Munatsi: Gone with the Midas Touch

December 2, 2021

NDAMU SANDU

There are certain traits that show that the late Doug Munatsi, who perished in an inferno this week, was no ordinary banker.

After a 10-year stint in the banking sector, he set up Heritage Investment Bank in 1995 riding on the experience he had gained from a number of institutions within a short space of time.

Nineteen years later, he brought to Zimbabwe ex-Barclays Plc CEO Bob Diamond, a banker extraordinaire, and then Tanzania’s youngest billionaire Ashish Thakkar who were lured by the BancABC brand Munatsi had created.

Diamond and Thakkar’s then newly created Atlas Mara were looking for an asset to buy in its ambitious thrust to conquer Africa.

They found ABC Holdings too good to resist and splashed a cool US$265m to snap up a controlling stake in the pan African banking group with operations in Zimbabwe, Botswana, Zambia, Mozambique and Tanzania.

Reminiscing on the transaction seven years later, Munatsi said the banking group had marketed itself well.

“I think the bank attracted itself, Atlas Mara were looking for a regional player with sound grounding and BancABC presented that to them,” he told Business Times in April.

Under the transaction, Munatsi, Beki Moyo and Francis Dzanya exited the banking group.

However, that was not the end for the trio—they grouped and a year later DBF Capital Partners, a Mauritius based Investment Holding company focusing on private equity was born.

The company was named after picking the first letter of the partners first names— Doug, Beki and Francis.

Xtenda Financial Holdings, a Mauritius-registered retail financial services company that offers a range of financial products and services to the retail market, which is often overlooked by the financial banking sector, would come on board at the tail end of 2015.

It has operations in Tanzania, Mozambique, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The late Zimbabwe Investment and Development Agency (ZIDA) CEO worked for the then Barclays, Zimbank, International Finance Corporation (IFC), Heritage Investment Bank, FMB and BancABC.

The experience would come in handy in future assignments.

“These were all very diverse organisations which focused on different aspects from global banking to local and regional focus. Each one played a significant role in allowing me to be the person I am today,” Munatsi said.

He joined banking in 1985 as a graduate trainee and 10 years later, he set up Heritage Investment Bank, a feat very few bankers would attempt to achieve.

“The IFC opened up my thinking and how I viewed the world, it also gave me a lot of great contacts which I still cherish up to this day,” the banker said.

Heritage Investment Bank got a lot of support from an array of investors.

One particular investor was Heritage Insurance and local financial institutions also chipped in and individual sponsors.

When FMB was sold, the owners approached Munatsi as they could have bought into “our vision of growing the bank into a Pan-African giant”.

I first met Munatsi in 2002 at BancABC’s analyst briefing.

My then boss, Barnabas Thondhlana had assigned me to attend the briefing so I could have an opportunity to mingle with executives.

I was supposed to write a story to be published in the next issue of the Zimbabwe Independent.

After the briefing, I approached Munatsi for an interview to find out if I had correctly captured contents from the briefing. He walked me through the presentation with ease.

I lost touch with Munatsi until January this year when I approached him so that we could feature him in our Executive Profile page we were going to introduce in March.

He agreed and we featured him on his plans for ZIDA and how he would leverage his banking experience to lure investors. We would meet at the commissioning of the Lafarge Zimbabwe plant where he thanked me for a “positive article”.

Here he was, a high flying executive complimenting a journalist for an article.

Many times, sources are known to usually complain arguing “their views were not adequately captured or that the sixth paragraph should have been the second”.

I last met with Munatsi in Durban two weeks ago during the Intra-African Trade Fair 2021. I approached him for an interview.

“Speak to Tino [ZIDA chief investment officer Tinotenda Kambasha]. He will give you the information,” Munatsi said as he led me to where he thought Kambasha was located in an act of humility.

We could not find him there. As he took out his phone, I sensed that he was about to call his subordinate and offered to call Kambasha or visit the Zimbabwean stand.

Munatsi was passionate about Zimbabwe. When ABC was formed in 2000, he wanted the group to list on the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange.

The plan was abandoned as the onset of the land reform programme meant that Zimbabwe was not an ideal ground for raising capital.

He told Business Times in April that the Covid-19 pandemic, which affected business practices the world over, had ushered in a new normal.

He said ZIDA commenced operations when the world was adjusting and that presented an opportunity for “us to go digital and this worked to our advantage”.

“We also took the necessary steps towards creating the fundamental systems that are setting ZIDA to position Zimbabwe for accelerated growth,” he said.

Munatsi was firm that the business as usual approach, the pastime in a number of state owned entities, would not fly at ZIDA.

“I have a certain way of looking at things and this does not always augur well with everyone. We are here to make a difference and business as usual will not cut it,” he said, adding he had “an energetic and vibrant team that is just raring to deliver”.

Munatsi said his background as a banker and the new role as ZIDA chief executive officer had a common denominator: both are customer related functions.

When the banking storm hit Zimbabwe in 2004, a number of banks and asset managers were shut down by monetary authorities. The hardest hit were the indigenous banks that were either closed or swallowed by foreign owned institutions.

“It’s unfortunate that some of my peers were victims of circumstances but Zimbabwe has bred a lot of great indigenous bankers both locally and globally. Zimbabwe will continue to churn out some of the greatest financial brains; all we need to do is to give them an enabling environment,” the banker said in April. Munatsi knew about the importance of capital to a bank.

He and his team had built BancABC from the bottom and knows “what it is to work with limited capital. If you don’t have a big shareholder, you are on your own and we have been able to do that.”

“The reality is that unless you have got robust access to capital, your growth will be standard, limited or at some point it will pronounce your end,” he said after the acquisition of BancABC by Atlas Mara.

He rode on the networks he created while working for a number of institutions such as the IFC to unlock the doors to capital.

Regrettably, he is taking that Midas Touch to the grave.

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