Dr Lance Mambondiani: The Accidental Banking Czar

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BancABC’s rich history of supporting Zimbabwe’s productive sector and traditionally strong Corporate Banking services, has positioned the Bank as a leader in financial services in the country and the continent. The CEO’s towering status as one of the continent’s finest bankers, having led about 5 Banks as CEO, has also added to the Bank’s growth prospects in the continent.

In this exclusive interview with African Leadership Magazine, Dr Lance Mambondiani, CEO, BancABC, tells us about the Bank’s efforts towards redefining banking in Zimbabwe and beyond. He also shares his experience as a veteran banker, as he discusses the ABC of Banking, Excerpts:

You have held the position of CEO in about five institutions. You have done exceptionally well in these roles; I read somewhere you were quoted saying you have never applied to be CEO; you have mostly been invited. What have you done and continue to do that has kept you at the top of the financial sector chain?

Firstly, let me start by expressing my gratitude to everyone at African Leadership magazine for choosing to have me on this platform, it`s truly a humbling experience. To your questions, I will admit that to be called into any position of leadership is an incredible honor and privilege which I do not take lightly. I have often described myself as “The accidental CEO”. My main desire is to serve and make a difference in the small ways I can, in whatever assignment I am gifted to lead, and anyone can do that without a title.

My formula, if you will call it that, has always been to bring the most authentic version of myself. It allows me to connect with the people and that’s why I continue to tell my story as it is. I am not any smarter than my peers but extremely driven and equally enjoy being a part of a driven team. I am not afraid to take bold risks and also make mistakes, because I believe that is the only way you can succeed at producing groundbreaking initiatives! I am committed to change, and I am committed to legacy building as a core principle of any leadership position.

It has been proven that Entrepreneurship is what stimulates development in any nation or state; what are you doing as a financial institution to promote Entrepreneurship among the Zimbabweans, especially women and youths?

Entrepreneurship is definitely at the heart of stimulating development, and this is essentially true for any African economy. In Zimbabwe, as in most countries, SMEs are the biggest employers, playing a critical role in spurring economic activity and sustaining value chains. BancABC has been quite involved in supporting SMEs through their growth phases.

Our popular iGnite SME initiative provides lending, training, and access to markets for small businesses. One of my favourites is our flagship Annual SME summit where we bring together SMEs and young entrepreneurs from across Africa, to share their stories and debate common challenges faced by small businesses and how they can overcome these challenges. We often conclude the Summit with a pitching competition where startups can win funding from various investors. We have started making preparations for the 3rd edition of the SME Summit later this year and I`m looking forward to engaging with entrepreneurs from all over Africa.

Financial inclusion is one area we must mention when we discuss banking in Africa. Going by the number of unbanked people in the continent, do you think it is getting the attention it deserves from financial institutions, and what are you doing to address the situation not just as a bank but as a CEO?

There has been a lot of progress made in addressing financial inclusion in Africa largely because of the fintech revolution and the significant penetration of mobile phones across the continent. Well known examples are of course M -Pesa in Kenya and Ecocash in Zimbabwe which are mobile wallet services, that allow previously unbanked people to access financial services using the USSD Mobile Platforms for transactional purposes. While much of this has been through necessity, the convergence of financial services and the mobile phone has been hugely significant in addressing financial inclusion.

Financial inclusion is at the core of our mandate as BancABC and also my personal approach to banking. I firmly believe that banking should be accessible to everyone, and this has been my mission in the banks I have been privileged to lead. At BancABC, our low-cost KYC lite account product offering is accessible to all Zimbabweans. We also have one of the biggest footprints in the country through our Instore banking partnership with Pick n Pay where we provide limited banking services in 52 kiosks in almost all major cities and towns.

Because of the Covid-19 disruptions, you recently asserted that “Banking will never be the same again; more and more, we are going to see banking being moved onto platforms that were inconceivable a couple of years ago – platforms that are accessible in real-time, anytime, anyplace”. What innovations have you introduced to accelerate this transformation in your bank?

Despite the intolerable human suffering, the pandemic was also a catalyst for digital adoption and transformation for all industries and Banking is no different. During the first lockdown, we saw an opportunity to introduce our hugely popular virtual branch – Branch X, which allows our customers to transact virtually without ever visiting the branch. We also launched a

WhatsApp Banking Service we call Ally, which allows our customers to enjoy all our banking services on the popular social media platform.

Looking ahead, we are aware that our clients are adapted to doing banking anywhere but never at a Bank. Our agenda is to accelerate our digital transformation agenda to meet this new expectation.

