by Dale Rother

Leading through upliftment

CEO of RCS, Regan Adams provides insights into the credit landscape, innovation and his passion for community development

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Under his leadership, RCS is currently South Africa’s most prominent and innovative financial services provider in the retail credit market, with unrivalled expertise in business-to-business credit solutions.

A qualified Engineer, Adams began his career at PPC Cement, but he soon developed a keen interest in business management. After spending some time in the manufacturing industry, Adams decided to pursue a career in financial services, beginning at Capital One Financial Corporation. There, Adams initially worked on the Peoples Bank Lending Business, a joint venture with the then Nedcor Bank, before spending time in the United Kingdom at Capital One. On his return to South Africa, Adams joined American Express Cards as a Business Manager. He subsequently gained experience in the risk management-consulting field before joining the RCS Group.

“I joined RCS in 2004 as one of the Directors in the company and at that stage, we were still 100% owned by The Foschini Group. In August 2014, the French bank BNP Paribas, one of the largest banking institutions in the world, acquired RCS. I’ve always been on the board of RCS, thus, with our previous CEO leaving, there was a natural succession in terms of running the business,” says Adams.

The credit landscape

Uniquely positioned to provide insight on the credit landscape during uncertain economic times, Adams believes that while we are currently within a very challenging macroeconomic environment, from a credit perspective, we are in a good place.

“In South Africa, we have the National Credit Act, which is a sophisticated and solid piece of legislation, and we also have quite a strong credit bureau. Relative to the rest of Africa and even certain European countries, South African credit providers are able to obtain comprehensive information on the customers conduct on their credit profiles, therefore improving the overall assessment process.

“As a registered credit provider, there are some very firm practices in place that govern the extension of credit and the regulator has the ability to come into our environment and check that these practices are done in line with the act. So, my sentiment would be, yes, times are tough, but there is a solid foundation in place,” he says.

Regarding assisting consumers with the management of debt and the common pitfalls that consumers are prone to fall into, RCS plays a proactive role in making sure that RCS consumers and staff members have sufficient financial knowledge to avoid financial turmoil.

“Our staff members are also consumers and while they are calling our customers to collect on debt, they may, themselves, have challenging situations. Thus, we provide a mechanism for our staff to engage in financial education, whether it’s through budgeting or putting them in touch with financial advisors. We encourage them to get their credit reports so they can see what their credit status is on the bureau and we do similar things for customers,” Adams explains.

Currently, RCS is on the verge of launching a Financial Wellness Initiative to equip customers to manage their finances more effectively. “We know what the legacy in this country is and the levels of education that people have been privileged to, so we are playing a role in those particular aspects,” says Adams.

“When there are people who experience difficulty, we also have what is called a “Fragile Customer Policy. If you are in financial distress, we have specific mechanisms to assist you so that if you are going through unemployment or retrenchment, we find ways to help you through that process until you are in a position to repay your debt again,” he adds.

Investing in passion

Each year, RCS acts as the title sponsor for the Gugulethu Reconciliation Race, which is the perfect platform that combines Adams’ two passions of running and supporting local entrepreneurs.

Established in 1992, the RCS Gugulethu Athletics Club is the founding club of the RCS Gugulethu Race (2007). In partnership with RCS and the Cape Times, the race has since doubled in size. As a member of the Gugulethu Athletics Club, Adams says the race promotes the joy that running gives people.

“This is a unique and incredible race. As first-time runners, athletes might be wary of visiting a township. However, the Gugulethu community is very supportive and they are huge fans of the race, which contributes to making the spirit and vibe even better on the day. Years ago, it was just a race but it has evolved into a community event. There are local vendors and inspiring entrepreneurs, entertainment and fun activities after the race,” says Adams.

“All volunteers on the day are members of the RCS Gugulethu Athletics Club. It is extremely difficult for clubs to raise money, so races provide income that can then be ploughed back into the club to promote running in the community and support our athletes who often struggle to have just enough money to enter the races,” he adds.

