Think at London Business School
Tomilola Adejana, co-founder of Bankly, explains how the fintech startup is transforming life for millions of Nigerians
By Sophie Haydock
I’m from Punjab in north India, a region that’s heavily economically reliant on agriculture. My dad was a banker and a great mathematician, so my friends would come to our house for help with their homework. That’s when I developed an interest in numbers, projections and probabilities. At that point, data science wasn’t a popular field like it is today (we used to call it statistics), but I loved applying statistics to real-life problems, from using probabilities to play card games with friends to deciding on the best opening times for my brother’s internet café. This led to me developing an interest in coding, scripting, automating and using data for the greater good, which then led me to the wonderful world of data science.
The thing I love most about data science is that it shapes how people behave. Data gives us visibility into the unknown. It’s like the internet – it can be used in the best possible ways or the worst ways. Ultimately, you need data to make informed decisions and those decisions can have a hugely positive impact on our lives – as long as the data is being used fairly. Problems arise when people don’t have control over the data they want to share.
At Google, I’m a techno-legal expert for the legal department and my role is about bridging the gap between engineers and lawyers to develop ‘machine-learning’ legal tools. I’m the person who navigates both the legal world and the engineering world. Engineers might not understand the legal domain, but are really good at coding, automating ‘matter assignments’ or risk categorisation, as well as building machine-learning tools such as contract analytics. Lawyers, typically, are tech-averse and value their time, so it’s important these tools are intuitive and lessen their efforts, rather than make daily tasks more cumbersome. But a lawyer sometimes may not be able to explain to an engineer what he or she needs in a tool – so I act like a translator, being someone who understands both legal operations bottlenecks and how tools are coded.
“Data gives us visibility into the unknown. It’s like the internet – it can be used in the best possible ways or the worst ways”
In the data science community, we’re optimistic about the incredible potential for AI and other advanced technologies to empower people, widely benefit current and future generations, and work for the common good. AI therefore needs to be responsible: user-centred, unbiased and tested.
Sometimes I hear people say things like: ‘AI tools are going to take our jobs away.’ The question is, if all the work is going to be done by machines, what are humans going to do? Just as an example, a lawyer might think that data tools or AI machines will take over things like risk assessment, contract analytics or commercial negotiations. And where will that leave them? Today, if a lawyer has to read a 100-page contract, it might take three or four days. If that task was automated with the use of AI, lawyers could focus on high-priority tasks rather than wade through time-consuming documents. A machine can identify the most important clauses as medium risk or high risk. You can ignore the low-risk clauses and just concentrate on 15 clauses, then work out which might be done in a few hours rather than a few days. Machines aren’t here to take jobs away, but they will make your job easier by allowing you to focus on priority issues.
Data is all about garbage in, garbage out. If you’re feeding garbage data in, you’ll get garbage output. That’s where responsible AI comes in. If you feed the machine with the right data, it will provide you with the right results. Data science has shown its early success – evidenced in our social life, where people feel empowered as a result of using data science tools. These include mobile maps (Google Maps), GPS (live road mapping for autonomous vehicles), fitness and sleep management apps (MotionX, BodyMedia), goal management apps (Lift, Strides, Way Of Life), and personal finance apps (Emma, Yolt, Cleo). Olivia, for example, is a free financial assistant app that uses AI and behavioural economics to find patterns in how someone typically spends money, then uses those patterns to create strategies that help users spend less on the same things.
“The question is, if all the work is going to be done by machines, what are humans going to do?”
The pandemic has affected us all in different ways: we’ve become closer to our families and spent more time respecting and investing in our relationships, be they with friends, family or partners, as well as becoming more tolerant of our colleagues. The downside to going virtual is that for new joiners and junior team members who don’t have those working relationships in place, it has been more difficult to maintain cohesion – and we’ve had to find new tools and processes to bridge the gap.
I’m really proud of my background. I come from humble beginnings and my parents are hard-working and committed. I feel glad that my siblings and I have learnt so much from our parents and that all of us are doing well in our lives. The one person who keeps me going is my mum – she inspires me every day by facing challenges in her life and keeping a smile on her face, all while supporting the family. She never expects anything in return.
I’ve faced a lot of challenges coming from a developing country with limited opportunities. But with internet and mobile phone penetration improving in places like India, I’ve been able to make the most of the opportunities that come along and compete at a more global level. Two such opportunities have been working for Google and studying at LBS.
In September 2019, I joined the Executive MBA (EMBA) programme at LBS, where I’m learning a great deal. Business, regulatory and political environments are changing rapidly, so legal departments face a variety of challenges. Organisations increasingly want their lawyers at the heart of strategic business planning. And in ensuring compliance, lawyers have a big role to play in achieving business goals and protecting property, brands and reputation. Studying courses like Strategy and Project Management means I’m adept in leading teams to achieve their project goals within given constraints. In legal operations, the most important skill is influencing, which is something I learnt in the Negotiation and Bargaining and Paths to Power electives.
“I’ve faced a lot of challenges coming from a developing country with limited opportunities”
LBS has taught me that success is different for different people. Some see it as being promoted and climbing the corporate ladder, others see it as making more money, while some see it as learning new things. Success, for me, is about becoming a better version of who I am today. I want to learn and become better.
I know now that it’s okay to be fascinated by things and not always follow the safest path. Success is sometimes about trying something risky, something innovative. Sometimes it might work and sometimes it might not, but I’ll feel satisfied that I at least tried. My classes in entrepreneurship, financial management and accounting taught me how to analyse risks and rewards, create value for shareholders, finance a newly established company and price your services to maintain your bottom line. Financial accounting courses in particular prepared me to create and read income statements, cash flow statements and balance sheets, giving me an overview of my company’s financial health.
The structured education that LBS provides has made me feel more confident about what I can achieve. Whether it’s raising funds, accounting or financing, LBS has taught me that nothing is impossible. The EMBA has given me the foundation to make robust strategic and financial decisions that will help me take executive-level positions in multinational organisations. It has also provided a safe place to test strategic ideas, giving me the opportunity to experiment with different business concepts before making final decisions. I strongly believe that the learnings from my fellow executives at LBS will help me become a successful general manager who can lead multinational organisations in diverse and dynamic environments going forward.