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A new look for a New Year

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Welcome to the first instalment of Financial Sector Spotlight (FSS) in 2011.

After several months of uninterrupted contribution to this column, the result of which is some 28 articles, it is time to take stock and reflect on the journey so far with the aim of making FSS more relevant, interactive and diversified in its content and appeal. Let me start by thanking you, the faithful readers of FSS — who, if this was a Facebook page — would be called “followers”.

There are many devoted readers out there who have followed this column since its inception and more importantly taken time to give me valuable feedback, something which I appreciate for keeping me going and firmly grounded.

There are many pros and cons of being a columnist. You reconnect with old friends and acquaintances, some of whom you last saw or heard from/about many years ago.

You get unsolicited applications for employment as well as loan requests and project proposals for review. Your e-mail address is in the public domain, so you may also get pesky and unsolicited information on new and not-so-new products.

All this comes with the territory and makes being a columnist a very interesting proposition indeed— at least I have found it to be so. Sustaining a weekly column is however hard work which requires dedication, focus and persistence — qualities I have had to learn and where necessary re-learn in order to survive.

While I am grateful for your support, I remain keenly aware of the need to keep the column interesting and relevant by constantly infusing new ideas in the context of an ever-changing environment.

As we begin a new year, I will be introducing a few to the content of the column. After all, it’s a new year, so a new look is in order!

While thematically, FSS will continue with its thrust of reviewing and encouraging initiatives that promote financial inclusion and innovation —in addition to tackling a variety of topical issues on the financial sector — we feel that a bit of diversity through periodic features of key industry figures would add an exciting dimension to the mix.

We do not intend to be known just for focusing on things, events and processes like a task-oriented manager; we also want to be known for talking about the people who make things happen— the financial sector’s A-listers, its movers and shakers.

Accordingly, we intend to feature one industry person per month and request readers to rate that person according to set criteria mainly centred on contribution to financial sector development.

This will, at the appropriate time — possibly at the end of the year — enable us to crown FSS’s Financial Sector Personality of the Year based on the number of votes received.

The particular issue of FSS featuring the industry figure will most likely be called “Up Close & Personal”.

The intention of this initiative is to afford readers of FSS an opportunity to know their bankers better and vice versa. We will be more than happy to convey readers’ questions and the appropriate responses to and from the individuals featured in “Up Close & Personal”.

You will have noticed that since the column started, we occasionally reviewed the financial innovation and inclusion credentials of existing and new market initiatives, but I would be the first to admit that we have by no means done so consistently.

Going forward, FSS intends to do so systematically and periodically, probably on a quarterly basis and with more diligence.

Readers of FSS will also be happy to know that there are plans to compile the articles featured in this column into a book featuring, where applicable, the uncut versions of the articles as well as some other unpublished material.

This has been necessitated by the large number of people who for one reason or another miss particular issues of FSS and subsequently write to request for back copies.

Some of these people have helpfully suggested that we compile the articles into a book and upon careful consideration, we realised the potential for such a book to benefit a wider audience of general interest readers as well as those who may want to use it for academic purposes.

My Four Bold Predictions for 2011
As part of my New Year re-orientation routine, I recently took time for a sneak preview of 2011.

While my initial intention as far as 2011 is concerned was to simply reflect on it and imagine what it could bring, I ended up engaging in a full-scale predictive exercise, the results of which I was tempted — and could not resist — sharing with you.

The cell phone will finally assume its rightful place amongst the pantheon of technology that has become influential in the provision of affordable banking services to the most number of people on a sustainable basis, reinforcing the evolvement of the telecommunications sector into a formidable intermediary to the extent where mobile banking does not necessarily require banks.

The convergence of mobile telephony and banking will create uncertainty while at the same time creating significant potential for banks.

l Despite initial setbacks, Gilbert Muponda will eventually de-specified and allowed to return to Zimbabwe and resume the operations of ENG, all in the spirit of rebuilding the country and letting bygones be bygones, especially after ENG settled all its obligations after liquidation and actually got residual assets.

As the old adage says “East or west, home is best!” You may successfully establish yourself as an investment banker in far-flung corners of the earth, but in the fullness of time you will find the lure of home irresistible because apparently a prophet still has some honour in his own country.

l Buoyed by a fresh injection of capital and Ecobank’s expertise in Africa as well as its unrivalled footprint on the continent, Premier Finance Group will — as a re-branded affiliate of Ecobank — make good its promise to grow from loss to profit by end of 2011, including turning around the loss incurred in 2010.

l The distribution of deposits will see a sea change, if not a complete reversal of roles as the indefatigable efforts of the likes of TN Bank, Tetrad Investment Bank and FBC Bank Limited to trace deposits to the source and to provide banking services for the informal sector begin to bear fruit.

By Q3 2011, CBZ, Standard Chartered, Barclays and Stanbic will account for 40% of total deposits with the rest of the banks accounting for 60% of deposits.

At a personal level, perhaps this is the year in which I will finally go onto Facebook after having steadfastly resisted the temptation do so all along, based on what I perceive to be Facebook’s frivolity and addictiveness as well as security risks I have long thought to lurk on the social networking site.

However recent reports that Facebook raised $500 million from Goldman Sachs and Russian Internet investment group Digital Sky Technologies in a deal valuing the social networking site at $50 billion made me sit up and take notice. There must be something I am missing which Goldman Sachs is seeing.

In closing, I wish to share with you something which a friend in Canada recently sent to me in the form of an e-mail titled “Christmas Gift Suggestions”.

I found the suggestions quite appropriate for this season and wouldn’t hesitate to recommend them to anyone still agonising about possible gift ideas for the 2011, chiefly because they cost nothing:

l Omen N Muza is a banker and managing director of TFC Capital (Zimbabwe) (Pvt) Ltd.
He writes in his personal capacity. For feedback and your views on the issues raised in the article, please contact him on: omen.muza@gmail.com

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