Cassava Smartech Zimbabwe’s financial services unit, Steward Bank, last week celebrated its eighth anniversary following its acquisition in 2013.
The bank — now one of the top banking institutions in the country — was acquired from TN Holdings back in 2013, and has since emerged as a leader in digital banking and an big champion of financial inclusion.
After positioning itself as a mass-market bank, targeting innovative banking solutions for millions of people by leveraging technology, Steward Bank has over the past eight years grown in stature and social and economic impact, and now serves over 3,2 million customers — becoming Zimbabwe’s largest bank by depositors.
Steward Bank chief executive officer Courage Mashavave said the bank would continue to drive financial inclusion through its digital banking platforms with its main thrust being to financially and economically empower all segments of society.
“Through the years, we’ve grown steadily to help meet our customers’ changing financial needs. But we haven’t lost the personal touch that is at the heart of our community banking model. I believe that a commitment to our customers has helped us reach this historic milestone,” he said.
Steward Bank’s financial inclusion drive has been mostly inspired by the launch of revolutionary products and services such as square banking, that enables customers to access financial services from anywhere even when using basic phones which do not have internet connectivity.
Square banking offers packages such as Square Mobile App, a USSD-based banking platform, telephone banking and online banking. The product, which is integrated with EcoCash, has a wide appeal and very broad reach and utility value.
At a time when most people in the country do not have bank accounts or access to banks, Zimbabwe’s most innovative bank made it possible for the unbanked population to open accounts digitally.
Through its digital account opening service, customers simply dial *236# from any Econet registered mobile number and instantly open a bank account, in under 60 seconds.
The new account will be automatically linked to banking services, which means the customer will immediately be able to transact between their EcoCash Wallet and Steward Bank account, and also have access to KaShagi nano loans.
Mashavave said the bank had been strategic in its drive to provide refreshing banking services by leveraging technology to meet the needs of businesses and individuals.
“We remain passionate about supporting the personal and business needs of our customers, both in rural communities and in the big cities. In some communities, we are proud to say we are the only bank in town,” he said.
In addition to other exciting products, Steward Bank in 2017 unveiled a Globetrotter Visa Card for the travelling public. The prefunded, non-personalised card is accepted on more than 2,3 million Visa-branded automated teller machines and point-of-sale machines in 200 countries worldwide. It has a monthly transactional limit of US$10 000.
Last year, Steward Bank added Visa Direct to the bouquet of features under the Visa Globetrotter package, offering even more convenience for those who chose to use the product.
And this year, the bank proceeded to launch the Visa Corporate card, extending the convenience to the corporate segment of the bank’s clientele.
“Professionals, business travellers, students and families going on holiday find our Globetrotter Card extremely convenient and helpful,” Mashavave said.
Steward Bank recently upgraded its core banking system — Temenos T24 — to accommodate increased demand following a significant surge in account-holders, and to modernise its banking infrastructure so as to upgrade capacity, transaction speeds and security, as the bank positions itself for the next eight years and beyond.
Mashavave said the multi-million-dollar upgrade will significantly improve the bank’s ability to offer a wider array of services on its digital platforms, and to improve the customer experience.
“The upgrade project took us over a year to complete but I am proud to say Steward Bank customers will now be enjoying seamless transaction processes on all their banking services, improved customer experience, and faster processing speeds for all transactions,” he said.
He expressed profound gratitude to the bank’s customers for their patience while the bank upgraded its core banking platform.
“I am aware that our customer experience was affected during our upgrade project. Even now, as I speak, I am cognisant of the fact that a few of our valued customers may have been experiencing challenges emanating from some of the issues that our new system addresses,” Mashavave said.
“I sincerely regret the inconvenience the upgrade may have caused to the smooth delivery of service for some of our valued customers, and want to take this opportunity to assure all our customers that with the new system, we are committed to not only improving the security, speed and robustness of our service, but to significantly improving the customer experience because that is what all this is really about, and this is our commitment to our valued customers.”
The bank has also grown to become a key player in the national economy by leveraging assets in its parent company Cassava Smartech to offer unique, multi-sectoral products and services.
In 2020, Steward Bank unveiled an agribusiness solution — AgroFuture — that offers financing to farmers, along with custom-made and especially tailored solutions and services for different clients.
AgroFuture, offered in partnership with Cassava entities Agritech, Vaya, EcoSure and Moovah, also provides farmers with a trading platform that links producers with their markets.
AgroFuture also offers crop, livestock and equipment insurance, financing towards sustainable energy solutions and personalised financing solutions, such as collateral management agreement, warehouse financing and stock monitoring arrangements.
Over the past few years, Steward Bank has also moved to support the adoption of solar energy in Zimbabwe through asset financing for solar equipment.
Under its commercial and industrial initiatives, the bank funded two plants with a capacity of 2,8 megawatts (MW) which were commissioned last year.
Another plant, with a capacity of 0,56MW, is expected to be commissioned before the end of this year. The bank also offers the Purple Sun product, which includes solar equipment asset financing for households.