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A Motivation for Revised Learning Pathways and Curricula for Banking

Written by Staff Writer

August 24, 2018

Derek Shirley and Carin Stoltz-Urban

August 2018


Introduction. 3

1.      The Turbulent Environment. 3

1.1         The Dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution. 3

1.2         The VUCA World. 4

2.      Banking and financial services in the VUCA world. 5

2.1 Disruption in the banking sector. 5

2.1.1 Technology. 5

2.1.2 Innovation and agility. 8

2.1.3 Client-centricity. 9

2.1.4 Regulation and compliance. 10

2.1.5  Risk Management. 11

2.2 Summary. Error! Bookmark not defined.

3. Learning and working in banking and financial services. 11

3.1         The learner of the 21st century. 12

3.2         Changing knowledge and skills in banking. 12

3.2.1          Ways of thinking. 14

3.2.2 Ways of working. 15

3.2.3 Tools for working. 16

3.2.4 Living in the world. 16

3.3 Education in and for the VUCA world. 18

3.3.1 Global and African talent development context. Error! Bookmark not defined.

4. The South African case. 19

4.1 The South African banking and financial services context. 19

4.2 The South African post-school education landscape. 21

4.3 Employment and education in the SA banking sector. 22

4.4         Developing the banker of the future. 24

4.4.1 Existing qualifications. 24

4.4.2          Emergent educational needs in banking and allied financial services. 25



The world of banking is fast evolving and with it, the skills required to work in this world.

This paper aims to impact the discourse about the skills requirements of the ‘banker of the future’ – it will consider the skills that we need and consider ways in which these can be developed in the context of the South African post-school education system.

This paper will follow the following structure:

1.    The Turbulent Environment

In this first section, the context of the economic and social order is considered. 

At the dawn of the Fourth industrial Revolution (4IR), the turbulence and rate of change in the modern economic environment is highlighted, and the impact of these conditions in banking and financial services is outlined.

This broad analysis provides a social and economic backdrop against which proposed new learning pathways and curricula attain their relevance.

1.1       The Dawn of the Fourth Industrial Revolution

The global economy has arguably never seen a period of more rapid evolution than that of the early 21st century.  

This is primarily due to the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, or in Friedman’s (2006) famous terms, ‘the (rapid) flattening of the world’. 

One of the characteristics of industrial revolutions is that they bring about quantum increases in productivity. Certain scholars are anticipating a 4IR driven ‘productivity jump’ – anticipated by the late 2020’s – analogous to the productivity improvements that characterized previous industrial revolutions (Saniee, Kamat, Prakash & Weldon, 2018).

Figure 1 The progression of the industrial revolutions

The 4IR is all-pervasive, permeating every aspect of society, and its impact extends into the heart of the household (Cowan, 2018).

It is characterised by the ‘digitization and interconnection of all physical elements and infrastructure under the control of advanced intelligent systems’ (Sanaiee, Kamat, Prakash, & Weldon, 2018).  This includes unprecedented advances in ‘robotics and automation, artificial intelligence, nanotechnology and material sciences’ (Younus, 2017) as well as ‘social networks, mobile platforms and apps, advanced analytics and Big Data, the Cloud, and artificial intelligence’ (Bloem, Van Doorn, Duivestein, Excoffier, Maas & Van Ommeren, 2014).

The next section will unpack the concept of ‘VUCA’ in the context of the 4th industrial revolution and the changes that it brought about.

1.2  The VUCA World

VUCA, initially a military term, was first coined at the Army War College in the early 1990s (Johansen & Euchner, 2013) to describe the post-Cold War operational environment: Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambigious. It was introduced in the entrepreneurship context by Thomas Friedman, New York Times Columnist, as a frame for understanding the impact that adaptability and successful implementation of technology at high speed, had on the success of companies such as Apple and Google (Bloem, et al., 2014).

Whether VUCA is just part of the ‘game of business’ or a specific characteristic of the current era has been questioned and is debatable – it is however evident that, even if there were VUCA world periods in the past, the current scale, intensity and speed is unprecedented (Opdebeeck, 2017).

Indeed, it is evident from the most casual observation that the world has become more changeable with the emergence of the hyper-connected state facilitated by the internet.  The speed of information access, aggregation, analysis, decision-making and action is far greater than ever before. 

As the interconnectedness of social and technical systems increases, so the complexity of the world order increases. It is thus no surprise that the notion of ‘VUCA’ is increasingly prevalent in commercial and academic consciousness.  

This interconnectedness serves to accelerate the pace of change in all realms, and the velocity of this change is unprecedented. This assertion is not mere popular perception: the rapidity of change has been substantiated empirically:

‘Processes of industrialization, demographic change, and human-induced environmental change all occurred more rapidly at the end of the[last] century than they did at the beginning’ (Rudel & Hooper, 2005).

The banking and financial services sector is naturally also impacted by the VUCA world. This impact will be unpacked in the next section.

2.    Banking and financial services in the VUCA world

A bank can be defined as ‘an organization that takes deposits, lends and helps customers manage risks’ (EY, 2015). This simple definition may however be misleading as it does not reflect the complexity of the modern bank, which has to produce and manage diverse portfolios of products, operating across multiple business lines, amidst a mix of consolidation and competition in global banking (EY, 2015).

2.1 Disruption in the banking sector

Banking – and financial services more broadly – are as challenged by the rapid pace of change as any other industry in the VUCA world.  Even a cursory review of the industry literature reveals that this sector is being severely disrupted (Gomber, Kauffman, Parker, & Weber, 2018).

It seems that a broader perspective of banking is required (McKinsey, 2013), considering that the future is collaborative, and that banks have to be much more customer centric, and keeping up with the technology-enabled innovation that seems to cause the most disruption in this sector.

This section will consider the disruptions in the sector and their implications.

