Heidi Custers of Backbase is Creating Banks that People Love.

Fintech Women


Digital transformation is a topic that has been a hot buzzword in recent years, turning the world upside down for almost all industries. With the digital revolution opening entirely new business and engagement avenues, enterprises now have a newfound room for growth, merited from the easy, personalized, and targeted customer outreach. On the other hand, with the modern consumer being more aware and informed than ever before, it has become a prerequisite for organizations to restructure themselves in a way that puts their customers in the center of their approach.

While technology has certainly put forward a radical beast in terms of digitalization, impacting several sectors, the banking industry; one of the first sectors to witness digitalization, continues to see extraordinary disruption today. Heidi Custers, Digital Transformation Director at Backbase (Amsterdam), has witnessed over the years how Fin-tech solutions are forcing banks to innovate and evolve to try and meet the needs of every customer.

Heidi says that “banks who do not shift their mindset to one of authentic customer-centricity and ecosystem partnerships will lose relevance. We have already seen this play out in Africa, and the rest of the world is shifting too.” Backbase, a banking technology company founded in 2003, has developed a future-proof digital Engagement Banking Platform (EBP), which enables banks to re-architect around the customer. As digital transformation director, Heidi is the go-to for c-suite executives from blue-chip banks looking to navigate this exponential disruption and master the digital customer experience.

Heidi Custers

“My varied background has allowed me to understand the context of various players in the digital transformation value chain, and form a unique point of view to guide executives through the process in their own businesses.”

The End-to-End Modern Banking Solution

As consumers, digital banking may sound like a young person’s game, with fancy software and whatnot. Breaking this notion, the Backbase engagement platform has been created to specifically empower the customers in a manner that they are in control of their finances. From a banking perspective, the EBP software plugs into existing banking systems, orchestrating value from these systems and integrates with the latest fin-techs to provide ready-to-go apps across the banks lines of business like Retail, Wealth Management, and Business banking. After a recent partnership with technology pinnacle Microsoft, Backbase has further strengthened its solution offering capabilities, enabling financial institutions to move into the Engagement Banking era with the first fully integrated financial services cloud stack.

In a rapidly evolving banking environment, Backbase has stayed a cut above the rest due to its capability to be one of the only end-to-end engagement banking solutions, designed to allow banks to delight their customers and empower their employees, while digitalising their operations and generating value from an already existing system. Functioning on API, the platform integrates itself into every vertical of the banking operation and also offers a bunch of “out-of-the-box” digital features and journeys that establishments can first choose from, and then expand on. These features allow banks to shape the platform and design their marketing campaigns and othe customer engagements in their own unique manner while creating the highest satisfaction levels for the customers, and thus the organization.

The Backbase Engagement Banking Platform offers multiple journeys which banks can choose from, all of which are delivered to customers via future-fit mobile and web applications. The Backbase suite unburdens banks from having to custom build the everyday banking journeys that customers need in their apps. It also allows them to effortlessly increase their top-line growth with digital onboarding and origination. From a marketing perspective, Backbase gives teams the ability to craft targeted campaigns that engage customers creating memorable banking experiences and      empowers the customer-facing employees with the tools that they need for quick resolutions.

All the processes are designed to work in harmony to integrate every digital process and provide the most top-notch, secure banking experience to the customers. Furthermore, all these features are delivered on an open-source, journey-based architecture that can be deployed rapidly across all channels and lines of a business. “This unique combination of architectural sophistication and flexibility has earned us recognition as a leader in the Forrester Wave for Digital Banking Engagement Platforms and Digital Banking Engagement Hubs, again this year,” shares Heidi.

Spearheading the Transformation

Having studied design, Heidi has been around the Digital scene in Africa since its early days in 2006, pioneering financial giant; Standard Bank’s digital marketing and reputation management offering. “My career has been non-traditional from the start,” smiles Heidi.

She moved into the agency space at Quirk and rose to Business Director, and then founded and held the position of Managing Director of an enterprise-level tech startup called Dali, targeted at operations management and ERP in the professional services sector. From there, she moved to Deloitte, leading Digital Transformation for Deloitte Africa, working with financial services businesses and telecommunications groups in South Africa, Nigeria, Namibia, Kenya, Botswana, and Tanzania, before finding her niche at Backbase.

At Backbase, Heidi feels she has come full-circle, stating “My varied background has allowed me to understand the context of various players in the digital transformation value chain, and form a unique point of view to guide executives through the process in their own businesses.” A lover of emerging technologies and customer-centric businesses Heidi soon found her center at Backbase, where she continues to the forefront and develops the digital transformation roadmaps with her clients.

Today, in one of the most dynamic professional roles of the modern banking industry, Heidi stays informed and ahead of the curve through her multiple online sources of thought leaders in various disciplines. Widely revered in the technology space, Heidi shares that she has had several mentors over the years to whom she credits her success. “The two which stand out the most are; Valter Adão (former CDO of Deloitte Africa) and Rob Stokes (former founder of Quirk Agency). They have very different backgrounds and points of view, and the balance I found between their advice enabled me to forge my own unique path,” says Heidi.   

Uplifting Communities, Empowering the World

One of the reasons that Backbase has been successful over the years, is its ability to adapt to change, and focus on a sharper objective. Heidi explains that the name “Backbase” means “Back to Basics”, “and it is exactly that unwavering focus on architecting banking around the customer that has garnered the company so many accolades,” states Heidi. The fact that Backbase invests 50% of its staff into R&D, no matter how large it grows, continues to attract customers and ensures best-in-class solutions.

On the social front, the company is passionate about authentic environmental sustainability. Having recently announced its commitment to becoming a carbon-negative company by 2025, Backbase has launched numerous initiatives aimed at reducing, and eventually eliminating its carbon footprint.

Personally, Heidi has been involved in numerous social causes herself, created to educate young minds, particularly girls about coding and software. “The number of women in executive positions in this industry is declining, so I try to show future female leaders that you don’t have to be a “techie” to be in tech and that it is worth fighting for your seat at the table as your authentic self,” says Heidi.

Even during her free time, Heidi stays in touch with the designer within, this time helping friends and family to redecorate and design their home interiors. “I also love to travel,” shares Heidi. “I primarily moved to The Netherlands to travel easily around Europe, as I have spent the last decade exploring over 12 countries in Africa.”

Future and Sustainability

The digital era has resulted in a plethora of stand-alone, customer needs-driven fin-techs in the market, resulting in a world where the traditional banking architecture is quickly losing relevance. Moreover, the pandemic has forced even the slowest of analog banks to shift to digital engagement, just to survive. Not to mention, in today’s customer-driven market, fulfilling customer demands like personalization, privilege, and engagement are prerequisites for financial institutions to stay relevant and hold on to their customers. 

In such unprecedented and disruptive times, Backbase strives to drive delightful digital experiences for customers, while simultaneously supporting top-line growth, and reducing cost-to-income ratios. As for Heidi, she and her team are already working on their next groundbreaking project; creating a cloud-based banking ecosystem specifically designed for the African market. “For too long, Africa has had to inherit products and services that were designed for the USA and Europe and adapt them. Africa has led the way in many financial services innovations, and we are excited to give this continent engagement banking journeys that meet the unique needs of the African people.”