Gita Daya's strengths go beyond technical expertise

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Bank Zero's CIO has the power to "calm the chaos," bringing stability to the environment.

Gita Daya, CIO at Bank Zero, knows the financial services industry through and through. After all, she started her career as a junior developer through FNB’s graduate programme and worked her way up to senior developer roles.

Gita has never really left banking, but has simply found herself working for banks with a different or more evolved business model: from traditional brick and mortar institutions to digital banking with Bank Zero, which competes with the likes of TymeBank and Discovery Bank.

“At a certain point, after I became a technical team lead, I was urged to pursue a management role, but this was quite strange for me, because the last thing I ever planned to do is go into management,” she says. “It was purely accidental.”

Gita’s unintended stint in management began with a role as development manager in Hogan Technology at FNB, which eventually evolved into a CIO role. “My portfolio grew significantly over time as I was given other sub-systems to manage, which is where the bulk of my banking experience also comes from,” Gita explains. “Due to the nature of work that I did, I was exposed to almost every interface in the bank; I ran the central customer system, which meant that every other system had to integrate with us.”

Gita says her exposure to multiple facets of the bank and understanding (the financial and non-financial aspects of the business), from a business perspective to operations, was part of the reason she was approached to join Bank Zero – she brought more than just technical knowledge to the table.

She highlights being given the opportunity to experiment with new ideas as one of her fondest memories at FNB. “This was actually a big deal at the time, because most of the legacy institutions didn’t really take this approach,” she explains. “Many were stuck in their traditional ways of doing things.

“I had the privilege of writing my own systems and rewriting others and introducing new ones, overseeing areas that brought in new technologies.”

Gita explains that this fits her personality type perfectly. She colours outside the lines, gets bored quickly, and is always looking for the next big thing. As a result, FNB providing her with the opportunity to do so kept her engaged with her work.

Her move to Bank Zero was not entirely unfamiliar territory, not just because it is still in the financial services industry, but because the people behind the digital bank are the same people who have been responsible for some of FNB’s most significant successes.

“Michael Jordaan and Yatin Narsai are two of the founders of Bank Zero, and being able to work with such brilliant minds is what made the move to the bank even more exciting. It’s quite rare to be in such close proximity to such people, who are also very willing to share their knowledge. I was fortunate to meet Michael as a junior at FNB and now work alongside him at Bank Zero, and I believe the most important lessons I’ve learned from him are to remain humble and down to earth, to keep things simple (which is difficult for a techie), and to have the courage to try new things,” she notes.

Virtual mentoring

Gita is passionate about mentoring and wanted to pay it forward. “I came across a women empowerment initiative called Girls in Technology, and they were running a mentorship programme,” Gita says. “I did that for a year; it was difficult but rewarding.

“I was later approached to become a member of the Women in Tech advisory board, and there, I had a brief stint mentoring a young woman based in the United States. One of the most difficult challenges was the time difference,” she explains. “I also noticed a difference in work culture between South Africa and the United States, but it was interesting to get a different perspective on the banking sector.”

Gita enjoys baking in her spare time, especially cakes for a charity, where she will occasionally drop off a cake on someone’s birthday. Nothing brings her more joy, she says, than seeing a child’s face light up when they receive a birthday cake.

Taming the storm

Gita believes that, in addition to having business acumen and technical ability in IT, her greatest strength is her ability to “calm the chaos. There are a lot of moving parts and there’s generally a lot going on, especially in the IT space.” As a result, she believes she has the ability to bring structure to that environment by introducing new processes without being afraid to change them if they don’t work.

When she arrived at the bank, there were no formal processes: it operated very much like a typical startup, with little structure in terms of IT and a lot of experimentation. Gita, being as methodical and structured as she is, wanted to introduce that structure.

“I had some pushback at first because, as you know, people get comfortable with a certain way of doing things and when someone tries to change that – you find resistance. That’s where your people skills come in,” she says.

Don’t forget to bring your people along, she says. She believes that as much as it is important to introduce new and exciting processes, it is equally as important to get buy-in from the people who will manage those processes.

“The people component, or most valuable asset (MVA), is one of the most important, yet most overlooked, aspects of IT,” she concludes.

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