Standard Chartered and its unconventional route to going digital

Valentine Muhamba Avatar
Standard Chartered, youth startup challenge leaving Zimbabwe

Standard Chartered Bank has been on something of a shift over the last couple years. The bank has been on a massive digitization exercise which has seen it close down a number of its branches. Now, Standard Chartered hasn’t done things in the conventional way. In normal circumstances, banks would usually onboard customers on to digital platforms before shutting down physical locations. This would give customers a chance to adjust to the new way of things slowly. However, this wasn’t the case for Standard Chartered. They opted to do things the other way around.

I am sure there are many of you who were puzzled by Standard Chartered’s way of doing things. Customers would surely have been taken aback by such a dramatic shift.

This would normally be my cue to start speculating about the reasons behind this and what these changes meant for customers. Well, luckily you are all spared a deep dive down the rabbit hole because I was lucky enough to ask Standard Bank’s Head of Digital Transformation & Projects, Liberty Mutigwa all about the course that bank has taken.

Can you outline the reasoning behind Standard Chartered Bank’s decision to downscale its physical locations in favour of a fully integrated end-to-end digital platform?

Clients want to be able to bank digitally so we are responding to client needs: Retail Clients are increasingly demanding quick, simple and easy ways of banking. The ubiquitous smartphone with a banking app that allows customers to complete all their transactions (including onboarding) is a natural outcome and is the solution for the Bank to meet retail client needs. The strategic insight and strategy, therefore, was really simple – put the client at the centre of what we do, solving their needs in a simple, easy and convenient fashion. The changes in banking are making life easier for all of us – less paper, more control and enriching interactions. Banks will also have a much sharper understanding of clients’ financial behaviour and needs through data analytics and anticipate future needs to offer tailored products and services.

The way that Standard Chartered moved to digital was (in a sense) in reverse order. The route one approach is to ease customers into the digital platform and then when it takes, the withdrawal of branches can begin. What made the bank so confident in the decision to transition to digital in this way?

Our clients and the world are going digital and our branch transaction traffic was decreasing. Consumers are now accustomed to services coming directly to them, rather than the other way around – and banks must respond to this trend in order to remain relevant.  As a Bank, we are always evaluating how we should reformat our current channels to deliver the most efficient service to our clients.”

Africa presents a real opportunity for Standard Chartered where we can reimagine banking for our clients. Digitisation is one of the key items on the Bank’s transformation agenda, as part of its global focus on digitisation – socialising personal banking and extending client digital lifestyle into banking.

Our channel strategy remains responsive to client needs and transaction patterns on an ongoing basis. As Standard Chartered Zimbabwe, we have been pushing our digital agenda since 2018 and what we are witnessing now is just a change of pace.

To the customer base that may not fully understand the digital transformation journey that the bank has been undertaking for the year couple of years, what future benefits does this present to them?

From the onset of the launch of our journey we have been clear and consistent that our clients will enjoy the following:

  • Convenience – clients have banking access 24/7 and no need to queue with the ability to track service requests.
  • “Cheap” no need to travel to a branch or shuffle around to complete paperwork.
  • “It is easy to use” the same simple user-friendly format that our clients know and enjoy using.
  • A wide range of options from our App, online and USSD to do both transactions and service requests
  • And now with COVID-19, there is definitely social distancing as one can transact from the comfort of their home or office

Our digital bank was developed with our clients in mind. We took into consideration their feedback at each stage of the design process, and have incorporated innovative technology to allow them to execute all banking activities from a mobile phone via the Standard Chartered Bank App 

The strategic insight therefore was really simple – put the client at the centre of what we do, solving their needs in a simple, easy and convenient fashion.

Has there been any resistance from Standard Chartered customers throughout this transition over the last couple of years? This is of course for those who were accustomed to going to the bank to tend to their business instead of turning to their device.
  • We have diverse clients with different demographics, and we knew this from the onset. We have always had all our clients in mind. For instance, we did several tailor-made trainings and walk through sessions with our elderly clients to take them through the changes that were happening. I am happy to say our elderly clients have embraced the digital bank positively and the Bank has put in place measures like explainers, manuals in place for assistance if ever there is need for help. We are also engaging them more on a personal level.  Our 24Hour Call Centre is also still available.
  • We have launched dual currency dispensing ATMs across the country, a first in the country and within the SCB group. This signifies that we are Here for good. Our ATMs are open 24/7 and we have expanded the network from a low of 10 to 21. Our ATMs dispense both USD and ZWL cash.  

Our branches will remain available for advisory services where we want to be our clients’ trusted partner. We want our clients to think Standard Chartered for all their financial needs and we continue on this trajectory.

Would you say the shift to digital has widened the active customer base in terms of age?

Yes, across our client’s base both young and old are using our platforms, we are pleased to receive both compliments and queries through the digital platforms we have. Our clients are sophisticated enough and have embraced digital, they demand it. For example, recently a client outside the country was pleasantly surprised they could order a replacement card without visiting any branch and in a few minutes the order was done. The card was produced on the same day and delivered via post. His comment was apt – my bank is in my pocket. 

With so many Zimbabweans looking for financial services beyond mobile money (because of the restrictions) how would you say the bank is positioned to fill that gap?

This has brought sanity in the banking system and we are well-positioned in this space. We have seamless and straight-through processing capabilities on our platforms while our card is one of the best and very secure. Clients have a wide range of options on our global award-winning platforms like straight to the bank, SC Mobile App, Online Banking and Mobile Banking.

With cell and data services being so very limited, is the sweeping digital shift something that is suited for the Zimbabwean market?

The market has adapted to the shift, with the increase in smart devices and various players providing the means. Clients can now do banking even in their rural areas or while on holiday in various resorts. While data costs may be relatively up, our app is lite, and most transactions or services are within 2 minutes. We acknowledge our infrastructure is still reliant on 2G/3G legacy systems and so we made a conscious decision to maintain and upgrade our USSD platform for the convenience of our clients.

In line with digital transformation, Standard Chartered will this year be hosting an awards ceremony to honour those companies and individuals who have built digital platforms to serve their customers during the pandemic. The event will be held on the 9th of December and we will give you more details on the ceremony in due course.


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  1. Anonymous

    Just another poor bank amongst a whole bunch of POOR banks

  2. Anonymous

    But the bank must improve on card collections, i received a massage that i collect my card in Harare. this pure madness fro a client to travel all the way from chiredzi to get an ATM card in Harare

  3. Anonymous

    I feel it’s so disturbing. Changes just happen and I’m really feeling insecure right. Thoughts to change banks have crossed my mind quite often. Should the need arise to use the branch, only 2 options exist. And both not one’s home town. That is costly. Maybe that’s the bank’s way of saying if one is not from the branch’s city, then they should not bank with stanchart.


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