In RMB’s world, and indeed in corporate and investment banking in South Africa, the Foundery is an unusual paradigm. On the one hand, the Foundery is a fintech, aiming to disrupt the financial services industry with innovative and novel products and services, but on the other hand, the Foundery is very much rooted as the digital innovation unit of RMB — one of the very incumbents which stand to be disrupted by the fintechs.
There are many things that are unique about the Foundery, not least of which is its position at the intersection between fintech startup and banking incumbent, but most pertinently is its mission to completely change and reimagine the corporate and investment bank of the future.
This is a monumental goal and certainly not something that can be achieved without great effort. It may be worth asking, why not go for something smaller or easier? Why not chase the untapped profits or go after the opportune inefficiencies in traditional banking
The Foundery’s mission is what we call its True North. This is what gives the Foundery its identity and guides its actions. Without it, the Foundery would be another player in the fintech space, but with our True North, the Foundery is a fintech with purpose.
Earth’s geographic North Pole
WHAT IS TRUE NORTH?
In astronomy, True North is the direction along the earth’s surface which points towards the geographic North Pole of the earth. This seems reasonable as geographic north is the northernmost point of the earth, so why call it True North when it is already north? Why the extra qualification?
The reason is that compasses and maps point to a slightly different north pole, what we call magnetic north and grid north respectively. These differences arise out of the slightly irregular shape and magnetic distribution of planet Earth.
The difference between the true north and the magnetic north
True North is important in astronomy because it serves as a reference by which we can measure the position of every object in the universe relative to its point of observation on Earth. This takes us back to the analogy of the Foundery’s True North and what we mean by the concept of True North:
Your True North can be thought of as your fundamental purpose that guides everything you do.
Just like the Earth’s True North is used by astronomers to map the night sky, your True North is what informs your goals and your decisions. It is the guiding principles by which you can make your biggest and most impactful choices.
IDENTIFYING YOUR TRUE NORTH
The concept of your own True North is something which is quite abstract and extremely daunting. What does it mean to have a fundamental purpose? Where does it come from? What am I meant to do with it? How do I know if I even have one? These questions are all relevant and aren’t easy to answer. In fact, there are no obvious or immediate answers — it’s up to you to decide what they are.
The good news is that we can learn from the geographic North Pole and extend the analogy. In practice, while we can’t rely on compasses or maps to navigate to the Earth’s True North, astronomers have been using the North Star, also known as Polaris, to mark the location of true north since the time of the Ancient Greeks. The North Star lies almost exactly “above” the geographic North Pole. Furthermore, the North Star is visible throughout the year (as long as you’re in the northern hemisphere*) and is therefore a reliable, although ancient, method of navigating to true north.
The North Star: a time lapse image shows how the North Star rotates tightly around the celestial North Pole (in line with True North), while other stars rotate with a much wider radius.
Extending this analogy to your own True North, the challenge then becomes to find your North Star. What is that thing, whether it is abstract or tangible, that points to your True North? This could be a person, it could be your family, it could be your talents, it could be your hobbies or whatever it is that affirms that you doing what you love and that gives you a sense of purpose.
In the Foundery’s case, True North is our mission to change the world of banking, and the North Star is the people who have stepped up to the challenge to make this mission possible. Without the North Star, the Foundery would never be able to find its True North. Now the challenge is up to you — go out there and find your own North Star and, ultimately, your True North.
* Unfortunately there is no equivalent star in the southern hemisphere
by Jonathan Sinai