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The Business Challenges Provided by the Banking Entities in Africa are Seeking Solutions from Indian Startups: Sunil Shah, CEO & Global Head - Societe Generale Global Solutions Centre (SGGSC)

In an Interview with BW Businessworld, Sunil Shah CEO and Global Head SGGSC talks about the Catalyst program and more

Please explain the Catalyst program in detail

Catalyst is Societe Generale’s flagship open innovation, 10-week accelerator program, which identifies banking challenges and collaborates with start-ups, fintechs, innovation experts and academic institutions to deliver insightful research and actionable solutions, in areas of strategic interest to the banking industry.  Innovation is one of Societe Generale’s core values and it is our responsibility.

Catalyst has successfully completed 5 editions since its inception in 2015.  The 6th edition and the most recent is the AFMO (Africa) edition (detailed in the following responses). Currently the program spans 17 countries, has explored over 62 new capabilities from 461 startup partners, while co-creating solutions for over 396 business challenges across the Group.
For a large 150+ year old bank that we are, focusing on “Going Digital”, placing emphasis on customer needs and experiences at the right time, posed several banking challenges that come with serving millions of customers worldwide and the hundreds of thousands of employees.

By anticipating and resolving to stay ahead of “disruptions” in the banking world, we embraced Open Innovation. We realized that it is important for us to enhance and complement our internal capabilities with external expertise and that open innovation will prove to be a key enabler to the success of our digital transformation strategy.  Besides, we had the huge advantage of being at crossroads with Technology experts, Innovation experts, Businesses leaders, digital savvy customers and indeed our willingness to collaborate with an external ecosystem to build relevant solutions for our banking challenges.   

We identified key business challenges across the group, embraced Fintech and tech startups into Societe Generale’s open innovation ecosystem and collaboration journey. We selected and onboarded cohorts with a ready platform to co-create a minimum viable product (MVP), the goal for them being to help our business with a product or service solution that is ready to be tested in the market and can be further customized. We tied up with academia (IIT- Madras Research Park), industry platforms to support our global research goals.

Acceleration phase:
We set the acceleration period to 10 weeks for cohorts to develop solutions. We adopt a highly participative and co-creative approach extending multiple dimensions of interventions within the ecosystem.  The Catalyst cohorts have the opportunity to collaborate on a daily basis with a large financial services company, such as Societe Generale, thereby understanding the complexity of navigating across large structures. We provide systematic design engagement with our in-house technology experts in alignment with the business, and also ensure the MVPs are easily connectable to our IT system. These MVPs are then converted into contracts with Societe Generale.
Furthermore, the cohorts retain IP ownership and are provided with the infrastructure and application to test, iterate and scale their products on real business scenarios and data volumes.
Societe Generale has signed commercial contracts with selected startups to further develop their solutions to the required scale for global implementation within the Societe Generale Group.

What’s in store for Indian start-ups in the African markets?
The Catalyst AFRICA edition is very significant in Societe Generale’s digital transformation journey as it caters to an emerging finance market in Africa and will open the doors for Indian startups to work with Societe Generale businesses in Africa and the larger emerging African market opportunities.

Societe Generale has set up banking operations in 19 countries across Africa. The business challenges provided by the banking entities in Africa are seeking solutions from Indian startups. The intent is to scale the solution across all the Societe Generale Group entities spanning these 19 countries in Africa, if we decide to take the startup platform to production. The opportunity in store is for Indian startups to understand African Banking ecosystem and to work with Societe Generale across Africa.

Besides, Indian startups are set to gain from a large regional market existing in Africa. This will lead to healthy collaboration with regional partners, government and influencer communities. understanding the regulatory know how, market insights, local nuances and African demographics will help gain inroads into the African territory for the Indian startups.

What is the nature of partnership between each start-up and Société Générale (business model, revenue/profit sharing etc.)?

Societe Generale Global Solutions Center (SGGSC) , Innovation team will assist the global subsidiaries in the identification, formalization and selection of innovative solutions for key projects and prioritize
these projects in order to select the most relevant and the most modularizable solutions by regional direction. SGGSC will further identify viable solutions from qualified Indian start-ups and trigger projects
in accelerated mode on a goal as in 1 prototype in 10 weeks.

Societe Generale published its business challenges in this current Catalyst accelerator edition across various public platforms. Few startups were selected by the business to execute a Proof of concept ( prototype) for 10 weeks within Societe Generale premises  in Bangalore, as part of its Cohort selection for this program. Each startup co-creates a Minimum Viable Product solution with the business and technical mentors using the data and environment, provides by Societe Generale. The startup is compensated for its effort of 10 weeks to co-create a custom solution. The solution is demonstrated to the business which has the first right to refusal, post which the startup licenses its solution to Societe Generale or to other peers in the industry post development of the complete platform to suit specific business needs.

Where in Africa will this program take place?

The Program takes place in India at Societe Generale Global Solutions Center offices in Bangalore. African business counterparts visited Bangalore to launch the program and will revisit to accept the Minimum Viable Product solutions on the demo day after 10 weeks of acceleration. The startups, Societe Generale Business and Technical mentors allocated to the program and the Business teams in Africa participate in regular governance meetings during the full edition.

Tell us a little about the market trends in Africa for start-ups, is it volatile, safe for business etc.?
Africa offers huge opportunities for Indian startups. Societe Generale global solutions center serves African business entities as an Innovation and digital transformation hub. Africa shares several socio-economic challenges that India has seen and continues to face. Indian startups have developed lot of solutions that have ready application in the African markets. There is a huge appetite to disrupt the digital solutions and mobile banking space in Africa. Fortunately, Africa’s governments are working to develop the required infrastructure and institutions. Across the continent, efforts are underway to improve education and foster a culture of innovation.
Driven by Fintech, financial inclusion remains the main investment sector in the continent. Africa’s retail-banking penetration stands at just 38% of GDP, which is half the global average for emerging markets. Its banking markets are fast growing and nearly twice as profitable as the global average.
Africa today has the second-fastest-growing banking market, taking retail and wholesale banking together, in the world. (McKinsey global banking pools database).

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