2.1.1 Technology

In the banking and financial sector specifically, technology-enabled innovation is generally referred to as ‘Fintech’ (Bofondi & Gobbi, 2017).  (This term originally referred to technology applied to the back-end of established consumer and trade financial institutions but has since expanded to include any technological innovation in the financial sector).

The December 2017 edition of The American Banker – one of the industry’s leading professional magazines – carried an article identifying the following sources of disruption in banking:

  • AI and data analytics
  • App experimentation
  • Cybersecurity
  • Chatbots
  • Commercial banking innovation – technology vs footprint
  • Non-traditional competitors
  • Data sharing
  • Fintechs (here referring to companies)
  • Cryptocurrency

The above list of so-called ‘Fintech’ technological innovations is considered as ‘disruptive’, ‘revolutionary’ and armed with ‘digital weapons’, that will ‘tear down’ barriers and traditional financial institutions (World Economic Forum, 2017), and is expected to change the nature of banking quite radically, requiring of financial services institutions to be much more agile, innovative, and customer centric in their approach.

And while technology is certainly not the only disruptor of financial services, it is the single most pervasive disrupting influence.  There is no aspect of banking that is immune to the 4th IR.  By 2015, the World Economic Forum had published a report, formulating six major factors that pertain to disruption and innovation in Financial Services (Deloitte, 2015):

  1. Innovation in financial services is deliberate and predictable; incumbent players are most likely to be attacked where the greatest sources of customer friction meet the largest profit pools;
  2. Innovations are having the greatest impact where they employ business models that are platform based, data intensive, and capital light; 
  3. The most imminent effects of disruption will be felt in the banking sector; however, the greatest impact of disruption is likely to be felt in the insurance sector;
  4. Incumbent institutions will employ parallel strategies; aggressively competing with new entrants while also leveraging legacy assets to provide those same new entrants with infrastructure and access to services;
  5. Collaboration between regulators, incumbents and new entrants will be required to understand how new innovations alter the risk profile of the industry – positively and negatively; and
  6. Disruption will not be a one-time event, rather a continuous pressure to innovate that will shape customer behaviours, business models, and the long-term structure of the financial services industry.

To illustrate the impact of this anticipated disruption: the leading international consultancy Accenture (2013) concludes that a failure to provide end-to-end digital origination will ‘start to move from a state of disappointment to more of an existential threat’ in 2018.  As origination is a core process in banking, banks that fail to innovate in the face of potential disruption would be at risk.

The disruptive effect of technology in banking cannot be underestimated, and banking and financial services strategy will unfold against the backdrop of a disrupted, VUCA world for the foreseeable future.

Bank strategies can be understood through a categorisation derived by global consultancy McKinsey in 2013.  McKinsey (2013) identified 5 basic bank strategies, namely:

  1. Distinctive service at a price premium;
  2. Back-to-basics at discounted prices;
  3. Balance-sheet light investment specialists;
  4. New market-niche lender; and
  5. Global-at-scale, with large domestic retail banks and investment banking abroad.

Examples of each of these strategies are evident in the South African banking sector: 

  • Private banks operating under the banner of the major brands, and niche banks like Sasfin and Mercantile, conform to pattern 1;
  • U-bank and Capitec conform to strategy 2;
  • Investment banking operating under all the major brands exemplify strategy 3;
  • Banks like the historical African Bank typify strategy 4; and
  • A large brand like Standard Bank exemplifies strategy 5.

In certain large universal banking brands, combinations of these strategies may be put into effect, through diversified business units and channels with varying degrees of autonomy.  Further, universal banks also often own short- and long-term insurance companies and financial planning companies, as well as stock brokerages and other allied service providers.  The boundaries between banking and allied industries is permeable.

To support their strategies – or indeed new strategies dictated by innovation in the face of a disrupted market and a disrupted business model – banking will require an enhanced and evolving competency set.

Another leading global management consultancy, EY, concluded in 2018 that strategy in banking would of necessity be innovation-led:

‘85% of banks cite implementation of a digital transformation program as a business priority for 2018, investment in technology to drive efficiency, manage evolving risks and benefit from growth opportunities will be critical for sustainable success’ (EY, 2018:1).

The report notes that as banks seek to improve their performance, they must reflect on some key questions about their strategy and readiness to advance their own digital maturity (EY, 2018:2):

  • Does my strategy account for rapidly changing revenue and profit pools?
  • What is my role in the ecosystem and how do I innovate efficiently?
  • How do I implement strategic change in a rapidly evolving digital environment?
  • How do I change my talent to support a more digital business?
  • Am I sufficiently considering new risks and the need to embed cybersecurity in my strategy?
  • How do I transform my technology and the technology organization?’

Innovation in the face of industry disruption has become the dominant theme in banking.  And in order to innovate, banks have to be able to change quickly – they require agility.

2.1.2 Innovation and agility

It seems clear that two fundamentals of success in the VUCA world are organisational innovation and agility. 

Developing the requisite levels of innovation and agility will require that banks transform their cultures, their leadership, and the skills sets that enable them to thrive on.

Global industry expert PwC also echoes this sentiment, with ‘Developing a customer-centric business model’ being identified by PwC as the top priority in a recent industry report (PwC, 2018).

This is not enough, though. Apart from customer-centricity, as predicted by VUCA authors, banks are faced with the necessity to cultivate agility.

Deloitte (2018) states boldly:

‘The core objective for most banks is to achieve organizational agility, and to do so they should consider embracing innovation, managing talent differently, and pursuing key partnerships within a broader ecosystem to manufacture and deliver solutions for customers.’ 

Agility and innovation make no contribution to surviving VUCA, though, unless they contribute to three objectives:

  1. Enhancing capability to acquire and retain profitable clients, to sustain revenue growth;
  2. Enhancing capability to optimise risk, containing losses; and
  3. Increase efficiency or reduce cost, enabling more value to be extracted from expenses.

