Theo Mabaso, Group CIO Sanlam, is passionate about tech transformation


The MBA graduate believes Africa needs to take big, bold bets in the digital transformation space.

Digital and technology transformation is a passion for Theo Mabaso, Group CIO at Sanlam. The MBA graduate sees this concept through a wide lens, which includes considering the diversified business value opportunities and flourishing in the digital age, as well as the augmentation of traditional business models with new ones.

Within the context of value driven transformation, value and return would then include how CIOs future fit the company, considering the real possibility of complex legacy carried by years of monolithic systems.

“Big bold technology transformations don’t fit into a mould. On the other hand, how do you quantify the lack of responsiveness required to foresee disruptions in your market, and to urgently undertake transformation,” he says.

In the insurance space, the value of digital technologies has been evident for a while, but became a lot more ubiquitous during the Covid-19 pandemic.

“Even now, with businesses recovering from the financial impact of the hard lockdowns, there is significant pressure on costs and revenue uplift. What digital technologies give us in potential is greater customer touchpoint intimacy and our ability to price and underwrite a lot more accurately, connectivity with partners and marketplaces, and developing new markets.

“In addition, the result of technology work done in the wake of Covid-19, to enable more employee digitalisation in the group is evident in the way the staff and business responded.”

Digital IQ

“How do you get the executive committees and boards of directors to be clear in their understanding of the implications of technology transformations in the new era? It’s not only about buy-in, it’s about getting an innate comfort with demystifying technology, and demonstrating what technology makes possible.

“It’s also about making it clear that the transformation effort is not about just being digital, but more about creating significant value for the business, and this in itself orchestrates the board’s most important mandate,” Theo says.

The effect of technology transformations and digitalising the business brings with it inherent risks that require close oversight: risks around information and cyber security, and data protection and responsibility.

“For us as a trusted brand for generations, with colleagues across the continent, operating in multiple jurisdictions, it is imperative to increase or showcase the technology confidence levels within our markets, and the transformative effects of technology disruptions. I can most certainly be proud to say that my colleagues and I are already doing this,” he adds.

The Formula 1 AMG Petronas fan notes that the continent, through the African Union and its member states, is speeding up the implementation of digital transformation roadmaps and strategies at national, regional and continental levels.

Issues such as high-speed internet, policy as well as sector regulations, and investments being scaled up, remain hurdles to fully extracting digital and technology opportunities.

“As of 2019, South Korea’s fintech adoption rate reached 67 percent of the digitally active adult population. The regulatory environment is supporting the fintech market by implementing a financial regulatory sandbox and encouraging participation in testbeds. We need to adopt similar private-public approaches for the continent to accelerate the work, skills, talent, and ingenuity we have observed in the continent on fintech adoption.” he adds.

Theo is at his happiest when creating such transformational shifts, being creative with technology to solve business problems and extracting value. “We in tech shape this new world by transforming our culture, operating models, democratising the execution of IT, enhancing self-service, and automation. We have adopted agile and team topology frameworks to help us create, and continue to improve, frictionless flow for the work of IT,” he concludes.

About Theo Mabaso

  • He studied chemical engineering, ended up in tech “by mistake” and went on to complete his computer science degree and MBA over his career.
  • He is passionate about many things, but doing fulfilling work is right at the top, second only to family.
  • He believes that being a CIO is not binary, and it is important to understand the value of tech, people, and change.
  • He was appointed Group CIO for Sanlam in 2020.

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