From what we know about you, I think it is safe to say you are an IT-driven banker. However, implementing IT policies is not always a smooth ride as many people think. What strategy have you adopted over time to achieve successful implementation and operation of IT?

I am passionate about the digital transformation of the financial sector. The traditional banking model is antiquated and does not address the mutating demands of a new type of tech-savvy clientele. To survive in the new environment, Banks have to provide service that is frictionless for the customer in real-time, anytime anywhere. Innovation and tech platforms can aid this process and make Banking simpler, more adaptive, and relevant to modern demands. We live in a fast-changing social media, generation, the bank of the present and the future has to be as intelligent as Google, as Easy to use as Apple, and as engaging as WhatsApp.

In Zimbabwe, 80–90% of transactions are conducted by informal traders or small- and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs); what services and products do BancABC currently employ to cater for these categories of people?

We certainly have the SME clientele at heart, and we have created an SME account (The Ignite Account) that is tailored to cater to the numerous needs of this important segment. We have a dedicated business banking unit for our SME clients, to ensure once the account is opened the SMEs are provided with all the necessary support they need to succeed.

We like being a part of our clients’ growth stories. Any partnerships or plans to increase BancABC accessibility across Africa?

BancABC as a group has a rich history as a true Pan-African Bank. Whilst the Group is currently scaling back and in the middle of divesture transactions which are a matter of public record, we have had operations in Botswana, Mozambique, Rwanda, Zambia, Tanzania, and of course in Zimbabwe. We have always been an African Bank and are proud to have done banking in many African communities.

We also have ambitious plans to extend our product range across the continent where possible. Following the huge success of our local remittance service, “City Hopper”, in December 2021 we launched a cross border remittance service which we have called “Border Hopper”.

In partnership with Mama Money and TM Pick n Pay we are processing cross-border remittances between Zimbabwe and South Africa. Any of our clients in SA can walk into a Mama Money agent (including in PnP stores) and send money to Zimbabwe for collection in any one of our 41 kiosks in TM Pick n Pay stores across the country. Our aim is to offer banking services to everybody who needs it. We speak African, we understand Africa and we have become a part of many stories across the continent.

In the post-COVID-19 era, with the emergence and growth of FinTech and the digitalization of banks, what would be the concerns or challenges of the banking industry?

Cybersecurity risk is a serious threat of an accelerated digital transformation drive. The goal is to identify risks and assess whether the rewards outweigh these risks. If we can find ways to mitigate risks we then move at break-neck speed to design, execute and launch to market. Nonetheless, change is the only constant.

One of the biggest threats to banks is the accelerated growth of fintench players that are more agile and can offer some services that are traditionally offered by banks such as lending, savings and payment options without the need for a banking license. To survive in this fast-changing environment banks will need to partner with fintech players for agility rather than attempt to compete.

As an individual, you have constantly maintained that you want to make bigger contributions to the country and with your track records; you have contributed amazingly to society. What do you plan to do differently from what you have done in the past and currently?

I would like to be a part of a generation that stands for something and would like to leave the business or my country better than I found it. We owe it to our children and our children’s children to do better than those who precede us, generating value not only for ourselves but also for those we are privileged to lead and serve. I strongly believe that losing yourself in the service of others is the only way we can overcome and build a better tomorrow.

For us to play our role effectively as financial service providers, we need to be an institution that is always looking to be part of projects that are nation-building, and that contributes to the country`s economic growth. In whatever assignments or transactions we do, we need to be relevant.

You must have faced a lot of battles to get to where you are right now. Which experience is your most memorable, and would you say made you stronger?

Challenges create an opportunity for success, and I have had many, too numerous to mention. I have fallen many times and been fired a couple of times. Every decision we made in the past inevitably shapes our future and I am happy to have learned from my past. I don’t always get it right, but I am conscious of the fact that when in a position of leadership, we are sometimes living our lives as an example for others. I live by the old adage that ‘life itself is a battle, it’s either you are in one, going into one, or coming out of one’.

Your slogan is “you can outsmart me but never outwork me” What will you say to the young people who look up to you and still do not understand this slogan?

You don’t always have to be the smartest person in the room, but you must show up every day and put in that extra effort if you are to succeed. I believe strongly in good old-fashioned hard work, passion, and pouring one’s heart and soul into every assignment! True success often happens to those individuals willing to pay a price to achieve it.

Success is embracing failure as an option and learning from it. You have to be bold, courageous and take calculated risks if you are to achieve your goals. Lastly, the burden of leadership is to give each other Hope, inspiring each other to do better and acknowledging that someone doesn’t have to fail for you to succeed. We can all succeed together.

‘Do good by you and when done, Please Do good by others.’.

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