API Business Models

All the world’s a stage

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Katrien Van Gijsel shares her experiences with helping KBC Bank & Verzekering in its strategy, through the power of communication.

Glossophobia—or fear of public speaking—apparently affects more than three quarters of the population. Katrien Van Gijsel, at KBC Bank & Verzekering, is a member of that other quarter and someone who’s able to say “I actually like it”. Public speaking is something she enjoys and is happy to do, as opposed to filling her with fear and dread.

Katrien’s ease on the stage harks back to an interest in theatre and music that started while she was still in primary school. Confidence with being on stage wasn’t the only skill Katrien learnt early in her life.  She later took up opportunities at school to study elocution and presenting.

Enthusiasm for the performing arts has continued into Katrien’s adult life. When pandemic restrictions permit, she sings in two local choirs. And her drama interests have come full circle. She’s back at the theatre again: this time as a parent joining her teenage daughter’s drama activities.

Katrien’s professional speaking commitments have moved online since the onset of the pandemic. Like so many, less travel with work has given her more time with family. However, she misses the real-time feedback from an audience at physical events. The adrenaline of being in front of an audience actually energises her. “You never know what questions you’ll get : it’s enriching to be confident in your subject while being able to manage other questions easily.”

Getting the message out there 

Katrien’s career journey into APIs is based on a proven background in financial services delivery, product management and more recently into advanced data analytics. This led her to exploring new business models and opportunities from the company’s focus on Open Banking.

She now leads the OBI (Open and Beyond Bank Insurance) capabilities team and is the face of KBC in terms of communicating opportunities from new partnerships and business models beyond the organisation.  

Katrien’s role and impact in establishing the organisation as an API-as-products leader in financial services has been thanks, in part, to support from the CEO and other key executive leaders. They have provided protection and support during the early incubation stages of the new business ideas. Her team was given ambitious targets, but were given time to achieve these targets which were recognised as needing to be longer than the types of quarterly business performance targets that established parts of the organisation were used to. Importantly, there was continuous reinforcement that “we believe in what you’re doing” and the way it connected to a bigger strategy. 

This has become a standard part of Katrien’s message: she frames the value proposition for clients through the bank’s 3 B’s strategy: Be personal and instant; Be all-in-one app; Be everywhere.

Bringing colleagues along 

Katrien explains that speaking to people outside the bank is about “sharing the same story, but shining a different light on it” for internal colleagues. They want to know what to get an outside-in perspective: what are other similar organisations doing in other countries or industries? 

This role as an internal “evangelist” for bringing KBC’s strategy to life for sales people and customer relationship managers can call for giving people a bit of a reality check. Experiences from other industries and Open Banking-type initiatives in other countries are a common thread in her communications. She shares knowledge and insights to others so they can explain the benefits from new digital products to their customers and their customers’ customers. 

She has become adept at simplifying messages to her audience by focusing on just three key messages at a time–a habit she picked up after watching a popular Belgian TV chef whose show always ended up with “What are the three things we’ve learnt today?” and clearly call them out.

Katrien views that everyone in her organisation should have an awareness of how digital / API products are part of the strategy for the organisation. Getting people to understand and take action, or to change their perspectives is a key part of people taking ownership within their part of the business. Teams need to be API-ready, and this is beyond having the technology and analytics in place. It’s about bringing in the financial, legal, regulatory, security, and commercial aspects of new or updated market offerings, and delivered in new ways. So people responsible for these functions need to understand what it means for them individually and collectively.

Katrien is a big fan of using humour and imagery to connect with people’s emotions and to help them remember her messages. For example, she describes the bank’s developer portal as needing to cater for both “the hoodies and the suits” and so providing entry points via both Business Solutions (for business partners and decision-makers) and via Technical Integrations (for engineers / developers).

Where there’s still more work to do

Katrien recognises that there is more to be done to achieve greater gender balance in technology and technology-related communities; and that a more balanced workforce will make for more successful organisations. Among colleagues who mainly identify as male, she gets reminded of her value as a female leader: she brings “colour, a different flavour” and fresh perspectives to creating innovative solutions and propositions for customers and partners.

Katrien encourages women not to shy away from putting their hands up to take on new opportunities. She reminds people to shift their focus from what they CAN’T DO YET to what they CAN DO NOW. For her, this has meant taking up international roles based in other countries.  

“The beauty of the technology industry is how much there is to learn, if you’re prepared to put a bit of time and effort into pursuing what interests you.” 

As a Belgian, Katrien is used to thinking, working and speaking in multiple languages. Much of Katrien’s day-to-day work at the bank is in her native Flemish. However, her role as the public face of KBC’s digital product strategy in the international market means that much of her participation in technology conferences, community podcasts and panels is in English. She’s equally fluent in French and German. The ability to draw on ideas and metaphors from different languages and cultures means Katrien’s talents and comfort with sharing her stories and colleagues’ and customers’ success will no doubt continue to inspire others to step up and get their own ideas and experiences heard more widely.

What to know more?

If you’d like to connect and learn from other people with stories to tell about their experiences in and around the world of APIs, you can register to join the Women In APIs community at www.apidays.global/initiatives-women-in-apis.

The author is Claire Barrett, Director at APIsFirst and co-lead of the global Women In APIs community.

Claire Barrett

Claire Barrett

Strategy Translator and Women In APIs Lead
I make strategy happen. I’m a translator of goals and aspirations into technology change that sticks. Galvanising teams and individuals around what it takes to balance executing short-term priorities for customers and stakeholders while making tangible progress towards longer-term transformational outcomes.

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