Sasfin’s Chief Data and Analytics Officer, Esther Munyi, has just received the honour of being awarded CDO of the Year 2023 at the Finnovex South Africa Awards. These awards recognise the efforts of pioneers who are transforming the field of financial services. Esther started her career at Sasfin as a consultant four years ago. In December 2020 she joined the team permanently as the Head of Data Services and then Chief Data and Analytics Officer in October 2022.
Esther remembers CEO Michael Sassoon speaking about his vision and strategy for Sasfin and South Africa during her first interview. It was then she knew she wanted to join Sasfin – she truly believed in that vision and wanted to be a part of it. Michael and the other leaders at Sasfin helped her realise that when you believe in something, you need to put your all in and achieve that vision, which is exactly what Esther has done.
Esther shares that her path hasn’t been easy. She joined Sasfin at the beginning of the pandemic, which meant that she was embarking on a huge initiative from the get-go. Together with her team, the team were able to do the impossible – completing the programme in only two years at a time when collaborating as a team was limited. “I’ve never seen a problem that I couldn’t solve, or solve based on an approach. There’s no challenge I’ve been given that I’ve given up on,” shares Esther.
There’s no challenge I’ve been given that I’ve given up on.
Esther gives credit to her CIO Josh Souchon who trusted her and her expertise, supporting her when she proposed big risks. He fostered a positive work environment, she says, trusting his team and trusting that Esther was able to lead the team.
Camaraderie was key to the team achieving success Esther says. “The camaraderie and the fact that we all are very results driven, all a little bit competitive in the sense that we want to succeed and see the solution come to fruition. That was the motivation that really got us through.” That and taking things one step at a time.
When it comes to women entering the finance industry, Esther says that it’s not easy and urges young women to prepare for this and make sure to stay true to themselves and be authentic. “Authenticity is so important because there’s only one you. I am a big believer that innovation happens when a diverse set of people come together. Nobody wants to have a clone of themselves. It’s important that you bring your authentic self to the table because that’s what makes you unique. Don’t try to be someone you’re not.”
It’s important that you bring your authentic self to the table because that’s what makes you unique. Don’t try to be someone you’re not.
She encourages what she calls ‘learning and unlearning’. She explains that as humans, we tend to have certain inherent biases and beliefs that aren’t true, and they often hinder progress. It’s important to do a lot of internal introspection because none of us are perfect, and there’s always something or someone we can learn from. We need to know and understand where our blind spots are in order to grow. “They call it growing pains because growth isn’t meant to be easy,” she says. “Growth requires falling down and then getting up again.”
When it comes to leading, Esther is empathetic. She believes leading is about understanding the feelings of others because leadership is inherently human-centric. She thinks there can be no innovation without empathy, or without allowing people to fail. There’s merit in being able to learn from each other and holding each other accountable, in failing fast and learning fast. For her, it’s important to laugh and create a happy work environment. Sharing the mistakes of the team shows that other people aren’t afraid to take risks. Innovation requires risk taking and doing things out of the ordinary.
“We live in a society where we focus on our gaps, shortcomings, and failures. We don’t actually stop and celebrate our achievements, recognising what we do and how it can impact the people and the organisation around us in a positive way.”
For Esther, being awarded CDO of the Year validates her leadership. Her team competed against teams from 14 CDOs across Southern Africa – all of whom were innovative teams with massive resources and sophisticated technologies. Winning not only makes her proud of what they have achieved, it validates that they are approaching things the right way.
“There’s still so much we can do. There’s still so much that can be done. This is just the tip of the iceberg,” she says.
Congratulations Esther Munyi for achieving excellence!