One of the most significant drivers of client acquisition and retention is the cultivation of ‘client-centricity’, which enhances every aspect of the client experience.  This paper will -consider the concept of client-centricity, next.

2.1.3 Client-centricity

Somesh Khanna, prominent banking industry analyst and Senior Partner, Global Leader Digital McKinsey (Financial Services) at McKinsey & Company Inc. speaking in 2014, expressed clear views on the relationship of digital technologies to the client experience:

‘As digitization takes hold, customers will have a greater range of alternatives to meet the needs traditionally met by banks. Where the historical banking brands focused on stability and trustworthiness, these are no longer enough to retain customers and grow sustainably.’

In 2015, the McKinsey Global Banking Annual Review concluded that as digitization accelerates, banks would be in a ‘battle for the customer’ that would define the next 10 years for the industry.

This sentiment is echoed by Deloitte (2018), another major international consultancy and respected source of banking industry, claiming that long-term sustainable growth in the banking industry seems only possible with ‘a radical departure from a sales- and product-obsessed mindset to one of genuine customer centricity…’

This statement points to the reality that the customer experience of the future will emerge from the collaborative effort of the actors in an entire business ecosystem rather than solely from a service ethic of frontline staff.

Where service has historically been understood as a product of competent and committed interaction, customer centricity is a broader concept, ‘keeping clients at the core of strategic intentions’ (Coetzee, 2014).  

The importance of customer centricity moves beyond historical concepts of service.  As Coetzee’s (2014) study demonstrates, client centricity must be enabled by other parts of the banking value-chain.

Figure 2 Navigating the banking landscape

Client-centricity can thus be elusive. It is the result of mindsets and problem-solving skills, supported by collaboration in a bank ecology (Chopra & Rajendran 2016).

In considering the relationship of client-centricity and technology, PwC (2014) recognises that there are certain paradoxes and contradictions to be navigated. Their report emphasises that in the emerging world wit will be necessary to:

‘Balance automation with the human touch… sixty percent of great experiences are due to great staff… twenty-five percent of customers rely on staff to do research, 46% to select products and 63% to resolve their problems… create a multichannel strategy that balances cost and service…. encourage self-service for routine matters, and refocus branch and contact centre’.

As the industry changes, so the nature of work done in banks will inevitably change. Customer centricity will be as pervasive as innovation and agility.  The work done by bankers in the future will be a product of both the client-centricity imperative and work as shaped by technology.

Notwithstanding disruption, the regulation of banking will remain omnipresent.

2.1.4 Regulation and compliance

The success of entire economies depends upon the efficiency and liquidity of their financial markets. 

The Global Financial Crisis had its roots in banking failures and empirical findings support the view that strong financial intermediary balance sheets are key for the recovery of credit and economic performance after large financial sector shocks (Blundell-Wignall, Atkinson, & Roulet, 2018). Bank strength was important to the recovery form the GFC and regulatory measures subsequent to that event have sought to regulate the behaviour of banks (Kapan, & Minoiu, 2018).

Global regulators are increasingly focused on customer protection and product suitability, and while they are unwilling to approve individual products prior to their introduction, they do not hesitate to penalize banks retrospectively (EY, 2015).

Banking plays a key role in intermediating between savers and borrowers, in providing transactional platforms, and in providing access to risk-management arrangements.

Regulation and compliance is fundamental to banking – no doubt – in perpetuity. It cannot be ignored in any industry analysis.  EY’s (2018) view is succinct: ‘… regulation is the most important factor shaping banks today…’

EY (2018) concludes that Banks will continue to need good governance, a culture of compliance, and technology to promote better compliance.  Risk management is equally important, as discussed next.

2.1.5 Risk Management

Bessis (2015) defines risk in finance as the ‘randomness of the return of investments, including both positive and negative outcomes’.  Risk in the financial industry is defined by the uncertainty that has adverse consequences on earnings or wealth, or the uncertainty associated with negative outcomes only.  Sound principles of risk management are vital at all times (Bessis, 2015).

The above five disruptors, namely technology, innovation and agility, client-centricity, regulation and compliance, and risk management, impacts not only the world of banking, but the way learning takes place, and the nature of the knowledge and skills required to function in the VUCA banking world.

3. Learning and working in banking and financial services

As can be reasonably expected in the VUCA banking context, banking should evolve drastically over the next decades.

Solomon (2018) indicates that, although the majority of retail banking customers visit a bank branch at least once in six months over 80% of the average retail banking customer’s interactions already take place through self-service channels.

This confirms the prediction that the bank branch of the future will play different roles, and rather than serving customers in a transactional manner, will be a ‘destination for complex advice and problem resolution’ which implies ‘from a talent standpoint, some reshuffling required at a pretty rapid pace’ (McKinsey, 2014).

Deloitte (2018) further predicts that the future workforce is likely to include (in addition to permanent employees and contractors)’ freelancers working with multiple banks, fintech hackathoners to generate novel solutions, and even robots working alongside humans’.

This is likely to require bank workforces to be more collaborative and inclusive, while banks will be expected to provide them with more integrated employee experiences to mirror the richer customer experience that the workforce is enabling (Deloitte).

Since early 2015, the majority of the workforce is made up of Millennials (Anderson, Baur, Griffith & Buckley, 2017). This term refers to people born between 1982-1999 (also called GenY, nGen, GenMe or ‘digital natives’).

The literature seems to agree that these younger workers, (hereafter called Millennials) differ vastly from the workers of previous generations (Anderson, Baur, Griffith & Buckley, 2017).

