Banks digitisation set to leave blood on the carpet

BY CHIEDZA KOWO

BOLD moves by two of Zimbabwe’s biggest banks to whittle down headcounts have amplified fears of a bloodbath in the sector, one of the most affected by a decade-long digital revolution.

The Zimbabwe Stock Exchange-listed CBZ Holdings Limited two weeks ago kicked off a voluntary retrenchment programme, weeks after Stanbic Bank moved to compulsory cut jobs after workers avoided taking up a voluntary offer, according to internal correspondence seen by businessdigest this week.

It has been so unpredictable, the Zimbabwe Banks and Allied Workers’ Union (Zibawu) said this week hinting that up to 200 workers may be thrown out of jobs in 2021.

A further 200 were left jobless during another wave of retrenchments last year.

“It has been difficult for our industry and we are not sure how it will end. It is not looking good,” Shepard Ngundu, the Zibawu general secretary told businessdigest.

“We cannot rule out the possibility of more banks retrenching. But we will soldier on. It is difficult to tell how many workers will be affected. But banks have been moving towards digital banking. They need less staff. The outbreak of Covid-19 gave them a chance to test if their systems will cope,” he said.

CBZ’s job cuts were this year’s second after Stanbic Bank set the ball rolling under a programme that ended with 80 redundancies, according to Zibawu.

Both banks said the push towards digital banking had informed their decisions.

“We point out from the onset that while the retrenchment process is regrettable, it has become very necessary,” Stanbic said in its letter to staff dated March 15, 2021.

“It has become common cause at the bank that digitisation was one of the bank’s key focus areas that we implemented in order to give the bank a competitive edge in addition to achievement of objectives related to client centricity and interrogation. The bank’s continued drive to digitalise the business since 2014 has resulted in over 95% of its transactions going through our digital platforms as well as a change in customer behaviours as they interact with the bank through its various digital channels. This digitisation effort has significantly improved efficiencies and has afforded clients opportunities to engage in banking activities at their convenience,” the bank said.

“The advent of the Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the introduction of two periods of lockdown by the government. One in March to April last year and the other one at the beginning of January this year. During these periods of lockdown, the bank introduced new ways of working which in several instances saw an increased appetite for the use of technology and enhanced output across the bank,” Stanbic said.

In his letter to staff, CBZ chief executive Blessing Mudavanhu did not disclose the extent to which Covid-19 and digitalisation had reshaped operations. But he invited them to take up a voluntary package.

“It has been essential to us as an organisation to ensure the preservation of jobs and earnings, and we have committed to that for the duration of this crisis and furthermore, provided a range of additional measures to ensure that we support all of our staff and your families,” Mudavanhu told staff.

“The manner in which we reach, serve and provide solutions to our customers and clients has changed significantly – most of our work has transitioned to digital platforms and automation has become key. This is an area which will continue to change, and with this comes the need for new business models and different skill sets.

“As we venture into a new and changing business model and new ways of work, we will inevitably need to review our current structure and operations. We acknowledge that there are some colleagues amongst us who may not be willing or able to undertake this journey of change, and will want to take the opportunity to pursue other interests. We are therefore pleased to announce the offer of a voluntary severance package for any employee who willingly, freely and voluntarily wishes to consider pursuing opportunities outside the organisation.”