‘My 100 days in office’

NDAMU SANDU

American-born Israeli businesswoman and philanthropist, Shari Arison,  once said that she always wanted to be a catalyst for bringing about positive change, inspiring others to choose goodness.

Stanbic Bank Zimbabwe CE Solomon Nyanhongo (pictured)’s philosophy is also underpinned by the need to bring positive change to society.

“Whatever I do to derive satisfaction, it must touch and change someone’s life for the better. In my small way, l strive to leave the world a little better than I found it,” the banker told Business Times in his first interview after clocking 100 days in office.

Nyanhongo took over the helm at the bank in January following the departure of Joshua Tapambgwa. 

He said the journey began, like anything new, as a combination of a little anxiety, excitement, anticipation and discovery.

The banker is looking forward to making his mark together with the “great team of the Stanbic blue bankers”.

“I am extremely excited about what the journey holds for me personally and the organisation as a whole,” he said.

Nyanhongo said his first 100 days felt like 365 days as the Covid-19 pandemic hit the nation hard in the first quarter.

“With the rise in Covid-19 cases, deaths and lockdowns it was quite challenging for all of us mentally and emotionally, and trying to keep the business running in such times was not a walk in the park. It’s a humanitarian crisis we were faced with so focus was now on mental health and wellness of staff, keeping them informed and assisted in every way possible,” he said.

“We also had to empathise with what our customers were facing as a result of the pandemic. All this provided an opportunity for me to lead the organisation through a difficult time at a level I had not anticipated but I appreciated the lessons learnt and the resolve and resilience it brought.”

His major highlights of the first 100 days included Stanbic being awarded 2021 Best Investment Bank in Zimbabwe by the London-based Global Banking & Finance Review.

“Stanbic continues to fly high and manifest Blue Excellence year after year and this is testament that whatever you set your mind on, indeed it can be. I also liked the connection sessions I have been having with clients and our staff. These are quite insightful and valuable to me personally and the organisation as whole,” Nyanhongo said.

He said the Covid-19 pandemic which hit the country also affected the bank’s clients and staff. Some branches were temporarily closed but the bank had to “continue servicing our customers through our various digital platforms to ensure seamless service”.

“Navigating low moments becomes manageable as we continue to be guided by our bank values to stay on course no matter the situation faced,” the banker said.

Nyanhongo hit the ground running riding on his 17 years with the bank. To him it was more of a continuation than a change of guard.

“I have built strong, invaluable relationships with key stakeholders over the years and that in itself has helped me continue to receive the usual support from both internal and external stakeholders. I am greatly humbled by this,” he said when asked whether there was resistance to change and how he dealt with it.

A number of banks have cut jobs in response to the digitisation which has made some jobs redundant. 

Nyanhongo said it’s never easy to part ways with “colleagues whom you have built relationships and shared experiences with over the years”.

But he said the job cuts were necessary as the success of automation and digitisation programmes over the years has made redundant some roles within the organisation.

 “Consequently, the need to resize according to the new operating model was necessary,” he said, adding that staff was kept informed about the reason for the exercise and the processes that would be followed.

“This helped bring understanding to most, thus keep the team performing their duties well and doing their best to serve our clients. We arranged seminars for affected staff to help them with the transition, highlighting the various options available. Many appreciated this part of the exercise.”

Stanbic recently launched a Chatbot, STAN, to shorten the response time for customer queries as part of the digitisation drive.

For Nyanhongo ‘STAN THE MAN’ came at the right time as the bank  now interacts more with customers on social media, making it more agile and responsive.

The Chatbot, he said, is a piece of a bigger puzzle as the bank is putting together in its digital transformation journey, aptly coined ‘future-ready transformation’.

Nyanhongo said Covid-19 has speeded up digitisation across the world and unexpectedly provided an opportunity to add value and be more relevant to stakeholders. It has brought a lot of efficiency for both the organisation and the bank’s customers meaning that they don’t have to leave their preferred location. They can now transact in the comfort of their homes or workplaces with the bank’s various channels like Blue247, Slydepay, online banking for personal clients and internet banking platforms for our corporate customers, he said.

“Digitisation is the new reality and Stanbic is relentless about this. Whether we like it or not digitisation is upon us and for any organisation that seeks to remain in business and relevant to its customers they have to jump onto this train, stay onboard and even become the captain of the train,” the banker said.

