Beyond HumanBig PictureCatalystsConnected WorldExchangeMarketing MixNew MoneyNew SchoolPeople SciencePulse
Company Name
Job Title

Nedbank Head of Retail: the bank with 2,000 branches and a startup mentality

boardroom alignment boardroom alignment
Photo credit:


Nedbank's Head of Digital Banking, Dave Woolnough, is making sure the entire business is pointing towards a digital future.

Technology has seen banks change more significantly in the past ten years than at any other point in the industry’s history.

The massive adoption of smartphones, changes in consumer demand and a plethora of digital startups have redefined the relationship banks have with their customers.

The resulting shift has moved the needle from one-dimensional transactions where customers lack control, into the realms of two-way dialogues between banks and their users.

Taking such a user-centric view is symptomatic of many businesses aligning themselves closer with customers, and is the likely ticket to remaining competitive in this new era of digital engagement.

Getting the wheels moving however is no easy task.

And for Dave Woolnough, Head of Digital Banking at Nedbank, accelerating digital transformation at the fourth biggest South African bank has come down to “getting every person in the organization to agree and align.”

But this has not been through traditional means, or even via respecting traditional corporate structures.

“Digital is often about taking a leap of faith,” he explains, because “transformative change fundamentally alters the way things are done.”

The questions he has had to ask are two fold; the first was “how do we get a very product-centric organization focused on back office optimization and efficiency, to put the client experience at the center of everything we do?”

And the second was asking “how do we get customers to engage with us in a more digital way?”

Woolnough believes that part of the answer comes down to boardroom alignment and ensuring the entire business is pointed in the same direction, with a willingness to embrace change.

This requires evangelizing the benefits of re-programming an organization to think digitally at its core. It incorporates everything from the way staff engage with platforms, to the way they work with customers.

It becomes about removing siloes, breaking down barriers and ultimately centralizing tasks and processes that once stood separately.

“This doesn’t mean seeing staff platforms as different to those used by clients, but instead seeing them all as one.

It’s easy to understand conceptually, but to try and get the organization to think differently with a digital mindset is difficult.”

This holds especially true for a business as multi-faceted as Nedbank.

At the very top-line, there’s retail banking, where Woolnough directs the majority of his attention, corporate and investment banking, as well as insurance and asset management offerings too.

“The conversations need to move from the boardroom table into clear, tangible action across a complex organizational structure. The business needs to take the mandate and start on the journey to then begin learning and growing your digital experience.”

If not carefully managed, bias can take over, which can be symptomatic of the often-divisive nature of corporations.

Stakeholders may not necessarily believe that the benefits of the changes are worth the investment, which can leave you negotiating through barriers and stakeholders that will ultimately dilute your offering.

Woolnough explains. “When this starts to happen – and this is my experience – you’ll start to trade back the initial strategy and intent because you have to compromise in order to get people onside and be able to win the favor to allow you to actually start moving forwards. The proposition then gets significantly dampened by the time it is taken to market.”

Instead, Woolnough has opted for a more radical approach in obtaining boardroom alignment, which consists of building client centered solutions, “showing that you have met the client needs across multiple segments and across multiple products.”

It is an approach more akin to a startup, than a traditional, conservative and compliance driven bank with presence in South Africa and across the continent through its Ecobank alliance, bringing its footprint to over 2000 branches in 39 countries.

Compare this to traditional implementation at the majority of banks where an idea, often as small as a new digital channel, can take up to 12 months to implement.

“The pace at which you work with digital can and should cut this process down to 6 weeks.”

In so doing, Woolnough is slowly but surely breaking through the inherent sluggishness characteristic of many corporate entities, to instead, inject a nimble startup attitude within the company.

“The great thing about digital is that it allows you to present insights and offerings to customers and stakeholders significantly faster. So it becomes about driving those quick wins that allow you to show the benefit internally of being digital.”