We are here for good: Stanchart

Standard Chartered Bank Zimbabwe (Stanchart) won four prestigious awards in 2012.

The bank was voted the Best Bank in Zimbabwe by the EMEA Finance magazine, Best Bank in Zimbabwe by The Banker magazine 2012 Awards for Excellence, Best Bank in Zimbabwe by The Zimbabwe Independent’s Banks and Banking Survey magazine and the Best Marketed Organisation by Megafest Business magazine.

The bank’s CEO Ralph Watungwa (RW) shares with Zimbabwe Independent Senior Business Reporter, Clive Mphambela (CM), his insights into how the bank has attracted recognition globally and why he thinks the local awards are more significant for the bank.

He also outlines how the bank is playing a role in the development of the economy. Below are excerpts:
CM: Ralph, what have been your bank’s milestones this year?
RW: Our business is well capitalised and remains highly liquid in recognition of the structure of our deposits in the absence of an interbank market and lender of last resort facility. We are well positioned to take advantage of market opportunities as they present themselves. We are also grateful that staff and customer engagement has remained comfortably high.

CM: What would you state as your bank’s single biggest challenge since dollarisation in 2009?
RW: Economic recovery has been slower than anticipated due to tight liquidity and the inconclusive debate on key national policy issues. Although deposits have grown tremendously, they have remained largely transitory in nature thereby limiting our ability to extend much needed longer-term financing to our clients. Credit risk has remained high throughout, which meant we needed to be highly selective in our asset portfolio growth.

CM: How has your bank responded to the various challenges it has faced?
RW: We have a trustworthy and robust asset and liability committee (Alco) process through which we have maintained a strong, liquid and growing balance sheet. We have maintained a conservative risk appetite, and our risk radar is turned on full to keep watch over various operational, credit, regulatory, financial, market, reputational and country risks that we face.

We have maintained capital strength with a core tier 1 capital ratio at 17%. We believe we are the best in this area and have been selective in investment spend for infrastructure, new branches, ATMs and technology as we position ourselves for long-term growth.
We have enhanced our product offering through the introduction of mobile banking and financial markets derivative products.
We have maintained a strong cost control culture by introducing cost tracking mechanisms and disinvesting from non-performing branches.

CM: Stanchart recently won a number of local and international awards; how has your bank earned this recognition?
RW: Our bank is at the forefront of promoting trade, particularly with the Middle East Asia and China.
The bank is driving a deliberate policy to develop ties with the local Chinese community and is ideally positioned to take advantage of the growing trade corridors both intra-Africa and between Africa and Asia. For example we are the first bank to accept China Union Pay cards on local ATMs.

The launch of Instant Pack where customers are able to open accounts, including availing of a fully functional Visa card with 30 minutes has transformed our service quality. And every quarter our Customer Week initiative dedicates seven days to appreciate customers in all our branches.

We have upgraded our core banking system to enhance operational efficiencies and are in the process of upgrading our ATM network with new generation ATMs being installed in all key locations.
The Liverpool Sponsorship has promoted our brand and its activation in the market has increased the Bank’s profile and built greater affinity with new and existing customers.

We support our community and have partnered with the Ministry of Education and World Vision to assist disadvantaged children around the country.

We have supported over 40 charitable organisations through our annual staff community month initiative which has been running for the past eight years.

We accord each of our staff members three volunteering leave days every year and they have so far contributed over 700 volunteering days to giving back to their communities.

As a bank we have to play our part in supporting economic recovery.

We continue to be a key player in the finance of strategic sectors such as agriculture through the arrangement of offshore lines of credit. Contrary to what is sometimes said, we are in fact a major lender to agriculture in Zimbabwe. We underwrite loans for key contract grower schemes for cotton and tobacco, the two top foreign currency earners for the country. On service quality, we have embedded our customer charter and have rolled out world class methodologies for measuring service quality such as the Net Promoter Score. We continue to develop our people by not only providing appropriate training but by seconding them to other markets within the Standard Chartered Bank Group so that they are better able to serve our customers.

CM: What sets Stanchart apart from its competitors in Zimbabwe and the global banking space?
RW: The bank’s balance sheet remains very strong and resilient. It is well diversified, conservative and with limited exposure to problem asset classes.
We are part of an international bank which has been upgraded by all three ratings agencies since the onset of the global financial crisis. As for the Zimbabwe business, we remain resilient and our strong position is reflected in our financial performance for 2011 and the first half of 2012.

The bank is successful due to living up to its brand promise, “Here for good”. We have continued to support and build our franchise through what has been an extremely challenging operating environment in Zimbabwe, sticking by our staff, customers and clients through the difficult times in Zimbabwe.

In brief our strengths can be summarised as our ability to leverage on our international network and bring in world-class products, services, systems and procedures.

We also have a unique brand which combines international expertise and capabilities with deep-rooted local knowledge and experience.
The bank follows a disciplined approach and stringent risk management policies and enjoys a very loyal customer base – Our bank is considered a safe and secure home for funds by many individuals and institutions.

CM: Ralph, briefly share with us what values your bank stands for and how these translate into your success?
RW: Every day of our lives we want to be creative, responsive, international, courageous and trustworthy. By doing things the right way, we can support our customers and clients while having a positive impact on the wider economy.

Our distinctive culture and values act as our moral compass and are the reason clients and customers choose to bank with us, and our employees want to join and stay with us.

Our five core values are about openness, collaboration and putting the needs of the customer first. At all times we aspire to be courageous, responsive, international, creative and trustworthy.
Our brand promise “here for good” captures the essence of who we are. It’s about sticking by our clients and customers and always trying to do the right thing. This promise has three pillars: Here for people, here for the long-run and here for progress.

CM: Given the spectre of rising competition on the local banking scene how are you repositioning the bank for long-term survival?
RW: Staff and customer engagement and positioning of our franchise to enable us to exploit market opportunities and to continue to contribute to economic recovery whilst managing attendant risks. Enhancing our ability to leverage on our network to take advantage of trade flow will also be key.

CM: What gaps do you see in the financial services offering of your major competitors and how are you positioning your bank to capitalise on the emerging opportunities?
RW: Service is a key differentiator in the banking industry. Anything else can be copied, but we believe no one can copy good service, so we will always try and be different in that respect.

CM: What new products are you coming up with to respond to the demands of your clients?
RW: We have introduced mobile banking as an addition to the other alternative banking channels and will soon be adding internet banking. We are also opening new branches in strategic locations. For example, the new Belmont branch in Bulawayo has been modelled along the same design as our leading branches in the world.

CM: How have you responded to the new capital thresholds recently set by the Reserve Bank?
RW: Stanchart applies the highest and most stringent level of international governance and risk management to all banking activities in the country. As such, plans are in place to ensure the Capital thresholds are met.

CM: In other markets such as Kenya the bank is listed on the local stock exchange; what are the prospects of Stanchart Zimbabwe eventually listing some or all of its equity on the local stock exchange?
RW: It would be inappropriate for the bank to make public its future commercial plans.

However, I can tell you that Stanchart has taken the conscious decision to continue to maintain its long-standing commitment to doing business in Zimbabwe.

The bank remains committed to the long-term interests of its staff and customers in Zimbabwe, and to continue facilitating the development and growth of the economy.

We are committed to deliver our brand promise, “We are here for good”.

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