July 16, 2024

Advancing Digital Excellence

Pioneering Technological Innovation

Alex Siboe: From Maths Whiz To ICT Leader

9 min read

The Chief Technology Officer at Stanbic Bank, Alex Siboe. [PHOTO: COURTESY]

In Africa today, banking technology is a rapidly evolving landscape with players in the industry looking to use technology to stay at bay with competitors. During this time, tech leadership plays a key role with the market needing a leader who understands both technology and business.

We caught up with the Chief Technology Officer at Stanbic Bank, Alex Siboe, as he talked about his journey in technology and how he came to learn the importance of business in technology. Siboe is a key member of the leadership team at Stanbic Bank where he exemplifies this blend of strategic vision and technical acumen. With a focus on Kenya and South Sudan, he is dedicated to driving economic and leveraging technology to enhance customer experiences.

Speaking to a CIO Africa reporter, Siboe shared his personal journey in technology, highlighting the pivotal moments that shaped his career. From his early love for mathematics to his role in pioneering mobile telephony and interfacing between technology and business.

Introduction and Role at Stanbic Bank?

My name is Alex Siboe and I am part of the leadership team at Stanbic Bank. My operations locally involve Kenya and South Sudan where we play a part in driving the economy of these two countries. In as much as Stanbic is a pan-African company, we are focusing on the local market here and our mission has always been to grow the economy of Kenya and South Sudan.

How would you describe your personal journey in Technology?

When I look back, perhaps it began way back in primary school when I had this affinity and love for numbers and mathematics. This is a subject I have and remain passionate about. Besides the love of math earning me an award in a Maths contest in high school, it gave me an opportunity to study Engineering at the University of Nairobi which lay the foundation for my career in technology.

I started off as an equipment vendor at ZTE after my undergraduate degree. Later, I deepened my engineering experience working at the then Communications Authority of Kenya (now Communication Authority) and later moved on to Safaricom.

In my role at Safaricom, I evolved from a typical engineer into a professional with mastery of bridging technology and business. This transition was not only important for my role but for my personal development and it gave me a new perspective about how to evolve my career.

As the Chief Technology Officer at Stanbic, what does your typical day at work look like? Please walk me through it.

I am an early bird (a member of the 5 am club) and a recreational runner. Therefore, my day starts quite early with a 10km morning jog. I then drop the kids to school and report to work. At work, I start by aligning my schedule with the priorities of the day. I spend a chuck of my time sitting in governance meetings where we provide necessary approvals and guidance. Another crucial aspect of my role is driving our technological strategy, ensuring that everything is progressing as planned and we are fulfilling our business commitments.

Two key priorities for me as the Head of Technology in this Bank are customer experience and security. I have a dashboard that shows me how our IT services are performing across the ecosystem. I monitor this regularly to ensure that we are effectively serving our customers and that our systems are functioning as expected. Our transactions are mostly digital and therefore, we must protect our customers’ assets and maintain a secure environment. This is not just a responsibility for us as the technology department but for the entire business including our customers.

I also engage with stakeholders and have regular meetings with third-party partners who support our business operations. As you can see, this role comes with a lot of responsibilities.

You’ve talked about cyber security. Do you have a CISO?

Yes, I do. So, part of my team includes a CISO who is in charge of security but then of course as a team we do manage the various aspects of security. One of the things we have put in as a company is technology governance and the role of this is to ensure that all aspects of technology, including security, are running smoothly.

What have been your key achievements with Stanbic Bank during your tenure? You can also mention your proudest moment at the Bank.

I joined Stanbic Bank in June 2023 and it has been an interesting journey. When I came in, one of the programs we were running was a digital transformation journey to upscale the mobile application. That is the first thing I worked on, delivered, now in its pilot phase, and almost going live. I also spent a lot of time developing a three-year strategy that is a road map guiding how technology will support our business objectives.

Additionally, I am spearheading our core-banking transformation, ensuring that we bring our core-banking to the latest release, offer new features to our customers and make sure that we tighten all the challenges that we have been experiencing. I am most proud of the fact that our systems are now stable. In the last 12 months, we have not experienced any critical system failures.

What are the new technologies that you are using at Stanbic to enhance your customers’ experience?

From that perspective, I think as a bank we have done well but also have a lot of work to do. Right now, over 95 percent of our transactions are on alternative channels, mostly mobile channels. We no longer transact through the branch. Our app is really encompassive and our customers use it for multiple services.