The main differences between Millennials and previous generations include their expectations regarding the centrality of work to their lives, a desire for leisure and work-life balance (Lyons & Kuron, 2014).  Millennials require regular feedback and praise, and are generally not team-focused, but seem to be focused strongly on individualism.  As a group, they tend to be more environmentally conscious. They also possess some of the typical adult learner attributes, including the need for immediacy (Everett, 2017).

In addition, Millennials are the technologically-advanced generation as they grew up in the digital technology era (Madara, Maheshwari, & Selvan, 2018).

Because Millennials frequently use technological devices in their everyday environment, they expect to have the same application in the learning environment (Everett, 2017).  It is for that reason that Twenge (2013) recommended that instructors of millennials engage them in technology-based experiential strategies such as blogs and social bookmarking (like Pinterest).

While the workplace has to consider how to manage this new type of employee, this insight into the ‘learning style’ of the typical Millennial, should impact the way in which curricula are designed and learning is offered.

Houghton and Sheehan (2000) consider the nature of work in a knowledge economy, predicting that the skills that will be required from humans will increasingly be complementary to information and communication technology instead of substituting them.  They predict that Information Technology will be the locus of codified knowledge and work will increasingly demand uniquely human (tacit) skills such as conceptual and inter-personal management and communication skills (Houghton & Sheehan, 2000).

Brown, Hesketh and Williams (2003) stress that more knowledge workers imply that it is increasingly important to get ‘great talent’ since the differential value created by the most talented knowledge workers is ‘enormous’.  They maintain that, as the economy becomes more knowledge-based, ‘the differential value of highly talented people continues to mount’ (Brown, Hesketh, & Wiliams, 2003).

To chart a path through complexity captured in the notion of VUCA, professionals can adopt the principles of ‘VUCA Prime’.

VUCA prime holds that there are attributes that can help to offset the disconcerting and paralyzing effect of VUCA.  According to Glowania, (2018) these are:

  • Vision provides the stabilizing direction that can offset the impact of volatility;
  • Understanding – arising from deep insight into the parts and interactions of a complex system – offsets uncertainty to an extent;
  • Clarity that emerges from precise understanding enables action to be taken with a greater degree of certainty;
  • Agility – the ability to decide on a course of action and alter strategies rapidly – helps to offset ambiguity.

 The authors would however like to propose that the term ‘Clarity’ be replaced with the term ‘Cooperation’ as it is becoming increasingly clear that ‘21st century skills’ include collaboration, communication (in addition to digital literacy, citizenship, problem solving, critical thinking, creativity and productivity) (Van Laar, van Deursen, van Dijk, & de Haan, 2017).

Binkley, Erstad, Herman, Raizen, Ripley, and Rumble (2010) identified a set of ten 21st century skills in four main groupings, namely ways of thinking, ways of working, tools for working and living in the world.  This frame seemed exceptionally useful, however the authors took the liberty of adding elements to each of the main themes, as they were identified from other literature on the topic, and with a view to creating a framework that is applicable to the 21st century banker in particular.  The red elements were added by the authors.

Ways of thinkingCreativity and innovationSystemic thinkingAgilityCritical thinking, problem solving, decision makingLearning to learn, (lifelong learning) metacognition
Ways of workingCommunicationCollaboration (teamwork)
Tools for workingInformation literacyICT literacyTechnical/discipline specific knowledge and skills
Living in the worldEconomic and financial literacy Citizenship – local and globalLife and careerPersonal and social responsibility – including cultural awareness and competenceEthics

Table 1 Conceptual frame for 21st century banking skills

The above list is in alignment with the WEF’s Global Human Capital Report, which lists complex problem solving, critical thinking, creativity, people management and coordination as the 5 skills which the global economy of 2020 will need most.

The structure proposed by Binkley, et al (2010) discussed above, seems to offer a useful conceptual frame in terms of which 21st century skills can be considered.  The first in their list, is the concept of ‘creativity and innovation’.

Barnes (2018) defines creativity as ‘doing things differently, looking for alternatives, keeping an open mind, asking questions, having new experiences, continuing to learn, and being able to use seemingly unrelated concepts to solve a problem or answer a question’.  Barnes (2018) further defines innovation as ‘a new idea, a more effective device or process’ or ‘the application of better solutions that meet new requirements, unarticulated needs or existing market needs’.  It stands to reason, therefore, that these skills are crucial in a fast-changing world of work and banking.

Bartlett (2001) defines systemic thinking as the ability to deliberately and systematically gain significantly deeper insights into challenging situations and complex domains through understanding the underlying patterns that govern them.  This skill is crucial in navigating complexity, and goes hand in hand with critical thinking and problem-solving abilities.

 There seems to be general agreement on the fact that adaptive, responsive thinking is the key to success in the increasing complexity of the VUCA world (Snowden & Boone, 2007).  This refers to skills such as identifying assumptions, assessing evidence, understanding our biases, and reaching rational conclusions.  Indeed, the more VUCA the environment, the more critical becomes critical thinking skills (White, 2015).

Success in the VUCA world will depend upon apprehending changing environments, analysing them, identifying possible courses of action, making decisions, taking coordinated action while retaining the ability to change direction rapidly and fluidly.

It is logical, and widely held, that the human task of adapting and succeeding in the VUCA world will be dependent on advanced thinking skills, that can be communicated and applied in an agile manner to a rapidly changing and uncertain world.

Raghuramapatruni (2017) argues that a specific set of emphases are required in higher education to equip students for the VUCA world:

  • ‘For volatile situations, separating facts from opinions is the key. So is formulating thoughts objectively and precisely as well as ensuring clarity in communication.
  • For uncertain situations – listening and comprehension is vital. Being open-minded about alternative points of view and dealing with contradiction are also necessary in such situations.
  • For complex situations – one needs to gather facts from various sources do logical enquiry and reasoning and also weigh the alternatives. Weighing alternatives, making decisions under pressure and testing the solutions against relevant criteria are also vital.
  • For ambiguous situations- curiosity; eliciting and evaluating arguments; asking the right questions; adaptability and agility in thinking as well as seeing the consequences and likely implications are essential in such circumstances. Quite simply, critical thinking is excellence in thought processes which precedes excellence in our actions.’

