The Herald

Enacy Mapakame

Business Reporter

One of Zimbabwe’s oldest financial institutions, Standard Chartered Bank, has reiterated it has no plans to exit the country but is rationalising its distribution channels, becoming more digital as it strengthens its position with products suited for the changing market dynamics.

The bank has been working on a branch rationalisation programme across the region and Middle East, which has seen it introducing products and services skewed towards digital banking, as opposed to brick and mortar, in line with global trends.

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The implementation of this programme has seen the bank reduce branches across the region. Zimbabwe is left with three branches — one in Bulawayo, another in Avondale, Harare and the third at its headquarters – the Africa Unit Square, also in Harare.

Chief executive Ralph Watungwa, said digitalisation was increasingly taking over and as such, the bank embarked on this programme in response to market needs as well as to provide convenience and efficiency, which was lacking in a physical bank.

“We are not going anywhere, we are here for good,” he said in an interview with The Herald Finance & Business, dispelling speculation the bank could be on its way out of the Zimbabwean market.

“As Standard Chartered Bank, we have been in Zimbabwe for over a century and that makes us part of the Zimbabwean story and will make efforts to continue contributing to this economy. We now know what works and what doesn’t.

“We can only come up with more products and services that enhance convenience and efficiency for our customers as well as play an advisory role that helps them grow, so we are not exiting the Zimbabwe market.

“This is a programme being implemented across the region (Africa and Middle East),” he said.

Mr Watungwa added this was one of the initiatives by the bank to cut operational costs and provide more affordable services to its customers.

The branch rationalisation programme has helped reduce costs by a third and other operational risks and losses from between $150 000 and $700 000 a year to only $12 000 as of 2019.

The banking sector has been affected by erratic power supplies that have been affecting the economy, which resulted in increased overheads.

Operating a physical branch on a generator required about 500 litres of diesel each day, which proved to be unsustainable in an economy also facing fuel shortages, over and above limited foreign currency and inflationary pressures.

Said Mr Watungwa: “Our clients are better off with digital banking than visiting a physical branch, this saves time too.

“The banking sector has been lagging in this digitalisation wave and this is what we are doing now. We have opened over 60 000 branches in people’s pockets and handbags — all you need is a phone to do all your banking.

“Over 70 products that our clients need are now on the tip of their fingers and can access them any
time. The brick and mortar branch is fast losing relevance.”

The implementation of the programme has seen employees being redeployed to other roles such as client advisory services while others have left on a voluntary basis.

Standard Chartered Bank is the oldest financial institution in Zimbabwe, having been established as Standard Bank in 1892.

The current bank was created when Standard Bank merged with Chartered Bank in 1969.