Progress over perfection: 5 tips from Standard Bank’s digital transformation

Heidi Custers, Digital Transformation Director MEA at Backbase

Anyone who tells you digital transformation is easy is either lying or trying to sell you something.

The process of completely updating a financial institution’s digital infrastructure is complex, labor-intensive, and – if you don’t have a plan – quite costly. To re-architect around the customer, incumbent banks must change many things from the ground up – including everything from legacy systems to institutional culture.

This is truly a massive undertaking, but, when weighed against the consequences of inaction, it’s a no-brainer.

A successful digital transformation can be a game-changer – helping banks compete with challengers by providing seamless, immersive customer and employee experiences on a single unified platform.

In my recent CxO Talk with Standard Bank, I discussed the group’s ongoing transformation journey. During our chat, Belinda Rathogwa, Head: Digital and eCommerce Consumer & High Net Worth Clients, and Moshima Shongwe, Head: Digital and eCommerce Business Clients, shared tips, tricks, and lessons learned from the bumps along the path.

Here’s a few of their key insights that you can use to improve your project’s odds of success.

Progress over perfection

The sheer size of a digital transformation is daunting, and it can be difficult to know where to start.

Belinda’s recommendation? Start now, but be patient – it’s a marathon, not a sprint.

“People assume [digital transformation] is quick and painless, but it’s anything but,” said Belinda. “It’s a transformation, and transformation by its nature means you are changing a way of being, and changing a way of being takes time.”

To make things easier, Belinda said Standard Bank used an iterative approach, focusing on progress over perfection.

“In this quest to give evidence of progress, you really start to improve people’s level of confidence that you are moving in the right direction,” she said. “When you put forward little successes, it gives the team a boost to keep going. But it also gives us, as leadership, signs that we are moving in the right direction.”

Plan, plan, plan

Financial institutions need to truly understand the scope and size of the project before beginning a digital transformation. Like any large project, things change and evolve over time, and banks must adapt as they go. However, establishing a detailed plan early in the process can save an immense amount of time, money, and stress.

Moshima said it took Standard Bank about six months of dedicated planning time before they started work, but it might not have been long enough. In the African market – where customers range from digital nomads to people who lack basic internet access – being fully prepared is easier said than done.

“I wish we had spent more time getting started and preparing and sharpening the axe before we started chopping down the tree,” Moshima said. “Because halfway through it, you realize the axe is not sharp enough. I think we underestimated the amount of complexity that we were walking into.”

Moshima also recommended that banks seriously consider all the possible pitfalls beforehand – that way, they won’t become a problem later down the line.

“If we were to do things differently, [we should have spent] a little bit more time rigorously understanding the things that could trip us,” she said. “I think we were aware of some of the things that could trip us, but we just rushed through it.”

Boardroom communication is key

Getting buy-in from the boardroom can be challenging, but it’s an essential part of any digital transformation.

Belinda noted that the board understands outcomes very clearly; they just need constant, clear communication from day one.

“Before you start any initiative, be clear on what it is that you seek to achieve and how you will know when you’ve succeeded,” she said. “That makes it a lot easier to have that boardroom conversation.”

This is especially the case when you make an inevitable misstep here or there, Belinda added.

“It starts with absolute transparency,” she said. “A conversation around what we didn’t succeed at has to be a reflective one, one that you can learn from. Failure is valuable, if you can learn from it. I think that makes the conversation a lot more positive and action-oriented.”

Establishing meaningful metrics for success

Digital transformation is a huge shakeup of the system, including outdated metrics for success. In order to adapt, banks need to focus on information that is more relevant in the era of engagement banking.

Moshima explained that their metrics for tracking success include three key things:

  • The bank’s net promoter score
  • 24/7 platform availability and readiness
  • Security

“Customers are still telling us that they expect us to do the basics brilliantly,” said Moshima. “Let me, if I want to get onto this platform, find it to be available, reliable, and have all the services that I’m looking for and be able to solve that need or that problem on a specific type of day.”

Don’t do it alone

And lastly, both Belinda and Moshima agreed that it’s important to seek help from industry-leading partners who can provide guidance and support throughout the process.

“Being able to leverage the strengths that our partners bring, we feel, is a real advantage in being able to serve our clients,” said Belinda. “It gives you focus.”

Moshima noted that it has been especially useful to tap into the research and development entities of their partners.

“They’ve done this a lot more often than we have,” she said. “They’ve got the insight. They come with a bag full of tools, tested, tried. And I think we are also ready, then, to leap into new technologies quicker than we would have if we did it on our own.”


Standard Bank’s digital transformation journey is still ongoing, but its future is bright. By using an iterative approach, extensive planning, constant communication, updated metrics of success, and the help of partners, the bank has prepared itself for whatever challenges and opportunities may arise along the way.

I’d like to once again thank Belinda and Moshima for their vulnerability and candor. I hope their insights are useful to you as you begin the complex – but ultimately rewarding – digital transformation process.

If you’re interested in this content, watch the full session today – and stay tuned for the next exciting episode in our CxO Talks series.

About the author

Heidi Custers , Digital Transformation Director MEA at Backbase

Heidi Custers has been working with leading African enterprises to guide them through the various aspects of their digital journey since 2006. The focus of her career has been on the importance of customer-led digital transformation, and how convergence of the financial services and telecommunications industries is changing the African landscape. After working in banking, marketing and management consulting, she has recently made the move to Amsterdam and joined Backbase as Digital Transformation Director for the Middle East and Africa. Heidi and Backbase share a vision to build banks that people love, and believe that Africa is the perfect place to accelerate the digital revolution.


Get our latest research insights and weekly updates. Sign up now
Cookies on Backbase
We and third-parties use cookies on our website. We use cookies for statistical, preferences and marketing purposes. Google Analytics cookies are anonymized. Your preference can be changed by clicking 'Change options'. By clicking 'Accept' you accept the use of all cookies as described in our privacy-statement.
Necessary cookies help make a website usable by enabling basic functions like page navigation and access to secure areas of the website. The website cannot function properly without these cookies.
Preference cookies enable a website to remember information that changes the way the website behaves or looks, like your preferred language or the region that you are in.
Statistic cookies help website owners to understand how visitors interact with websites by collecting and reporting information anonymously.
Marketing cookies are used to track visitors across websites. The intention is to display ads that are relevant and engaging for the individual user and thereby more valuable for publishers and third party advertisers.