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My Pivot Journal: How Adebowale Banjo went from corporate banking to growing startups

Business

My Pivot Journal is a Ventures Africa weekly series documenting people’s career transitions from one industry to another, especially to tech.

What’s the easiest way to guarantee people’s future? Working in insurance. And Adebowale Banjo is taking this up a notch through his attempt at building the future of Nigerian insurance through tech. However, he wasn’t always a tech bro. And if you need proof of the saying that “Life is unscripted,” you should read Adebowale Banjo’s pivot journal.

How it started

I started life in Ogun state, in a family that believed very much in education and had clear ideas on what they wanted us to be. My grandmother, for instance, wanted me to be a doctor. She told me several times. But I never wanted to be a doctor. Did I know exactly what I wanted? No. I just take life one day at a time. So I went to the University and studied zoology.

My first job was in a bank. It seemed like a pretty good place to start a career. When I joined their banking school, I graduated as the best student, despite having a science background. That was when I knew I could build a career around numbers, economics, and business. I only didn’t know where the endpoint was. At some point, I thought I would become a bank CEO or Director.

My experience with corporate banking made me interact with several businesses across sectors. At first, I worked in a group that liaised with other financial institutions, from banks to stock brokerages and treasury houses. Then I moved to the manufacturing department, where we dealt with companies that needed credit in that sector.

Adebowale Banjo

Epiphany

I soon realised how transferable my skills were. I was doing great work helping corporate clients, and that helped me understand many things about business success. Every sector needed what I had. I’m good with numbers, making corporate sales, conducting market research, and making stuff grow. So I didn’t need to constrain myself to only the possibility of becoming a bank director. I could lead other businesses too. And the closest opportunity to pivot to was consulting.

Transition

My transition out of banking wasn’t complicated. In fact, most of my job switches came through the same route: referrals. Someone I know was about to leave his job and recommended me to take his place. There is even one case where a friend went for an interview, didn’t get the offer, and recommended me to the recruiters. You’d think it was sheer luck. But it’s not. People could vouch for me, and I always had proof of work. This seemingly simple thing carried me from a bank to a consulting firm and then into telecoms.

But my first foray into tech startups happened in 2016 when I worked as Head of Business Development for MallforAfrica. I had over seven years of experience under my belt, but working with tech startups proved different. Startup life is crazy! It’s just you and a handful of people trying to do everything. Your role is often more defined in a corporate firm than in a startup. For instance, I had to read countless documents to ensure that we followed legal compliance in our partnerships.

The good thing, however, is that it makes you more inclined towards problem-solving. And that word – problem-solving – defined my experience as General Manager of AutoGenius. I had to wear different hats at different times to get things to work. It was my first exposure to the inner workings of the insurance industry. Before then, all I knew about insurance was that I needed it for my car, and I used to get my friend to help me with it. It was during my stint at AutoGenius that I realised that many things about Nigeria’s insurance market are needlessly complex and fragmented. There were too many gaps, and too many things weren’t transparent. The more we engaged with the insurance committee, the more obvious it became that things were broken.

That’s why some people could buy comprehensive insurance on one vehicle from three different companies and then crash the car and collect enough money to buy three new vehicles. That could only happen because there was no transparency between companies. So, in 2020, I spoke to Alexander Igwe-Ifendu, and we decided to build an API that allows anybody to distribute insurance. The idea was to build infrastructure for this industry that attends to the insurance companies and improves customer experience at the same time. The offspring of that idea today is MyCover.

How it’s going

Life as a startup founder is fun … sometimes. I always have to learn something new because, like I said, it’s just you and a few people. I have taken up courses in business analytics, product management, marketing, and strategy since we founded this startup. You can’t just go splurging on hiring high-level professionals in your early days. But I have been very lucky to have great talents on my team. I’ll admit that we work under pressure sometimes, but we have become more refined as a result.

Nevertheless, I wouldn’t have it any other way. One very interesting thing about building a startup is that you have to be able to get proficient people to buy into your vision. Aside from building a great product, I love how being a founder allows me to pass on the things I have learned over the last 16 years to the brilliant minds that work with me.

Career hack

I’m very analytical, yet I don’t over-analyse. So I focus on making the best of whatever situation I find myself in, whether good or bad. I’m not afraid to try new things, or even plough inconvenient routes when seeking results. Because at the end of the day, results are what matter.

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