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Interview: Lance Mambondiani, BancABC MD, Past Steward Bank CEO – ‘Banking Is Necessary, Banks Are Not’

Lance Mambondiani is one of the most recognizable senior executives within the Zimbabwean banking sector. This is primarily due to his just ended tenure as CEO of Steward Bank.

In that role Lance defied traditional banking conventions and defined his own course for the bank. Of course this resulted in a lot of innovation and a lot of chaos as well (more often than not, chaos and innovation go hand in hand). Unexpectedly, Mambondiani left his position at Steward Bank. However, in a matter of weeks he was appointed Managing Director of BancABC Zimbabwe, a subsigiary of the Pan African conglomerate, Atlas Mara which is headquartered in Gaborone Botswana.

We caught up with Lance Mabomndiani and discussed this transition and what to expect from him in his new job. The interview is reproduced without any edits. Our questions and comments are in bold. Enjoy:

New job, new bank what are you looking forward to as you start this new chapter?

I consider it a privilege and honour to join BancABC with such a rich history in the Zimbabwean banking sector. I am excited to join the Atlas Mara family which operates banking franchises in about 7 African countries. Without a doubt, BancABC is a sleeping giant with such immense potential. I am looking forward to the transformation of this incredible institution into one of the top banks in the country. That’s the mission

Which accomplishment are you most proud of at Steward Bank?

I will leave this to the market to judge. My philosophy is that in a rapidly changing environment, innovation is the differentiator and you are only as good as your last innovation. I believe in movement, in challenging convention and in relevance through the problems we attempted to solve and not how fancy the innovations were. However, I was told that at one point our customers had started to call me ‘Mr Kwenga’ and I agree with them that that was one ‘God’ of a fun project to have worked on.

What do you regret the most in your tenure at Steward Bank?

I carry no regrets at all, it was an incredible gig and an honour being allowed the freedom to do some of the crazy things we did with the team. At all times my intention was to pour my heart and soul into that assignment as I intend to do in my current one.  

In your tenure as CEO of Steward Bank, the bank transformed it’s identity to be more of a Fintech really. Are we to expect the same change in orientation at BancABC?

I am extremely passionate about banking and fintech integration, this will remain core to my worldview and strategy. However, the intention is never to replicate the past but to create a stronger version of BancABC through a digital transformation process that unlocks value tapping into the bank’s core strengths.

Why is that integration between banking and Fintech so central to your worldview as you said?

Most businesse models have experienced a fundamental shift in the last decade and banking is no different. Banks exist to assist customers to store their money, transact, borrow and invest. Technology allows us to do any of the functions much more, quicker, faster and much more efficiently. Just like we ask ourselves today “How did we survive in the past without cell phones ? A few years from now we will be asking ourselves how we managed to do banking without our smartphones or platforms. Banking is necessary but banks are not. Banks that will survive in the future are those transforming to provide banking as a service, at the point where a customer needs to interact with their money.

How independent is BancABC Zim from headquarters in Gaborone? Can you pursue a strategy radically different from your other operations within the group?

Being a part of a Pan-African banking group gives us a reach and market depth that our peers do not have. It also allows us to have an international view of our business and the services we offer. Whilst we are aligned to the Group’s international strategy and vision, our local strategy allows us to offer products and services relevant to the peculiarities of the market we serve.

What differences in culture between the two organisations have you observed? How do those differences impact your next few months?

It’s very hard to find any two organisations with the same culture. I believe that culture is largely influenced by leadership. We spent a few years building a young, dynamic, innovative and agile team at Steward Bank. My focus in the next few days is to create a safe environment for fresh thinking, out of the box ideas and entrepreneurial capabilities. No matter where I serve, I believe in creating a culture of relentless innovation, rewarding good ideas, no matter where they come from and staying ahead of the market through cutting edge world class innovations.

What lessons are you taking from Steward Bank into BancABC?

Disruption is a dish best served Hot – You cannot compete with incumbents by trying to be a better version of them. You have to be extremely unconventional and unorthodox and be a different version of them. The quickest way to gain market dominance is never through incremental strategies but through extremely aggressive exponential and audacious thinking.

Are we going to see the same appetite for the mass market that we saw at Steward Bank? Agency banking etc?

BancABC is a different kind of banking institution and our customer approach will be different. However, I have never believed in the segmentation of customers. I believe when you are offering banking as a service, you look into your customer’s psychographic behaviours and not demographic. For us to be competitive we have to be able to offer every customer a banking service, no matter their demography.

Where do you see the opportunities at the intersection of banking, finance and tech?

The future of banking is on the Platform and not in how many Apps we build or investments we do in our core banking system. It will become extremely difficult for any bank to own a customer because the customer will be on the platform. Banking will and has already started to change due to the rapid advances in finnovation. I have often said on many platforms that I believe the bank of the future should be as intelligent as Google, as easy to use as Apple and as interactive as WhatsApp. That’s what our customers are demanding.

Your vision for banking, payments and fintech in Zim?

The banking sector will experience a significant shift not only in Zimbabwe but worldwide. The bank of the future will be driven through collaborative partnerships with fintechs for scale and speed. Technology and innovation will blur the lines on who owns which customer.

The most exciting space will remain payments. In the next few years, there will be a significant shift in how and where we do our payments. I am a strong advocate of customer choice and believe that the future platform will be cross network and cross bank and more importantly cross customer.  An increase in competition will result in reduced power of monopolies which will significantly benefit the consumer.

We have a few ideas up our sleeves and very shortly we hope to conclude some strategic partnerships that shows our intent and how serious we are in pursuing an aggressive platform based digital payments service.

Should Steward Bank be worried? Should other banks be worried?

We are competing against ourselves and not others, playing on our core strengths and capabilities. Nonetheless, we are very clear of our goal in the next few years and where I believe BancABC should, and will be in the short and medium term. You are going to be hearing from us a lot more than before. We have a renewed sense of purpose and our goal is simple – To become Bank A!

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