Sello Mmakau is leading Momentum Corporate from insurer to insurtech

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The financial giant’s CIO is tasked with building the country’s top employee benefits business platform.

Sello Mmakau is Momentum Corporate’s CIO, but he also serves as the company’s chief digital officer. Momentum Corporate is transitioning from a traditional insurer to an insurtech company, according to Sello, to provide products and services to its clients through a digital platform.

“Central to my primary responsibility is providing technology services to Momentum Corporate core business areas including FundsatWork and Group Insurance, Structured Investments and Annuities, Member Solutions (retailisation focus), Momentum Corporate Advice and Administrators (which provides standalone fund administration-only services) and enablement businesses such as brand and marketing, human capital, risk compliance, and legal and finance,” says Sello.

“My immediate task is to digitise the high-impact core business processes, design employee benefits digital self-service channels and build a sustainable IT and digital talented team with great culture fit and the right mindset. This establishes a foundation for our long-term vision to lead the company to become the number one employee benefits business platform.”

Sello has also recently partnered with PwC to design the company’s new target IT operating model, which he says will be adopted over the next three to five years. “Our new IT operating model archetype, product management, focuses on the end-to-end employee benefits product lifecycle, integrating planning, delivery, and operations,” he explains.

“I’m fortunate and excited to have found a solid agile IT team that has already adopted most of the product management archetype principles.”

He says that the technology and digital team has cross-functional DevOps teams with product owners, scrum masters and squads that build, test, and deploy services in rapid and frequent releases.

Sello is confident that digital transformation goals at Momentum Corporate will be achieved. “What more can I ask as a CIO if even the CEO is sponsoring the digital transformation journey? This transition is more than just deploying cutting edge technology, but also about reviewing business operating models, culture reset and deliberate investment in new ventures.”

A versatile top CIO

Sello began his IT career as an IT technician, but quickly advanced to leadership positions. He has also not stayed in one industry for an extended period of time, having held top IT leadership positions in industries such as aviation, petrochemicals, health, healthcare insurance, ICT and financial services.

“I would describe myself as quite versatile and always eager to explore emerging technologies in different industries, but one common thread is all about digitising the business to delight the customers. I have designed and deployed innovative fit-for-purpose business solutions that created a positive customer experience in these various industries,” he says.

“I believe in strong and sustainable collaboration, hence most of my successes result from tapping into various minds and partnering with the best in class in different industries. I have also failed – but faster – and used those lessons as foundations for future successes. I can tell you that you will fail at a certain point in your career, and it is all about how you react to that, what lessons to take forward and those to avoid.”

Sello believes he could occupy leadership roles early in his career because one of his former managers recognised his quality leadership skills while he was a technician and took him through management programmes.

“I was also fortunate to work for companies like Sasol, which had solid coaching clinics and allocated me an experienced external mentor to guide me through the ropes,” he says. I have learned a lot through the mentoring process, because experience is the best teacher.”

His outstanding career work has not gone unnoticed: he has received several local and international awards, including the South African visionary CIO of the year in 2012, the United Nations Award for using technology for public customer services delivery, the International Award for best designed Smart ID card held in High-Security Conference 2013 in Asia, best company CIO for using Oracle SaaS in 2017 after digitising ACSA, and he is the only previous visionary CIO winner to have been nominated again as a runner-up in 2017.

Sello is also the recent winner of the Global CEO Award in Health 2021, in which he deployed health virtual services used by clients during the Covid-19 pandemic hard lockdown.

An experienced independent non-executive director and chairperson of various IT governance boards in public and private sectors, Sello is Momentum Corporate’s first CIO to sit on the company’s executive committee and report directly to the CEO.

Sello points out that creating a seat at the (exco) table for a CIO is a compelling indication of a company that recognises the strategic importance of technology and that CIOs aren’t just there to keep the lights on, but also to create revenue for the business.

“The CIO role has evolved dramatically,” he says. “The CIO has moved from the back office to developing strategies, providing thought leadership to the core business, is involved in developing the business operating model, strategies and now occupies a leading role in product management.” Today's CIO is not an operational executive but one who thinks about the future of the business, he points out, because technology can be a catalyst for innovation.

“You need to have an entrepreneurial and venture capitalist mindset, be agile and adaptable to change, be a visionary and a risk taker and have a sharp eye to spot talent, nurture and retain it,” he says. “The world has become boundaryless, hence companies are facing a massive global talent war. Companies failing to attract and retain talent are becoming irrelevant,” says Sello, who is particularly known for building solid, talented teams.

“You must be a resilient lifelong learner, innovative, and inquisitive, which necessitates experimenting with new or emerging technologies and being quick to introduce minimum viable product (MVP) to the market,” he concludes. “If you are late in introducing new products to the market, you will remain in the mainstream like everyone else; you will always be a follower rather than an industry leader.”

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