The big bank purge continues as Steward Bank becomes the latest to retrench employees. Over the last few years, Zimbabwean banks have been letting employees go for various reasons. The most common being digitalisation rendering some jobs redundant and the tough economic conditions in Zimbabwe, especially in the Covid era.
In Steward Bank’s case, they say the latest banking system upgrade they embarked on in 2021 has led to operational efficiency improvements. It is good to hear the system upgrades that gave them grief for years are starting to pay off.
This success and efficiency is accompanied by a nasty eventuality though, it is responsible for making some jobs redundant. As a result, 20% of Steward Bank’s 700-strong workforce, around 140 people, are being let go. Says Steward Bank,
Following the successful deployment of our new core banking, additional automation of our banking processes and the investments we continue to make in our digital transformation journey, Steward Bank has embarked on a retrenchment exercise to rationalize its staffing levels.
Our investments in technology have necessitated the optimization of our organizational structure and the need to reduce staff numbers consistent with our changed operating model.
The bank is consulting with all the affected employees, together with the Works Council, to ensure clarity and transparency in the process and to, as much as possible, mitigate the impact this change will have on the affected staff.
Steward Bank remains committed to delivering quality services to our customers and supporting all the affected staff and stakeholdersFungayi Mandiveyi of Steward Bank
All this talk of digitalisation
In the Zimbabwean banking industry, 300 people lost their jobs in 2020 and a further 200 in 2021. Banks are citing digitalisation drives but in real life what does that look like.
As we were discussing earlier, the pandemic, though disruptive for many businesses, has provided some silver linings for some. The lockdowns and movement restrictions we have experienced these past years have hastened the demise of bank branches. Bad for employees but good for banks.
The move to digital channels has been ongoing and physical bank branches are slowly becoming a relic. I think we can all attest that we do not frequent the branches like we did in the past.
An ATM is good enough for those that may want cash. Improved websites, mobile banking apps and USSD platforms mean enquiries can be done from anywhere. With the continued popularity of Zipit, how many of us still need to visit a branch to effect a transfer? With this in mind, it becomes easier to see how a teller’s job can be deemed surplus to requirements.
In any case, some banks no longer allow you to even do most activities physically. If you do not have a device, they will avail one to you in a branch. Just one employee can assist customers who do not know how to use digital channels. That’s how a branch with 10 employees can downsize to 3, essentially becoming a kiosk.
In 2019 and 2020, 25 bank branches were closed around the country. I remember how few cared when the Standard Chartered Bank branch that serviced Kadoma and surrounding areas was shut down. If not for the rapidly depreciating Zimdollar which makes people demand cash so they can convert it to USD, almost no one would have a reason to visit a bank branch.
Stanbic is reported saying over 95% of their transactions now go through digital channels. For other banks to compete, they too have to go digital and unfortunately, leave many physical humans behind. We saw how Steward Bank posted increasing losses in their latest financial statements. So, this retrenchment exercise should help lower operational costs that have been rising wildly in this challenging Zim economy. The hope being that the new core system will be able to handle further growth.
Human resources are expensive and so the millions spent in upgrading banking systems to handle the load that was shared by humans will be worth it in a few years.
This explains how the biggest bank in a country by customer base can have just 11 branches and still serve customers well.