This analysis confirms that adaptation in a VUCA environment will be dependent upon thinking and problem-solving skills. 

Critical thinking and problem-solving skills have to be coupled with agility. In a rapidly changing environment, it is natural that it is necessary to be able to change direction quickly as new realties emerge. Various authors argue that ‘agility’ is a necessary competency for navigating the VUCA world (Horney, Passmore & O’Shea, 2010; Bennett & Lemoine, 2014; Horney, Eckenrod, McKinney & Prescott, 2014; Carvan, 2015).

Also, quite important in ‘ways of thinking’ is ‘learning to learn’ – which implies an openness and the ability to continue learning and growing, or ‘lifelong learning’.

3.2.2 Ways of working

Binkley et al see ‘ways of working’ specifically as communication and collaboration.

In a more richly interconnected and rapidly evolving ecosystem, communication skills will be at a premium.  Receptiveness will determine the quality of insight, and expressive clarity will be fundamentally important in coordinating action.

This is of particular importance to leadership in the 21st century – leadership is going to be a matter of discovering the positive energy in each person, to stimulate the best in every individual and develop the potential of everybody because this ‘energy’ is a small assurance of the future. A leader who attempts to ‘bring out’ the positive in each person, in every context in which he or she is immersed, a leader who seeks the best interventions possible according to his or her capabilities and resources, this is a leader we can call ‘a leader for the coming future: a Cloud Leader’ (Rodriguez & Rodriguez, 2015).

Lahl and Egan (2012) talk to four prerequisites for leadership success in the VUCA world, namely dynamic attention (thinking, performing, relating), full connection to internal resources, strategic clarity and authentic collaboration (creating community in the workplace).

According to Inam (2017), agility is the ability to scan the environment, anticipate what might change, and frame their context in a compelling way that influences others. It is the ability to step back and see connections beyond the boundaries of their specific initiative, function, company, or even industry. This allows for a longer-term focus and visionary thinking and impact.

 Stakeholder Agility is the ability to identify, seek out, and engage key stakeholders. It’s the capacity to understand and empathize with the views of multiple stakeholders while also honoring one’s own view. Catalyst leaders seek input from stakeholders not just to get buy-in but are actually willing to be influenced by others’ views for better decision-making.

 Creative Agility is the ability to explore multiple views when dealing with a complex problem and to step back to examine the assumptions being made.  Catalyst leaders hold the tensions within paradox (short-terms vs. long-term, practical vs. idealistic) to lead teams who come up with unique solutions.

 Self-Leadership Agility is the capacity to engage deeply in growing self-awareness and leading oneself first by envisioning the kind of leader they want to be. Catalyst leaders have an interest in aligning their behavior with values, and aspire to becoming more authentic leaders. They use personal growth to fuel professional development.

Context-setting Agility is the ability to scan the environment, anticipate what might change, and frame their context in a compelling way that influences others. It is the ability to step back and see connections beyond the boundaries of their specific initiative, function, company, or even industry. This allows for a longer-term focus and visionary thinking and impact (Inam, 2017).

3.2.3 Tools for working

Traditionally, literacy was explained as the ability to read, write and do arithmetic.  This seems very outdated now, in a technology-driven world where everyone is expected to be ‘literate’ in the use of technology to obtain information and make sense of that information.

Information literacy refers to the ability to identify when and what type of information is required, and to locate, evaluate, and effectively utilize the required information – all within the context of rapid technological changes (Ross, Perkins, & Bodey, 2016).  This may include the increasingly required ability to engage with ‘big data’ – defined for the purpose of this paper as high volumes of complex data that requires specific technology and analytical methods for its transformation into value (De Mauro, Greco, & Grimaldi, 2015).

There does not seem to be consensus about the definition of ICT (Information Communication Technology) literacy.  Definitions vary from elementary, such as the ability to use computers, to more complex: ‘the technical use of software and hardware, engagement in cognitive processes, and the extent of literacy tasks via reading and writing of digital materials’ (Tadesse, Gillies & Campbell, 2018). 

Quadri, Olaleye  and Abiodun (2017) take this even further in their definition: they define ICT literacy as ‘the capacity to solve problems of information, communication and knowledge in digital environments’.  They also indicate that ICT literacy requires both functional skills and higher-order cognitive skills.

3.2.4        Living in the world

The theme ‘Living in the world’ refers firstly to citizenship, both local, global and ecological, to personal and social responsibility, which includes cultural awareness and competence, and lastly to the management of one’s own life and career. All of these are underpinned by a strong sense of ethics.


Lagos (2002) indicates that the word citizenship originates from the emergence of members of a polity with specified rights and obligations or privileges and duties.  It stands to reason, therefore, that civil society organizations have claimed engaged citizenship as a key descriptor of their activism and social change agendas (Shultz, 2007).


The term global citizenship moves away from allegiance to a particular sovereign state and consists instead of a sociological associatal status (Lagos, 2002), which represents a normative claim about how humans should act, an existential claim about what is the case in the world and an aspirational claim about the future. A global citizen from this perspective understands how this system creates poverty and oppresses most of the world’s population and therefore has a responsibility to challenge state and corporate structures that increase marginalization (Shultz, 2007).  This has clear ethical implications.

Citizenship should however also be viewed from a ‘green’ perspective. Dobson’s (2003) seminal definition of ecological citizenship assumes that the ecological citizen’s behavior is driven by five underlying attitudes or orientations, namely non-contractual responsibilities, non-reciprocity, virtue of equity/justice, the blurring of private and public spheres, and non-territoriality.  Dobson states, ‘All actions in the home have a public impact, in the specific sense of the creation of an ecological footprint…Ecological citizenship is all about everyday living’ (Dobson 2003:138).

