Why African Bank is training data scientists and making them a key part of its workforce

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In 2018, African Bank reached out to the Explore Data Science Academy (EDSA) to enrol a handful of its employees into the one year learnership focused on data science.

The reason for this initiative was twofold. One was to ensure that its younger employees continued to develop much-needed skills for the jobs of the future, and two was to give the financial institution a competitive edge with a workforce that had a dynamic skillset.

African Bank has continued with this initiative, and in 2020 has seen 20 employees enter the EDSA data science learnership.

With there currently being a dearth in terms of digital skills in the country, as well as much rhetoric being bandied about regarding the jobs of the future, we contacted African Bank’s executive for Credit and Data Science, Vere Millican, for more insight.

In particular we wanted to find out how the partnership between African Bank and EDSA came about, what value the cohort of employees have added to the institution and the plans that it has moving forward.

This is the insight he was able to offer.

As for why a financial institution is looking to add more data scientists to its ranks, the reason is in the job title – data. It has been described as the new oil on countless occasions, and financial institutions are dependent on it to do their business.

Naturally then, having more specialists in this area is a plus.

Data, data, all around

“As data becomes increasingly available and richer, it enables us as a bank to create bespoke products for our customers, which can be structured in a very personalised way,” says Millican.

“Data science impacts product innovation and personalisation. This results in higher levels of customer satisfaction and enables us to attract and retain customers,” he adds.

In order to incorporate data science into the skillset of its employees, African Bank had to look to another organisation to assist. This where EDSA comes in.

Explaining why African Bank went with EDSA, Millican points to the type of training and focus on teamwork that EDSA focuses on, which closely mirrors the actual working environment. Added to this the curriculum, which features the key data science elements needed nowadays.

“When determining our business strategy and the role of data a few years back, we identified a need for a partner that could provide us with a pipeline of data science skills into the bank. Explore Data Science Academy fitted the bill, with its blend of classroom, on-the-job training and team-based project work. In addition, their course closely mirrors the demands of the workplace,” says the executive.

“Included in the curriculum are tools such as Python, Tableau, SQL and Scikit-learn, which are routinely required when building data science applications. We knew our data strategy would be over the long term and we needed to find the right institution that could consistently meet our need for well trained talent over time,” he continues.

Into the fold

Shifting to how the cohorts of African Bank employees have impacted the institution upon completion of their data science qualification, Millican says African Bank is taking a phased approach.

“African Bank sponsored 30 data science learners in 2019. These graduates spent the first three months of this year immersed in learning every aspect of the bank’s operations. We are now starting to deploy them in solving problems within the business. A key component in being effective as a data scientist is business acumen. This is foundational to our learners’ journey within the bank,” explains the executive.

“The 20 learners among the 2020 cohort will be similarly immersed after they graduate at the end of the year,” he says.

Sticking with the current class, African Bank is also acutely aware of training female data scientists too, with Millican noting that half of the current cohort is female. It is also something that will form a key part of next year’s cohort too, according to the executive.

“We are currently sponsoring 20 learners in 2020. We foresee further sponsorships in 2021 to ensure a continuous supply of data science talent within our bank. We are very proud that the current cohort of learners represents African bank’s commitment to transformation and representation,” he stresses.

The right partner

With African Bank looking to lead the way, not only in how it trains data scientists, but also how it incorporates them within their own business, Millican is optimistic that other firms in the industry will follow its lead moving forward.

He also cites organisations like EDSA as being crucial to empowering this.

“As the world changes and the demand for data science grows, so will the opportunity for organisations, such as the EDSA, because of the shortage of skills. There is a great need for businesses to upskill youth and sponsor programmes that are relevant to the requirements of the market. EDSA teaches a practical application of how to apply data science to solving problems that are linked to real world applications,” he concludes.

With data science a highly valuable skillset moving forward, it is certainly worthwhile looking at for would-be graduates, as well as those already in the job market.

[Image – Photo by Kevin Ku from Pexels]

Robin-Leigh Chetty

Robin-Leigh Chetty

When he's not reviewing the latest smartphones, Robin-Leigh is writing about everything tech-related from IoT and smart cities, to 5G and cloud computing. He's also a keen photographer and dabbles in console games.