption in the Fintech space and is the host of CFO SA's Future of Payments event on 14 March. We spoke to her about her work and how she sees the local FinTech space.

  • Over 250 insiders, experts, startups and investors will discuss the developments and challenges for payments in Africa at CFO South Africa's Future of Payments event in Sandton, Johannesburg, on 14 March. Get inspired, extend your network and develop business. REGISTER HERE.

How did you come to be involved with The Foundery?
"I've been in strategy in global markets for RMB for 16 years and to create a disruptive unit was one of our strategies. I drove the project to build the proposal and was part of the team that created the strategy we adopted as a bank. I've always been interested in innovation and have an enquiring mind. We began as a two-member team doing half-day in the project and after six months, my partner, who had been leading the initiative, went on to co-head our distribution business and I stayed on to run the Foundery. From a business with just two people on board last year and a vague idea, we've become a fully-fledged enterprise with a flexible work force of up to 38 people on any day in 2017 and have already showcased products to a small set of clients.

"Our business is really about creating disruption in banking on every front, in terms of both tech and culture. For example, imagining new ways of banking and what bank employees will look like in the future. The Foundery is a research and development business with the goal of future-proofing RMB by testing assumptions in every aspect.

"We see the Foundery as creating a new conversation for banking. It began as an experiment and we would like to keep on experimenting with bigger and bigger ideas as we go along. We would like to see the innovation of a whole new way for banking."

You're also the ambassador of RMB's gender equality team. How diverse is The Foundery's staff complement?
"My team is well balanced between men and women, which is unusual in the male-dominated banking industry. It is a very diverse team by design - we have old, young, every colour and background on board. This is part of the experiment. The similarity between the gender equality conversation and innovation lies in testing assumptions. "Who says we have to work like this" applies to the way we work as much as to what we do. Why should we work from 8 to 5? Why can't you be a mom and have a career or need to be a CA to be a banker?"

FNB has a global reputation for innovation. Does this extend across the organisation?
"Absolutely. FirstRand was founded on innovation. It is in the strapline of all our businesses, not just FNB or RMB. When we built the Foundery we actually went back to original FirstRand documentation where it all began built it on the cultural philosophy. Innovation is engrained in the organizational culture. It is in the DNA of the group."

How significant is collaboration between traditional banking institution and FinTech startups?
"It is significant. We collaborate all over the show. We've literally written Foundery legal contracts to be appropriate for startups because we realised that working with banks can be terrifying for smaller firms. We wrote an "English Version" of the contracts too, to assist start-ups in doing business with us. The problem with many Fintechs is that they don't have the context or gearing, which we provide. Our biggest collaborations have been in data science, platform technology and blockchain."

Why did you choose to get involved with the Future of Payments event on 14 March?
"We see that blockchain will impact payments and this is very important for our clients so we want to be part of this conversation. We are excited about the event. We like to see ourselves as enablers and being generous in everything we do."

How do you see the local FinTech landscape developing?
"It still feels tiny in SA, especially in wholesale banking. In retail banking, you see a lot of guys developing apps, but you can't give an app to an asset manager. Wholesale banking is an entire ecosystem. It is complex world with a lot of regulation, which makes it difficult to disrupt. There are new players in the artificial intelligence and machine learning space, but they can't succeed on their own and need to collaborate with banks. This intersection is where we see the magic."