ZIMBABWE’S banking sector has become one of the strongest in the world and the region due to the ability of the players to adapt to various economic challenges quickly. When you talk about high inflation, hyperinflation, and disinflation, the banks have all experienced these phenomena in the past two decades and have remained standing. This, according to First Capital Bank (FCB)’s director of consumer banking Angela Kamhiriri (AK), demonstrates how well-functioning the nation’s banking system is. She speaks to our business editor Mthandazo Nyoni (MN).
MN: You were appointed consumer banking director with effect from September 1, 2020. How has your journey been thus far?
AK: It was one important journey in my career in that it was soon after those appointments we went into COVID. So, clearly, they were peculiar challenges. Of course, I came into the role with a lot of experience in banking, but what COVID then presented was a different dimension altogether. So, I think it has been a good journey in that it wasn’t obvious. I did meet different dimensions of banking, and I am happy that I emerged strong out of those experiences.
MN: What significant difficulties did you face in the beginning?
AK: So when COVID emerged, there was quite a lot of initiatives we were working on as a bank and from my desk and to be thinking of then working off site which was a new thing all together and putting systems together for the entire branch network to continue to come to work, serve clients at the same time meeting the minimum standards for everyone, customers and staff included to remain protected or with the safety precautions, so that we were not exposing anyone to the disease. I think it was a huge challenge but we continued as a bank, we produced what we had set ourselves to do and for me that was a very successful journey.
MN: How did you deal with them?
AK: So, there was quite a lot of innovation. It started from supplying hardware to those that need it to work from home. Coming up with the software that would allow people to work from home in a secure place and still protect customer information and for us in banking, that's what is key for us and we achieved to do that and even to go a step further and cross sell digital channels.
It was a different environment. We all needed to access banking services and the channels then changed from that perspective. You know visiting your branch was not the obvious thing and we had locked downs remember as we went into 2021-2022 but we continued to offer banking services, 100% and 24/7 and I think that kind of agility is something that you would always pride yourself with.
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We did not lose customers, but we actually gained more customers during those tough times and it also gave a lot of resilience or we proved resilience of our systems especially the digital channels that we could do a transact with our clients from the comfort of their homes and that is a new global phenomena that he probably presented itself to banking and it was a best way of embedding digital innovation to clients at large because we were forced to then adapt to that environment. There are products that emerged out of those experiences. There are services that emerged out of those experiences and instead of probably losing business; we gained business during that year. So, it's about agility and how innovative we were to deliver and to work with individuals, it's different from organizations and that meant my job was really tough and needed to think outside the box and bring the innovations.
Time to market was very critical because we didn't have a lot of time to do the normal processes, normal product cycles where you need to go research. You need to actually go into the production room and deliver without much of the things that you've always done in the past to produce innovations.
MN: As a consumer banking director, what are your major roles?
AK: I run the branch network for the bank which consists of 25 branches. Actually, I am running half of the staff complement for this bank. I also run digital development from a consumer banking perspective.
MN: What have you achieved thus far since you arrived?
AK: I think we have grown our customer base by over almost 48% growth in customer numbers ever since assuming this role. We ran a very successful customer campaign last year where we gave away 33 Toyota Rush vehicles which was the first in the banking industry in this market. We have never seen such a campaign run and we had I think even the grand finale where people won these huge prizes.
I think we managed to give back to our clients and for me it gives me a lot of self-satisfaction. We were not even looking for onerous expectations for you to be in that draw and we brought in over 55 000 customers to the bank as we ran that campaign and it was a very successful one.
MN: What changes in customer preferences have you seen over time as a seasoned bank?
AK: It's a very dynamic market, I must say, because if I look back on my journey we have been with Zimbabwe dollar, we dollarised, and we came back in the multi-currency. We seem to be falling off to the other side. I don't know, it's just a perception I hold. Zimbabwe is a peculiar market for banks in general. There is textbook stuff we have learned about banking that you need to be within your treasury, these derivatives, equities within consumer banking, this the product and this is the life cycle. I think I am well-travelled; I have been to economies where you can do your deposits on an automated tailor machine (ATM).
You do not even need to go into the banking hall but all those things for us evolved because at one point we invested into deposit taking ATMs.
I think within six months or so, inflation hit and that ATM, the way it is configured, could not take the number of notes. So, those are the peculiarities I can talk about Zimbabwe banking.
We have emerged strong in the region and in the world because we adapt to different economic environments. You speak of high inflation, hyperinflation, we have been there as banks and withstood the test of time.
You speak of where inflation was almost zero, we have been there and the banks continued to make money. I think from a resilience perspective, Zimbabwe runs a very effective banking system and I think we do follow rules and if we look at the composition of the market, it is a composition of both local, international, regional banks and they have come through all these economic cycles and stood the test of time. It is a peculiar environment but we make money for shareholders.
MN: How did consumer preferences or tastes change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
AK: It was an awakening in that even as bankers or as a consumer in a different aspect which is not banking, life changed, right. So, you need to appreciate that working from home is an option and look at the infrastructure in this country, look at the buildings, look at how that investment is made. Probably if you talk of buildings in Zimbabwe that are the most assets that probably are not impacted by inflation, but working from home with COVID-19 brought new perspectives that probably we don't really need this infrastructure and we were very quick to adapt and that's one thing I like about Zimbabweans.
We quickly adapt to the situation. So, COVID-19 brought a dimension of banking that digital channels are as good as visiting your branch and as you noticed today, we don't get the queues that we used to get. Now people know that they can purchase electricity, they can do account transfers, transfer to the next bank from digital channels and one that doesn't consume a lot of resources in terms of execution of those transactions, which I think one positive Covid-19 brought in apart from the regret of losing family and friends. But otherwise from a business perspective, I think it taught the world a new way of doing business.