Career and employability

Hall (1996) recognises that career development and growth take place in a context of interdependence and mutuality.

Any discussion regarding career development naturally has to include reference to the employability of students, which is a high priority in higher education worldwide, to the extent that it forms the one main goal of the Bologna process in European Higher Education (Stiwne & Jungert, 2010).

Yorke (2006) defines employability as ‘a set of achievements – skills, understandings and personal attributes- that makes graduates more likely to gain employment and be successful in their chosen occupations, which benefits themselves, the workforce, the community and the economy’.

Bowden et al.’s (2000) definition states that graduate attributes are, ‘the qualities, skills and understandings … (that) students would desirably develop … and (which will) consequently, shape the contribution they are able to make to their profession and as a citizen’. It is important to note the element of citizenship (which includes involvement in democratic processes, social cohesion, equity and human rights and ecological sustainability) and thus ability to contribute towards a well-functioning society (Rychen & Salganik, 2005).

Bridgstock (2009) indicates that the modification in the labour market orientation from job security to ‘employability security’ which implies that individual workers need to constantly adapt to rapidly changing work environments and requirements, including emerging technologies.  Work-readiness do not only refer to competence in the disciplinary field but to the abilities necessary to negotiate a world of work that is in constant flux.   This is a sentiment echoed by Stiwne and Jungert (2010) who caution against focusing on job security rather than employability in a ‘knowledge society where the job market is characterized by changing working conditions with an increase in temporary and insecure employment conditions requiring generic and transferable competencies’ in addition to knowledge of the field of study.  

Students, therefore, will develop their employability in ways that reflect their particular circumstances. It might be hoped that they would become ‘capable’ in the sense outlined by Stephenson (1998), which implies not only specialist knowledge but the confidence to apply this within varied and changing situations and to continue developing their specialist knowledge and skills.

Bridgstock (2009) concludes that employability includes the ability competing effectively in the job market and being able to move between occupations as necessary. It therefore requires ‘learning to learn’ for new job opportunities.

3.3 Education in and for the VUCA world

It is generally accepted that education, and in particular higher education is a major driver of economic competitiveness in an increasingly knowledge-driven global economy (Lemoine, Hackett, & Richardson, 2017).

Naturally, these technological innovations are expected to impact the workforces of financial institutions as the definition of ‘talent’ evolves in terms of the skills required in this changing context (World Economic Forum, 2017).  Rotherham and Willingham (2010) in their discussion of 21st century skills, point out that the requirement for critical thinking and problem-solving skills are not new, but that they have become more crucial to individual and collective success, in the 21st century.  Kruss, McGrath, Peterson and Gastrow (2015) in turn refer to three main categories, namely technological capabilities, innovation and interactive abilities, while Griffin and Care (2015) add collaborative problem-solving skills.

The World Economic Forum’s Global Capital report states that ‘With changes to the labour market brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution, governments, businesses and workers will also benefit from dynamically monitoring the labour market to ensure a stronger fit between people’s skills and the roles and occupations in which they are able to contribute’.

Pathak (2018) states ‘The skills which are believed to offer insulation from the threats of automation and artificial intelligence – and which can harness their power in the fourth industrial revolution – are arguably those which have been relatively neglected by the global higher education sector.’

It is likely that the curricula of the future and educational practices will need to adapt. This has been observed to pertain to in fields as diverse as design (Majithia, 2017) marketing, (Finch, Nadeau and O’Reilly, 2018) and medicine (McKimm et al., 2018).  Snowden, Davitt Jones and Arnold, (2018) argue that adapting education to the VICA world requires more than offering students a wider choice.  Something more fundamental is required.

As corporate learning and development practices have had to evolve to remain relevant to disruption  (Bersin, 2017) , so also higher education faces a profound challenge in remaining relevant in the emerging VUCA world. 

Naturally there is far more to education than adapting to technological disruption.

The World Economic Forum’s ‘Global Human Capital Report 2017: Preparing People for the Future of Work’ (World Economic Forum, 2017) [i] states ‘The ingenuity and creativity at our collective disposal provides us with the means not only to address the great challenges of our time but also, critically, to build a future that is more inclusive and human centric. All too often however, human potential is not realized, held back either by inequality or an unrealistic and outdated faith on the part of policymakers that investment in small sub sections of highly skilled labour alone can drive sustainable, inclusive growth’

Education can be one of the driving forces for change. It is this authors’ opinion that higher education is the single most relevant potential available to humanity to navigate the VUCA world, with its turbulence added to its legacy of injustices, inequalities, and ecological irresponsibility.

  • Education systems today are increasingly at risk of being outdated, and modernization efforts are in most instances not in line with the demands of the wider economy or society. Constructing ‘future-ready’ curricula includes reviewing core linguistic, mathematical and technological literacies and ensuring sufficient attention to building digital fluency
  • ensuring higher education remains affordable and appropriate,

New educational needs will necessitate new educational strategies as the 4th IR progresses.

4. The South African case

The case of South Africa will be discussed under the following main headings: the South African context (banking and financial services context as well as the South African post-school education context), the current status of employment and education in the SA banking sector, and the responsiveness of the curriculum.

When discussing the South African case, this must be seen in the context of Sub-Saharan Africa, as the four largest South African banks have considerable footprints in the rest of Africa. Standard Bank operates in 20 countries, ABSA in 12 countries, has a presence in bank’s operations in 36 countries (BANKSETA, 2017).

