A blueprint for digital innovation in the face of economic headwinds
With interest rates at their highest in over a decade, South African businesses and consumers have certainly been through the wringer. But this has also led to some creative thinking that could reap benefits for years to come.
Grant Phillips, Group CEO at digital transformation specialists e4, says he’s seen many businesses using this slower time to find ways to stand out amongst competitors – and it will pay off in the long term. “Slow economic growth is currently a global phenomenon, which has had a massive impact on profits and losses, putting discretionary spend on the back burner. So, we’ve been in talks with many of our clients about embedding technology into their environment to either optimise their digital ecosystems or improve operational efficiencies to create unique selling points.”
Some have looked to improve customer onboarding, for example, to reduce their costs to acquire customers and to then improve customer retention. Others have opted to reduce manual processes to improve turn-around times and customer experiences, he says. “Whatever pathway they choose, smart business leaders are working on market differentiation and optimised expenditure to ensure growth – now and into the future - in a contracted economy.”
At e4, this way of thinking has led to some exciting new avenues. With over 20 years’ experience in proptech and consumer finance, e4 is now piloting use cases of its products in the investment space. “We want to build a platform to remove the reliance on paper and reduce lead times for investment portfolio transfers,” explains Phillips. “We’re also working with large fund administrators to improve the way they measure, monitor and report on impact investments, particularly addressing unemployment, and skills development. Ultimately, this will ensure more effective use of South Africans’ tax money, bettering the country at large.”
The company has also branched out abroad, repurposing and expanding on its intellectual property to solve property challenges in the UK, he says. “While the two home buying ecosystems (in SA and the UK) are similar in many ways, there are a lot of nuances that distinguish them. In South Africa, we were instrumental in digitising the back end of several processes, while in the UK, the focus historically was more on digitising the identification of asset and homebuyer. We’re now looking to solve specific bottlenecks and blind spots in the home buying fulfilment process, with a land-and-expand mindset. As we become embedded in the UK ecosystem, we’ll explore other avenues where we can add value there. We already have a 20-year track record of solving similar challenges in other markets, and a wealth of experience to draw from.”
One of e4’s key strategies going forward is also to gain market share in the local conveyancing industry – again, building on its existing strengths but targeting a new market. Says Phillips: “We’ve done a lot of research and allocated significant investment to build on our existing offering and develop a market-leading technology product in the conveyancing arena. Because of our dominant footprint in the banking industry, we can provide insights to conveyancers about banks’ digital journeys so they can align their processes and procedures to walk in tandem with the banks and never get left behind.
This will improve their standing on the banks’ panel of approved attorneys, driving better transaction volumes. We also view every firm as a key partner, working closely with them to determine what their ideal solution looks like. For some, it means very little tech capabilities and simply optimising turnaround times. For others, it could mean removing the friction of switching technologies, such as assistance with effective training. We can glean incredible insights into a firm’s processes to improve procedures and timeframes – ultimately improving revenue.”
While it may be tough going for a while to come, forward-thinking companies can ensure that they’re ready for an economic upturn, says Phillips. “Use this downtime wisely to think of ways to improve processes and efficiencies and create new business avenues – and to capitalise on existing revenue streams when the time comes.”