Inspired by the national spirit of unity that defines this public holiday, the RCS Gugs Race is a platform that brings together all cultural groups in one of the city’s oldest townships, and also enables them to reach their goals—whether as serious runners, as ordinary people working to get healthier and fitter, or simply as supporters getting up and out of the house.

The race invites participants to run through the vibrant township of Gugulethu as part of either a 10km race or a short 4.2km fun run. The longer race takes runners past local landmarks, including Gugulethu Square Mall and Gugulethu Junction.

“Although I have a love for running, it’s the areas that we focus on from a social investment perspective—youth, health and wellness – that makes the race such a significant event. Even in our company, we do a lot of things that are centred on wellness. One of the partners that we’ve had for a long time is called TSiBA; they’re a free university. They’re modelled on the SEDA City Campus that was in Johannesburg. They provided tertiary qualifications for previously disadvantaged students. We were one of the founding sponsors there and they’ve had a lot of graduates through that particular process,” explains Adams.

“We also support the JAG Foundation which focuses on promoting sport to the youth as an alternative to joining gangs or getting involved in illegal activity. Sport is a vehicle to get them out of that situation; it’s something for them to focus their minds and their efforts on. Yes, it is only an activity but it is one that teaches teamwork and there’s a sense of community and great potential to uplift communities through it,” he adds.

Adams is also the driving force behind the RCS Group partnering with Startupbootcamp Africa, now called Starupbootcamp Afritech. He has invested heavily in this because of his vision and belief that local entrepreneurs can be the driving force behind the innovative technologies of tomorrow, particularly the systems and processes most relevant to financial services institutions in South Africa. He is absolutely committed to innovation and cooperating with startups to ultimately help realise the true potential of the African Innovation landscape.

“People always think of innovation as something that’s completely new and the reality is that in today’s world, there are very few things that are completely new. It’s about how you adapt things to make it more efficient and effective. I was fortunate to visit Google in San Francisco several years ago and one of their definitions of innovation was just doing the best with what you have available to you, as no company has ever had unlimited resources. Innovation can be a new approach to something already in existance and maximising what you have,” says Adams.

He further explains that one aspect of innovation is how you partner with start-ups. Most start-ups are entrepreneurs and Fintechs—start-ups that provide solutions in the financial services tech space. What interested RCS in Startupbootcamp is that it’s the first Fintech start-up programme for Africa.

“But also, as much as there a social impact and a willingness to get involved and develop start-ups because we need more businesses to employ more people, these start-ups are also developing very tangible solutions that will positively impact corporate business and their customers. Cape Town is positioning itself as an innovation hotspot where Fintechs can come and develop solutions. We need to constantly expand and improve this supporting environment, encouraging greater government and industry bodies involvement,” explains Adams.

Leadership and future goals

Job creation and cultivating a culture of growth are two of his main ambitions for the company.

“I take my responsibility of keeping these teams in a job seriously and also to grow the business in order to create more jobs. We’re sitting with an unemployment rate of 40% of people under 30. Our contact centre is an ideal vehicle to get the youth to start earning an income and also grow into other areas of our organisation,” says Adams.

Commenting on his leadership styles, he describes his engagement with people as authentic.

“I am a Christian, my faith is very important to me and my decisions are driven from that foundation. It’s very difficult in the bigger corporate environment because there are all sorts of dynamics that are at play but, for me, that is quite important in my life. I am a very honest and open person, it’s important that we engage with each other in a very respectful and humane manner. I am not one for politics and it’s important to me that people appreciate and support each other, despite disagreeing views or opinions. When I joined the company in 2004, there were 70 people. There are 2 000 now—probably one of the biggest challenges is how you grow a business with more people to create more structure and still maintain that warm small-company feeling,” says Adams.

His major achievements include transforming RCS into more than just a technical solution or product for its partners, but a provider of tailor-made experiences that integrate people, processes and technology to create value for both its partners and their customers. “We have a very clear 2020 plan where we want to diversify our business to ensure sustainability. We’re launching new products, changing the way we engage with people; digital transformation is a big theme. Our ultimate aim is to build a more sustainable business for the future. A business that will help built a nation,” concludes Adams. 

Interview by Shannon Manuel, article by Dale Rother

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