MN: What steps are you taking to grow your clientele?
AK: We always do grow a clientele. I don't want to take the cat out of the bag, but there's something new that we are bringing to the market and we'll be launching it very soon. I am sure we have quite a lot of clients wanting to bank with us and I think as a bank, we have very nimble footed; we are agile because we are a regional bank. There's no bureaucracy and there's more agility in decision making. I speak like this because I've got a feel of both worlds. I've worked for an international bank and this is the original bank.
MN: What goals do you have for this organisation?
AK: I would call them BHAGs big hairy audacious goals. I see this organization going far because of the attention to solving customers’ needs. We don't operate with set products.
We can always vary the way we do things if that is going to benefit the client. So very much client focused and I've seen client focused organisations growing and this is where I am coming from. I want to be part of that success story. I want to be part of that growth. And I see myself contributing to that growth.
MN: What has been your most notable professional achievement to date?
AK: We have grown the customer base and I spoke of 48% and that has doubled if not trebled income from that function. This business has really grown over the time I assumed this role to an extent that its contribution to the overall business has also grown. I would not want to give facts and numbers at this point or percentages, but it has become a very key strategic key function for the growth of the Zimbabwe business.
MN: You said you are also in charge of the retail banking business unit including digital teams. How did this unit perform in the first five months of this year compared to the same period last year?
AK: In terms of performance, there has been significant growth and if I am talking of a 48% customer growth, that is rich, and these are active customers. So, there has been huge growth in that regard and the contribution to the overall numbers of the business. I pride myself in that we have grown our own staff to be more sales forecast.
If you look at the activity happening in the market around just sales, service delivery it is impressive and I think that has given us the impetus to up our game and compete with the peers in the market and because of the branch presence, it really contributes to the brand dominance in the market. You speak of First Capital Bank today, there is no one who can ever ask you, but this is a new brand. I think we only re-branded in 2018, but full branding, I think around 2021 and we are in 2023, but we are already a brand to reckon with.
MN: Update us on deposits for the first five months of the year. What is the trend between Zimbabwe and United States dollar deposits?
AK: So, consumer banking is a business unit. We run our own balance sheet that has got its own deposits assets. So, deposits have really grown. I think we have grown more than 400% actually in terms of growth and some of it is inflation, I am sure you would appreciate that and also there is a point in time where we then started to do United States dollar lending and that on its own brings more liabilities around that as well and as the market is tilting towards dollar, you find that side of the balance sheet is also significantly growing and I think just for this year since January, we have grown by more than 60 to 70%.
MN: What makes FCB unique from other banking institutions in Zimbabwe?
AK: We are a very unique one, I think we have got the best human resources and I can put it out there. You get into our banking
We’ve stood the test of time: First Capital Bank
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halls, you don't see queues that you see in other places barring the fact that we also have a sizable number and number of customers in this market.
We are nimble-footed. We bring solutions to the table. We look at customers as individuals.
We don't process our clients. We don't see them as just a bunch of people that have bought a product. We are unique in
that we have solutions for each individual client and we are open to suggestions even from our own clients. So, service delivery and product solutioning really gives us that edge in the market. We have done quite a lot on the digital front. We are coming out of a 100-year heritage and we were riding on that heritage as Barclays into First Capital Bank and nothing really changed apart from branding. We have then taken the regional components of it into the international flare that we have always had and that has really given us the impetus to be different and we dare to venture into different things. So, we are receptive with solutions for clients and it is not only in consumer banking, it is across the spectrum.
MN: How has digitalisation at FCB impacted on your human capital?
AK: Of course, we continue to look at our structures and the way we are configured as a bank with any piece of innovation that we will bring and take the bank and scale it to the investments that would have been done on the other side. That is an ongoing process as you
appreciate that the world is evolving. I don't know whether I should use the word impact on human resources, its rebase lining our operations and scaling to the investments that you would have put in place and I think any live and strategic organization would continue tolook at that.
MN: What do you often do after work?
AK: I do golf, actually. So I love my sport and I didn't start long back. It's something that I started not long ago, but I think it has helped me to interact at a wider scale because I get to meet different people from different places, and I have grown to like golf. So, I am a golfer. But I am someone who tries a lot of things. At one point I was doing boxing, you won't believe me, but out of trying to exercise and keeping myself fit. I have now moved into golf. Golf allows me to have time to think and strategise because even on the golf course you have to strategise before you hit the ball and that is really resonated with what I really like to do because I want to always look into different perspectives of life. I am quickly bored by routine.
MN: Who had the greatest influence on you during your childhood?
AK: If I tell you my dad inspired me because my dad always told me that you are born to win and it has been my messaging that I grew up hearing that you know what you will win. So I’ve found myself to look at things very positively. Consumer banking is quite huge, the head count in consumer banking is 50% of the whole bank. My dad has been the greatest inspiration because he has taught me to be tenacious and to look at a glass half full not half empty. I am always an optimistic animal in the way that I look at things and this is why I think we are the best bank in the market if we talk of service delivery.
MN: What advice would you provide to other young ladies who want to work in the banking sector?
AK: I would say not only women but to anyone who wants to get into banking, it is a very evolving sector and highly regulated. Also, it gives you a lot of opportunities and a very huge area of view of what business is because we meet people from mining and other sectors. So, if you are someone who wants to continuously learn to innovate is the place for you.