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Interview: Standard Chartered Bank Head Of Retail – “Disruption Has Forced Banks To Focus More On Clients”

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On the back of Standard Chartered launching their fully digital banking app – SC Mobile- in Zimbabwe, we sat down with the bank’s Country Head for Retail Banking Valeta Mthimkhulu and discussed a number of issues from the roll-out of the app, disruption in the banking industry to what the sector might look like in a few years time. Our questions are in bold.

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Considering that the SC mobile app has been launched in other African regions already, what has been some of the challenges faced in these regions and how have they been overcome?

We launched the first digital bank in Cote D’Ivoire and you’re right they were lessons; Adoption was fairly quick (in all markets) and what we’ve needed to do is teach clients using the app to use the newer services which weren’t there before and also convincing them to try. We’ve been staff assisting clients because we noticed if you don’t teach the clients, you don’t get the engagement you want.

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Speaking of engagement, this concept is quite new [digital bank] in Zimbabwe so I’m wondering, what has traction been like?

The way we’ve been assessing ourselves in terms of how the app has landed in the market includes tracking downloads. You’ll find that clients have a preferred channel – some love USSD. It doesn’t matter how fancy the app gets. A fifth of our clients love USSD and that’s perfectly fine with us because for us it’s also about the digital universe.

Then for the clients that were on the previous app, we found that upto now we’ve had around 75% of those clients upgrade to the new app, so it’s moving quite fast. Part of it is because of the way apps work [if you have auto-updates, you’ll update to the new app].

For clients who weren’t on-app before that is slower moving but we’ve actually had more clients who hadn’t been on app move to the new app. The bigger challenge is around client education. We need clients to understand that services that were previously in-branch are now accessible in-app. We’re tracking to see if those services [in-branch] are migrating across and that’s where the client education is.

We’ve been doing quite a bit within branches to support that activity. For instance, a client walks in and asks for a VISA letter. We give them the letter but we’ll then show them how they could have done it within the app.

You talked of USSD which is a big deal in Zimbabwe. Now that you have the application, which I assume is a higher priority, what will be the approach to USSD going forward?

There are two ways that we would look at it – We’ve worked on both and for us, the digital bank is the main channel. We have a lot more things there and even if you look at the prices of smartphones, generally they are becoming more and more affordable.

However, we’re not neglecting our USSD base. In fact, since the launch of the app in June two things happened on our USSD platform. We fully completed ZIPIT. It’s now fully operational on USSD because it was easier to roll it out on USSD. We also then put in the ability to register on EcoCash.

So the way that we currently look at it, we’re paying a lot of attention to our clients. How they operate, what they love and we’re keeping both of them.

When we look at the balance that we’re trying to achieve, its about getting the number of channels proportionately balanced. Yes, we’ll make the app the primary focus because you can do a lot more through the app but not neglect the USSD universe.

Even if you look at ATMs, at some point if our cash issues are resolved they will have their space – so that doesn’t mean that they go away. We want to create a channel universe that talks to our clients needs.

We’ve also noticed that clients love to use USSD for certain purposes and the app for others. Using myself as an example, for some reason I find myself using USSD for airtime repeatedly but I don’t use it for anything else.

What is your team doing to offer WhatsApp and social media integration? These are spaces we (clients) spend huge amounts of time in and you see fintechs trying to integrate into that space. What are you guys trying to do?

We’ve just rolled out the SC Keyboard. I think that was the first important step for us to make sure that we have some social media interaction. Whether you’re chatting on WhatApp, Instagram or whatever it is that uses a keyboard.

Outside of the keyboard, we are looking at this as a journey and this will continue. This means that we’re not stopping at the keyboard and we’re engaging our clients and making sure we can meet them at their point of need.

The SC Keyboard was a nice way to get into that space where clients can interact with the app but still continue to live their lives. We’ll also look at what we can add – even to that keyboard so that you can do more because people are social creatures.

So we’re quite pleased with that and we think it’s a first in Zim, but for us, it’s a journey and it’s not to say that now that we’ve done the digital bank we’ll stop.

It’s good to see the bank doing some of these things because whenever I speak to bankers, they’re losing their heads because of disruption. Is that just panic or there is more to it?

I don’t think it’s necessarily panic. I think if you look at the banking space – it’s an old industry and because of that, we’ve been in a situation where we’ve done certain things a certain way for a very long time and then that got disrupted.

But what’s exciting about what’s happening within the industry is that certain realisations and truths in terms of how tech has disrupted banking have resulted in us looking at things we should compete on. What are the things that give you competitive advantage? Is it your platform? If we look at a platform like ZIPIT – every bank has ZIPIT. No bank can say my ZIPIT is better than yours but having that in your universe is better for the clients.

I think disruption has forced banks to focus more on the clients. I think there is still a certain amount of nostalgia that exists for both banks and clients because we’ve been around for over 100 years in Zimbabwe.

You’re competing with Fintechs, you’re competing with mobile money. These are young and agile technologies. How do you get your older staff and your younger staff to connect? In many organisations, it seems the young guys have a hard time convincing the old-guard to change their ways.

I think it’s a journey. The first thing that we’ve had to realise is that we don’t necessarily compete with fintechs all the time. Sometimes you can collaborate with them. So there’s a certain way that people in these industries work, that bankers probably would never be able to see which is why we collaborate.

We invite them, they speak to us and we learn from them but equally, they learn from us regarding client’s expectations and what banking is about.

Internally it’s the same thing. We need to engage with clients. When we launched the application we had to talk to our internal staff to get them to experience the app, tell us what they thought. Every Friday we have an initiative where team members [within SC] look at the innovation space as a whole and see where that fits within our vision. Teams can collaborate on a project that interests them and that’s a very different way of working if you’re in the banking sector – it’s more like the startup model.

All this allows all our guys regardless of where they are to enter into the space and to a certain extent to let go and experiment and see what comes out. For us, that’s quite exciting.

Lastly, where do you see the digital bank being in 5-10 years time? This is your baby so I’m sure you have some predictions

In my own mind, in 5 to 10 years time we won’t be focusing on the term “digital bank” as if it’s a UFO. It would have become the normal way of banking and we will manage it as we manage any bank- the way I run my business now is the way I would run that bank. We’ll be monitoring how it’s doing on its assets and liabilities.

What we are clear of, is that in order to get there we have to continue to innovate and we have to continue to listen to clients. To a certain extent, it’s also that discipline not to get carried away with the tech in the innovation space. Even in our current business, we’ve tried to keep the client at the core and even with the digital bank and the success of any bank will be if you keep the client at the core. 

It’s good to hear that you have design thinking at the core and I’m sure your clients will be happy to know that as well. Thank you so much for your time Valeta and the rest of the team…

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


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One thought on “Interview: Standard Chartered Bank Head Of Retail – “Disruption Has Forced Banks To Focus More On Clients”

  1. this is interesting, Stanchart has really stepped up there digital this year with the monthly digital email the the new app and this keyboard which I would recommend to anyone!! well done to them, they should keep it up and reduce their charges as they continue to push the cheaper digital services.

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