Fred Swanepoel had a lucky break in university which started a career path that led to his appointment as Nedbank CIO in November 2008.
While studying for his BCom in finance and accounting at Stellenbosch University, a technology course was added to the accounting curriculum.
This got Swanepoel interested in the efficiency gains technology could offer in industries, and how technology can help solve problems.
In his first job, he assisted the IT team at the Small Business Development Corporation in re-platforming its IT system by writing conversion routines to transport data from the old to the new system.
He did this part-time as a hobby, as they were struggling with the project. How you could solve real-world problems, using technology, attracted him to the field.
Swanepoel moved to Nedbank in 1996, and steadily advanced his career through hard work, he said.
As Nedbank CIO, Swanepoel’s days are largely consumed by ExCo and board meetings, and stakeholder management engagements.
While the CIO position has many rewards, Swanepoel said he still misses the excitement and camaraderie of designing and coding with teammates on a project, with a defined scope and desired output.
“Life was far simpler in those days,” said Swanepoel.
Most IT professionals have a story or two to tell about a blunder which brought down a system or wiped out important information.
Swanepoel views these “blunders” as evidence of pursuing excellence, of pushing the envelope, and of leading and embracing change.
He, therefore, prefers to look at these from a positive perspective, where a career can be defined by how one responds to these challenging moments.
He said his biggest tech blunder was when they implemented a new card system at Nedbank, which was followed by 10 days of large clients intermittently not being able to transact.
“Now imagine how angry a client gets when they arrive at the counter with a full trolley and their card won’t work,” he said.
“In many cases, they would just leave, and refrigerated goods would become spoilt. That was really hard to overcome.”