Looking at some of the services we provide, for instance, our credit products. To know the limit of the loan we can churn out to a customer, we do employ Artificial Intelligence (AI) and Machine Learning (ML) to ensure that we analyze your data and understand the trends.

From a group perspective, looking at our corporate banking segment, we are trying something on blockchain just to ensure that we can be able to provide better services. We also have a workstream around AI, we use it a lot. We also use 5G to enable communications across the different ecosystems and branches in the region.

Lastly, from a group perspective, I can proudly say that we are one of the pioneer banks to drive cloud computing in the region. I think 30 percent of our workload is on the cloud. We are leaders in that regard, and we pride ourselves as such.

On that note, what are the trending new technologies in banking that you have not yet employed but would like to do so in the foreseeable future?

Of course there is still more to milk from AI. Another thing is the chatbot. We have done it, but we haven’t done it well enough yet. We need to improve it to improve our customer engagement perspective.

We have also done some work on robotics and automated about 90 percent of our operation processes but there’s still more that we can do. For me, when I look at the tech team, what I want is for them to move away from doing the intense tech part of the work and drive their energy towards innovations. We need to automate more processes and free our energy to be directed towards innovation. Whatever it is that is done routinely can be automated and left to run on its own.

Talking of the Digital Revolution in Banking, how would you rate the technology uptake for banks in Africa? Where would you place Stanbic Bank in that?

Looking at banks in the African market, before the advent of mobile telephony, financial inclusion was about 50 percent. Right now, we speak in the north of 80 percent, and this is purely driven from the uptake of technology. People no longer have to visit a branch to be able to be served, it can be done at the comfort of your home. When I look at banking and where we are, the uptake of technology has been very critical in terms of driving customer experience, customer convenience, and reducing the cost to serve.

I think we have done well in that perspective. I would rate Stanbic Bank highly. When you look at Africa, we operate in 20 different countries and serve about 50 percent of the population, all with the help of technology. We are prominent in some of the biggest economies in Africa and tech is our main driver.

A lot of people whom I have interviewed always insist on the importance of teamwork. How crucial is your IT team and what role have they played in realizing the success of Stanbic Bank?

There’s an old saying that I like to refer to that goes ‘You are as strong as your weakest link. At the end of the day, we are a closely knit society. We are people and human beings by nature are social beings so for you to be able to deliver anything, you need to work as a team.

I have different departments; we have the infrastructure team, the security team, the application development team, and the project team. They have to be able to work together to be able to deliver. Furthermore, we also have to work with our counterparts in the business for us to be able to serve our customers better.

For me, teamwork is very important. I think there’s nothing that you can deliver as a person without the help of others.

In your career, not just at Stanbic Bank, do you have an example of a project that you worked hard on but didn’t achieve what you set out to? What were the key lessons you got from that project?

At one of my previous posts, I worked on a project that looked to integrate a bank with a mobile money solutions provider and I remember we had 90 days to deliver the project. We burned the midnight oil and delivered it but the biggest challenge we had was that we did not do a proper quality check from a 360 perspective.

On the day we launched, we got a myriad of customers trying to access the services and the systems could not handle it. We had to babysit it to ensure it holds. There was also a feature that we had in terms of ensuring customers can transact money to other people, we had not double checked everything and, unfortunately there was an element of fraud. The lesson I learnt from that was that anything you do in tech, you need to understand that risk is key, and it is important to do as many tests as you can before you can scale.

Alex Siboe participating at the Two Oceans marathon in Capetown earlier in the year.
Alex Siboe participating at the Two Oceans marathon in Capetown earlier in the year.

What do you do outside work to get off the work pressure?

I love travelling. Actually, one of my dreams is to drive from Kenya to Cape town and back. I also like running because I enjoy nature. I like disappearing in Karura Forest on weekends and enjoy the tranquility of nature alone. Once in a while, I also do hike. I like hiking in Ngong Hills.I also love reading because I believe that’s how you get knowledge.

What is the one thing that people don’t know about Alex?

By nature, I am introverted (if you meet him, you’ll disagree). I like being alone and that’s why over the weekend you’ll see me disappearing in the forest. Growing up in high school and campus, I was always by myself, but life happened and I learnt how to relate to others which is why I seem extroverted.

Where do you see yourself in 5 years?

I see myself deploying my skills and experience that I got to different countries in Africa. When you look at something like digital banking, Kenya is the pioneer of that, so I would want to spread it across the continent as well.

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