ZIMBABWE’S financial services sector is set to be hit by a wave of job cuts that could throw hundreds of employees into the streets as banks layoff workers to reduce overheads. This comes amid declining incomes resulting from a reduction in bank charges and interests as well as increased automation as shown by mid-year MBCA and CBZ financial results, the Zimbabwe Independent has learnt.
By Hazel Ndebele
MBCA, a member of Nedbank Group of South Africa, reported a 12% decrease in interest income to US$8,7 million in the six months to June 2016 from US$9,9m in the same period last year following reduction in interest rates. CBZ Holdings, which registered a US$11,9m profit down from US$13,7m last year had a 11,9% decrease in interest income. CBZ’s interest income fell from US$101m in 2015 to the current US$89m.
Sources in the Bankers Association of Zimbabwe (BAZ) said this week the migration of customers to mobile banking services from traditional brick-and-mortar services has not only brought convenience to customers, but also eaten into non-interest income for the sector triggering a wave of retrenchments as costs remain high.
More than 2 000 employees have lost jobs in the banking sector since 2009, with 130 sacked using last year’s July 17 Supreme Court ruling that allowed employers to dismiss workers on three months’ notice without paying severance packages.
The introduction of the multi-currency system in 2009, following hyperinflation, triggered retrenchments in the banking sector, as banks moved to rationalise operations to contain costs.
Banks which have previously retrenched workers include BancABC, Steward Bank, ZB Bank, AgriBank, Standard Chartered Bank and Stanbic. Some banks have such as Allied Bank, Capital Bank and AfrAsia have also collapsed causing job loses. Prior to that many other banks closed shop.
According to the Zimbabwe Banks and Allied Workers Union (Zibawu), the banking sector now employs just 4 323 non-managerial employees from more than 6 500 in 2014.
“Information Technology (IT) enables bank operations to go on without having to employ people for the job; banks were among the first adopters of automation considering its immense benefits and its continued use has proved that there is no need to have a large number of employees in a bank,” one bank executive said.
“Of course, bankers and workers in the financial services sector are resisting because they obviously do not want to lose their jobs, but we have to move with the times to keep banks running.”
Banks and financial institutions have rapidly embraced new IT systems to reduce risks associated with manual systems. IT systems allow bank institutions to improve authenticity, security, reliability and integrity.
Bankers also say that automation reduces redundancies in their operations and frees up staff to be deployed for other activities that are more productive.
According to sources, ZB Bank and Standard Chartered are among the banks which are considering laying off workers in the short term.
“Standard Chartered Bank management has already indicated that further retrenchments will be undertaken in phases in the next three years,” another source said.
Last year the bank retrenched more than 100 employees and others through a voluntary retirement scheme.
The Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) slashed electronic banking charges, while financial institutions were forced to lower interests rates to 15%, following discussions with BAZ.
The maximum Real Time Gross Settlement charge now stands at $5 from $10, while ATM charges did not change at $2,50. Electronic funds transfer now attract a minimum fee of 33 cents and a maximum of $2,10, while a point of sale transaction of up to $10 is now attracting a charge of 10 cents.
The central bank ordered banks to reduce charges for the use of plastic money because of the acute cash crisis which is bedevilling the country. The move was meant to promote the use of plastic money instead of cash following public outcry that financial institutions had imposed extortionate charges for non-cash transactions, making them unattractive. RBZ said banks which fail to follow the new regulations would face stiff penalties, while committing to reimburse clients who are overcharged.
“Lowering bank charges for our customers is a positive thing to encourage the use of plastic money, but this will force banks to retrench as costs to run operations have remained the same despite low revenues,” said another bank executive who spoke on condition of anonymity.
Zimbabwe’s banks are among the most expensive to run. Sources said some of the costs which banks have to meet other than the obligation to pay salaries include paying for the software for their Automated Teller Machines and Point-Of-Sale Machines.
BAZ president Charity Jinya had not yet responded to questions sent to her by time of going to print.