Philani Shandu – Behavioural Economist – Standard Bank

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Philani Shandu – Behavioural Economist – Standard Bank

What degree did you study at university?

PhD, current studies (Wits); MEconSci, 2015 (Wits), BCom Hon. Economics, 2014 (Rhodes); BCom Economics & Organisational Psychology, 2013 (Rhodes).

What is your role at Standard Bank? 

I manage a behavioural economics capability that specialises in making relatively small changes to the bank’s business processes which have a disproportionate impact on customer behaviour and customer satisfaction, and ultimately contributes towards the bank’s commercial performance.

I am also part of the team leading Standard Bank’s Behavioural Economics Mastery Programme (BEMP) which is a new and exciting capability-build effort by the bank, aimed at developing graduates and existing staff members into fully-fledged behavioural economists. The programme’s delegates – who operate in 11 countries across the African continent – are being trained and developed by both local and international experts in the field of applied behavioural economics.

Can you tell us why you chose this career? 

As a behavioural economist, I enjoy being able to not only describe the seemingly irrational behaviours that people often exhibit, but also being able to prescribe how business processes ought to be designed in response to this supposed irrationality in human behaviour.

Further to this, the fact that our ‘prescriptions’ (or recommendations) as behavioural economists are tested using the experimental approach – which is often called the gold standard for measuring causality – means that we’re able to empower the bank’s various business areas to make scientifically-sound decisions on how to go about engaging our customers in meaningful ways and improving our business processes.

These abilities (superpowers…?) that behavioural economists have as part of the tools of their trade were, and continue to be extremely appealing to me!

What’s a typical day like in your job?

The only thing that’s typical about workdays in our line of work is that every day is different!

In some instances, however, a workday for me might involve meeting internal stakeholders from the bank’s various business areas to discuss potential behavioural interventions relating to their business processes. A business area we might engage with – for example – is the bank’s Savings & Investment product team who may sought to improve their sales performance of savings products on the bank’s digital platforms (e.g. the Standard Bank banking app).

I would then work together with my team to see if we can translate such a business objective into a behavioural objective (e.g. nudging customers to open savings accounts using the Standard Bank banking app). Once we have established that such an intervention is indeed testable (using the experimental approach in the live business environment), scalable (to all qualifying customers upon successful testing), and can lead to demonstrable and meaningful outcomes, we would then proceed to scope the intervention into a rock-solid project plan; complete with timelines, milestones, and deliverables.

My next steps would then be to either execute on the project plan myself, or to assign the project to one or two of the behavioural economists that are part of the bank’s Behavioural Economics Mastery Programme.

What are the some of the highlights and challenges of your role?

Highlights:

  • Not everyday is the same (mostly a gift, but sometimes a curse!)
  • I get to combine the rigour of the scientific method, behavioural economics knowhow, and a bit of creativity and imagination to solve important business problems for the bank and its customers.
  • I work with an awesome team!

Challenges:

  • Having to pitch behavioural economics and its value to stakeholders who are often not too familiar with the discipline.
  • Having to aid stakeholders in differentiating between behavioural economics (which typically uses simple-to-execute irrational approaches to facilitate behaviour change) and other behaviour change endeavours (which often involve capital investment, large structural changes to business processes, and lots of effort)

How do you keep up to date with all the changes in your profession?

The focus area of my doctoral thesis (current studies) is behavioural finance and experimental economics. The reading that I do for my thesis means that I am kept up to date on the latest research in my field.

I also subscribe to digital magazines such as The Behavioral Scientist, and participate in forums where fellow behavioural economists discuss various matters relating to our field.

What do you enjoy doing for fun outside of the office?

Outside of the office, I enjoy braaiing (I have a five-burner gas braai that I use whenever I get the chance!), sweating off calories from my most recent braai on the treadmill, watching a game of rugby with my friends, and spending quality time with my family.