4.1 The South African banking and financial services context

Although one of the most competitive countries in Sub-Saharan Africa, South Africa ranks 61st on the World Economic Forum’s global competitiveness ratings. South Africa’s economy is nearly at a standstill, with GDP growth forecast at just 1.0 percent in 2017 and 1.2 percent in 2018. In addition, the country’s unemployment rate is currently estimated above 25 percent and rising (WEF, 2017).

The financial and related business services sector forms a significant part of the South African economy, contributing 18.8 % of South Africa’s GDP and 31.9 % of its corporate tax revenue (National Treasury, 2016).  As such, this sector can and should make a significant contribution towards economic growth.

In addition, the SA government is working towards the positioning of South Africa as a regional financial hub, expanding its financial services business into the rest of Africa in support of economic growth for the continent (National Treasury, 2016). 

Lafferty Group’s 2017 Global Bank Quality Benchmarking survey ranks 100 major quoted banks across 32 countries for their longer-term sustainability. The survey rated SA banks very highly, and indeed Capitec, a relatively young bank, achieved the top position in the survey (Lafferty, 2018).

FNB, a major domestic bank, has repeatedly won the African FinTech Award for Innovation (FNB, Journalistic analysis supports this author’s experience that the other banks are not lagging far behind when it comes to innovation (De Bruyn, 2017).

PwC, the global auditing firm, publishes an analysis of the South African banking sector’s performance every year.  The 2018 report opens: ‘Against an external environment characterised by significant economic and policy uncertainty in South Africa, alongside currency fluctuations, low GDP growth and subdued business confidence, the major banks’ combined results have shown remarkable resilience and reflect a solid trajectory of performance, which we have seen play out over a sustained period’ (PwC, 2018).

It goes on to note that ‘despite the challenges and structural uncertainties facing the South African economy, the domestic banking system remains profitable, well managed, adequately capitalized and supervised in line with international best practice’ (PwC, 2018:9).

‘Even in coming years, banks from the emerging markets are expected to drive the growth of the global banking industry’ (CapGemini, 2017).

South African banks are growing into the rest of Africa, and Stanbic, a local bank, is the largest bank on the continent.

Given the resiliency and innovativeness of the South African banking sector, there is every reason to be confident that the growth trajectory will be maintained.

The PwC analysis reveals that South African banks focus on same strategic themes as international banks – ‘including digitising legacy processes through robotic process automation efforts, replacing and upgrading legacy system architecture, and channel and product innovation with a view to delivering richer customer experiences’ (PwC, 2018:9).

There are few, if any, dissenting voices.

4.2 The South African post-school education landscape

The newly elected first democratic government of South Africa inherited a deeply divided higher education system that had to ‘wrestle with the shadows of apartheid’ (Lolwana, 2015) and had to deal with the challenge of transforming the mostly white, elite post school education system to a system of universal access.

In an attempt to address these imbalances, South Africa was one of the first countries in the world to adopt a National Qualifications Framework (NQF) following the promulgation of the SAQA Act in 1995 (Act no 58 of 1995).  Following an extensive review of the NQF and the replacement of the SAQA Act with the NQF Act in 2009, a new NQF landscape was introduced. 

The Minister of Higher Education and Training also published a White Paper, approved by Cabinet on 20 November 2013, (‘Building an Expanded, Effective and Integrated Post-School System’), which has since informed the legislation, on a holistic post-school education system.

The South Africa legislative framework provides for private providers in both the higher education as well as the occupational education system and encourages cooperation between institutions in the interest of access, mobility and progression, the very principles on which the South African NQF was founded.

Despite these noble intentions, the system is still divided and non-coherent, and quite volatile.  One only has to think of the ‘Fees must fall’ movement in recent years, the continuous cry for decolonization, to name but a few.

The pace of change and the effects of VUCA naturally extend to higher education. (De Millo, (2017); Stewart, Khare & Schatz, (2016).

Lemoine, Hackett, and Richardson (2017) argue that ‘higher education institutions are caught in a critically demanding and increasing unknown present and future characterized by volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity’. This may however be a positive development – in fact, De Millo (2017) is of the view that the pace of change evident in higher education offers the only hope for overcoming the massive challenges education faces in navigating the VUCA world.

There does however seem to be general concensus that educational offerings will have to be revised to equip the professionals and leaders of the future. Various authors attest to this imperative (Lawrence, 2013; Chai & Kong, 2017)

Far-reaching changes may be needed. Chai and Kong (2017) argue that both ‘what is to be learned and how learning or knowledge construction should happen need serious reconceptualization’. One of the fundamental questions that education has to confront is the nature of the competencies it should develop to equip people for the emerging reality.

4.3 Employment and education in the SA banking sector

The annual Sector Skills Plan (SSP) of the South African banking sector is prepared by the relevant Sector Education Training Authority (SETA), the BANKSETA, as mandated by the Skills Development Act 97 of 1998, as well as the Skills Development Levies Act 9 of 1999.

According to BANKSETA’s (2017) SSP for 2018-2019:

  • The sector employed 195 340 people in 2017;
  • ‘Compared to the rest of the economy, the sector contributed 22.7% to employment making it the second largest employer in the country.’
  • The bulk of employees have either matric or a level 5 qualification.

Figure__ below is copied from the BANKSETA’s (2017) SSP.  Note the reference to NQF Level 11 (the South African NQF has 10 levels, not 11), which unfortunately casts serious doubts over the validity and reliability of the numbers reflected in the SSP.

Figure 3 Inaccurate employment numbers: BANKSETA

The numbers reflected in the previous (2017/18) SSP (BANKSETA, 2016) seem more likely.

However unreliable the BANKSETA’s most recent data may be, it is clear that the sector is a massive employer facing significant challenges with a workforce that is relatively poorly qualified to meet those challenges.

Naturally, the changing environment demands response from education.

The challenge is to determine how to create curricula and teaching and learning approaches that are relevant to the VUCA world.