“I am aware digitisation will have an impact on brick-and-mortar, the more reason as an organisation we talk of being ‘future-ready’ empowering our staff to also take control of their career skills and become equipped with future skills in the areas of data, artificial intelligence and various other technology skills, this is in addition to soft skills like Emotional Intelligence. This way no one is left behind but all will be equipped to serve our customers better.”

The rapid digitisation would not replace the human touch, he said.

The bank, Nyanhongo said, prides “ourselves in being human at heart and this is key for us to continue driving Africa’s growth”.

“The human touch will always be a part of how we do business, so our digitisation drive as a platform services and ecosystems business will continue to carry the human heart-beat even within the technologies. 

“I believe no matter how digitised we get, it can never eliminate the human element, it might change how the human interaction has traditionally been known to work but there will still be the human touch, for the foreseeable future,” he said.

Nyanhongo said Stanbic Bank would leverage on its huge capital base for growth. 

The bank had core capital of ZWL$3.8bn as at December 31, 2020 above the required ZWL$25m. This means the bank has surpassed the equivalent of US$30m required for top tier banks by December 31, 2021.

He said Stanbic has historically been one of the strongest banks in the country, emanating from the strong brand that has been built over the years, coupled with “market -leading management practices that safeguard depositor funds and the continuing drive to be relevant to our customers by responding to their needs”. 

“These three are the bedrock which has allowed us to grow and maintain the capital base despite a difficult operating environment.  

“Going beyond today, the capital base allows us to support our clients through lending facilities, while providing comfort to our depositors that their funds are with a strong, well capitalised bank which strives to fulfil all regulatory requirements in a proactive manner,” he said.

Banks have found a safe haven in non-funded income riding on digitisation and cut back on lending due to a tough operating environment which is a harbinger for high non-performing loans if financial institutions were to discard prudent lending.

Stanbic’s net interest income was down 18% in 2020 on account of regulatory constraints despite a jump in gross lending. 

Nyanhongo said the growth in electronic payments  in the last five years (as opposed to the use of cash and cheques) has been supported by tremendous investments by banks the world over. 

“The role of banks has evolved from just being lenders to also being payment platforms, a role that has required ongoing financial investment to meet customer expectations.  

“Unfortunately, for obscure reasons, conversations in our market do not give credit to banks about the investments that have been made to produce and support means of electronic payment. The non-funded income earned therefrom came in handy and managed to compensate the decline in interest income,” he said.

Nyanhongo said the regulators have been largely fair to them and the banking public by “ensuring that interest rates and charges are subject to rigorous review before being applied” and they would continue to engage “our regulator and are confident that they will treat us as fairly as they have always done”. 

He said Stanbic was the biggest lender to agriculture in Zimbabwe through various structures they have established, and have strong exposures to all other sectors of the economy that require funding, from individuals requiring school fees funding, or home loans, through to SMEs and large corporates who need working capital to fund their operations and would not reduce the bank’s appetite to lend to this economy. 

“Our role as a financial intermediary is to support viable lending requests, and we will continue to play that role,” the banker said.

He wants to be remembered for making Stanbic Bank Zimbabwe the best bank for “all our stakeholders”.

“Whether be it our clients, our staff, our community, our regulators and shareholders, they should all realise immense value through our operations and the way we do business,” the banker said.

He said Stanbic Bank Zimbabwe would help drive the growth of the economy.

“The challenges we are facing as a country are opportunities which various organisations in the country can take on board. As we play our part in solving these challenges, we are in the process making Zimbabwe the country we need it to be. Stanbic Bank, according to our strengths, will play its part in driving the growth of Zimbabwe and making it a better place for all its citizens,” he said.

Ascending to the top position entails strategic meetings with management and the board, some that go beyond normal working hours, to plot the way forward for the bank. One of the biggest “victims” of such meetings has been the family. Nyanhongo said it has not been easy but “thank God for giving me an understanding and equally hardworking wife”.

“My children have also been my source of strength — they have all been very supportive and encouraging along the journey,” he said.

He describes himself as a God-fearing person and family man. Outside of work, Nyanhongo spends most of his time helping with church activities and various programmes in the community.

He enjoys travelling and discovering new places of interest both within and outside the country’s borders.

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