Zoona: a DNA that represents change

After returning to Lusaka, I can reflect on the great week in Cape Town I just had. Not only did I love the surrounding vineyards and the amazing view from the top of Table Mountain, I also thoroughly enjoyed my time at Zoona’s head office… or as I would call it, the “heart” of Zoona. This is where the innovation-, senior management-, finance-, administration-, and call center teams are located. Even though the office is far away from their operating countries, Zambia and Malawi, it manages to be in constant and close contact with these locations, supported by (mobile) technology and lots of travelling.

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Whilst Zoona already hosts over 100 staff members in Cape Town – and continues to rapidly expand – the office has been able to maintain a personal look and feel. To illustrate, their walls are covered with A4 papers showing short bios for each employee. Also, they display their vision, mission and values by making use of colorful drawings spread throughout the building. Besides creating a homey feeling, it offers an informal way of on-boarding new staff. They also have open office spaces, creative rooms (stimulating ideas by experimenting with Lego, coloring and other handcrafts), and several spots where you can meet, sit and relax in large beanbags. Their goal is to make people feel at home, stimulate creativity, innovation, and knowledge sharing. It appears to me that they have been pretty successful at this, based on the energetic and bubbly vibe I noticed.


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To me this atmosphere is quite different from what I have experienced at more traditional financial service providers like commercial banks. I have spent quite some time inside traditional finance buildings, as part of my role as portfolio analyst at the Dutch development bank FMO. They generally tend to have a more formal and “closed” culture with less focus on innovation.

Zoona represents openness, creativity and change. Many people spoke about the latter, underpinned by the various roles they have had within the company. Some people even changed positions every 6 months. It appears that many staff members do not emphasize job titles, but are actually more interested in the work itself. They are happy as long as they know their efforts contribute to the overall vision and mission of Zoona, which to me is quite impressive.

Change is unavoidable and essential for any company, but even more so when you are working in the technology space. I highlighted this already in one of my earlier blogs. You need to redefine and innovate yourself constantly in order to keep up with technological innovations and ahead of competition. I think this is where Fintech companies like Zoona and traditional financial service providers show the biggest contrast. They might be partly complimentary in the finance space, but based upon my experience at Zoona, they have different DNAs.

I am confident that technology will generally benefit the Zambian financial sector and the currently excluded population, but the question remains how banks and other traditional service providers will adapt to this, especially with the expansion of product offerings by new players. They need to start thinking seriously about embracing change and innovation to the fullest and putting it at the core of their organizations. Based upon my experiences, I wonder how many of them are ready for that.

 

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