The BANKSETA has announced the following five focus areas in its Sector Skills Plan (SSP) for the next five years:

• Technology, Digitisation and Analytics

• Risk Management and Compliance

• Management and Leadership Development

• Core banking products/services

• Customer relationship management

4.4.1 Existing qualifications

A workshop hosted by the Department of Higher Education’s university branch in May 2018, at which the Institute of Bankers as well as a number of public universities that offer banking qualifications, revealed that there has not been sufficient cooperation between public universities and the professional and regulatory bodies, and if there was industry consultation, it may have been with individual banks, but the banking sector as a whole have not been good at participating in consultative processes with the universities. 

A search of all registered banking qualifications on the South African NQF, resulted in a comprehensive list of banking qualifications.  Some of these can be classified as ‘legacy’ qualifications (registered under the SAQA Act, prior to the promulgation of the 3 sub-frameworks).  Those (legacy) qualifications are indicated in grey.

Title of qualificationNumber of qualsOriginator/Provider(s)NQF levelCredits
Further Education and Training Certificate (FETC): banking1BANKSETA (various providers)4120
National Certificate: Banking7BANKSETA (various providers), Damelin, Milpark5120
Higher Certificate: Banking (with different specialisations)5UNISA, Milpark, Regent, Regenesys,5120
Advanced Certificate: Banking1Milpark6120
National Diploma: Banking3UJ, CPUT, UNISA6360
Diploma: Banking3UNISA (x2), Milpark6360+
Higher Diploma: Banking1Milpark6240+
B degree (various: BCom, BBA, Bachelor of Banking, B.Tech)10UNISA, UP, UFS, UJ, Milpark, Damelin, Regenesys.7360+
B Honours degree1UP8200
Postgraduate Diploma5Milpark, UKZN, Regent, IIE, UNISA8120
Masters degree3NWU, UP, UJ9180+
Doctoral degree1UP10300

Table 2 List of registered qualifications (SAQA)

The following deductions can be made from this list:

  • The learning pathway for will start at NQF Level 5 in future, and no longer at NQF Level 4.  This is an assumption based on the fact that the FETC is expected to phase out.  While the BANKSETA and QCTO have worked on two replacement qualifications at this level, both are considerably below 120 credits and focused on specific occupations (Bankteller, 49 credits, and Bank Services Clerk, 51 credits)
  • There seems to be a vibrant market for the Level 5 qualification (in view of the fact that a number of private institutions have elected to offer it) as well as for the
  • Few (if any) public universities or private providers have considered a complete learning pathway for learners who would like to pursue a career in banking, and therefore may need such a learning pathway.
  • Most of these qualifications have been ‘reregistered’ which indicates that they have been registered on the NQF in excess of three years.  Without interrogating the different curricula in detail, this most likely implies that the qualifications are outdated already, and not aimed at the ‘banker of the future’ but cover a more traditional banking curriculum. 

In short, it does not seem that the post-school education system has kept close track of the inputs that will be required to prepare banking employees for the fast-changing VUCA environment that banking is today.  The authors in fact sensed a disconnect between the two worlds (banking and education).

The BANKSETA, in its 2018/9 Sector Skills Plan, indicates that the sector is ‘largely underqualified’.  While the BANKSETA is spending money on the development of new QCTO-aligned qualifications (e.g. Occupational Certificate Bank Teller), these qualifications are, in the opinion of the authors, ill-conceived.  The Bank Teller qualification, as one example, does not meet with regulatory (fit and proper) requirements as it contains far less than the required 120 credits, and for the same reason cannot be registered as a learnership with the Department of Higher Education and Training.  Yet this qualification is rolled out despite caution from the sector.  In addition, these qualifications, as occupational qualifications, prepare learners for a specific job, rather than for a career in banking, equipping learners with the skills required by the ‘banker of the future’ (will there, in fact, be a need for a Bank Teller, even 5 years from now?).

According to the WEF (2017), it seems evident that today’s education systems are already disconnected from the skills needed in the world of work and the exponential rate of technological and economic change seems to increase this gap even further.  As such, employers cannot expect ready-made cross-functional skills from new entrants into the workplace but have to develop these skills in the workplace. 

EY (2018)’s conclusion that, as automation frees up people to perform more value-added tasks,  banks will need new capabilities, existing skills sets will have to be converted and new, more agile ways of working introduced, is supported by the authors.

The opportunity however also presents itself to the educational system to include more practical experience in cross-functional, behavioural and noncognitive skills, to nurture the students’ ability to collaborate, innovate, self-direct and problem-solve, which would serve to prepare students for the VUCA world of work.

In short, this paper is a call for leadership and for dialogue in this sector, and for the development of a competency framework that will enable providers, both public and private, to develop programmes that will equip the ‘banker of the future’ with the skills required to take this industry forward.

It is proposed that curricula for the ‘banker of the future’ consider the ways of thinking, ways of working, tools for working as well as essential elements for ‘living in the world’ as identified in this paper, in order to develop well-rounded bankers who will be able to navigate the complex new world of banking with confidence.

 Ways of thinkingCreativity and innovationSystemic thinkingAgilityCritical thinking, problem solving, decision makingLearning to learn, (lifelong learning) metacognition
Ways of workingCommunicationCollaboration (teamwork)
Tools for workingInformation literacyICT literacyTechnical/discipline specific knowledge and skills
Living in the worldEconomic and financial literacy Citizenship – local and globalLife and careerPersonal and social responsibility – including cultural awareness and competenceEthics

Table 3 Conceptual frame for 21st century banking skills

While this frame is by no means considered complete, it is hoped that it will provide at least a reasonable starting point for a much-needed new discourse about skills in the banking sector.

We close with these powerful words by Barack Obama:

‘Change will not come if we wait for some other person or some other time.  We are the ones we’ve been waiting for. We are the change that we seek.’


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