In the latest edition of Meet the Boss, we chat with Absa Bank Botswana’s Retail Director, Valeta Mthimkhulu.
Armed with over 20 years of experience in the banking world, Mthimkhulu’s rise to the top started as a graduate trainee with Barclays Bank.
Two decades later, she finds herself heading one of the key segments of Absa Bank Botswana.
It’s over a year since you joined Absa Bank Botswana as Retail Director, how have you found the journey so far?
The journey has been an exhilarating one, and a homecoming of sorts, having previously been part of the group in Zimbabwe for several years.
I joined the bank at an exciting time, as we were getting ready to introduce the new Absa brand into the market.
The spirit of Africanity is something that has really resonated with our clients and stakeholders at large; it has been a fulfilling journey being part of the team to bring our clients’ possibilities to life.
Soon after I joined, Covid-19 also became a very present reality in our lives with the first lockdown and meant that we needed to be nimble and agile as we found new ways to keep serving and meeting our client’s needs, whilst adopting the new protocols that have now become normal to all of us.
Having previously worked in Zimbabwe, how would you compare the two countries’ financial sectors?
The two financial services sectors are keenly similar in that they are both transitioning in the way that they serve customers, looking closely at digital solutions and other ways to provide increasing convenience to the banking public.
To an extent, mobile money and alternate payment methods are much more entrenched in Zimbabwe due to limitations in cash availability in the economy.
The products availed to clients are mainly the same across current and savings accounts solutions, and various lending solutions.
There is a difference in terms of the extent of household debt between the two countries, with Zimbabwe having a lower prevalence compared to Botswana.
Both financial sectors have good opportunities for growth and efficiency focusing on digitization, payments and partnerships as key drivers as the retail banking landscape continue to evolve.
Let’s go back to the beginning – kindly take us through your banking journey?
I started in 1999 as a graduate trainee with Barclays Bank in Zimbabwe.
Since then, I have worked in various areas in the bank, including Change Management, Marketing, Corporate Affairs, Retail, and Business Banking.
I have also previously worked for Standard Chartered in Zimbabwe looking after their Retail and Business Banking portfolio before joining Absa Bank Botswana last year.
What do you regard as the highlight of your career?
The highlight in my career has been to build a career that has been versatile and seeing me being able to fully capitalize on my business acumen, love for change and my creative side.
Besides having run successful retail businesses from 2011 and delivering some great marketing campaigns, I have really enjoyed mentoring and helping young people grow and reach their own career and life aspirations.
Serving on two boards in the past that are focused on youth development has also been very fulfilling.
What does your current role involve?
As Retail Director, I provide strategic direction for the Retail business and the execution of our mandate as part of the country strategy.
Leading and inspiring my team to deliver superb customer experience and solutions to our valued clients is a critical part of what the role entails.
As a member of the country leadership team, my role also entails a joint leadership responsibility to deliver the required results to our shareholders and stakeholders at large.
And what does the Retail section primarily deal with?
Retail banking, also known as consumer banking or personal banking, is banking that provides financial services to individual consumers rather than businesses.
At Absa Bank Botswana we pride ourselves in getting things done for our customers, #Africanacity.
This demonstrates our commitment to our customers through the various product propositions that we deliver.
We offer a safe and convenient platform for our customers too, with our Transactional, Savings, Investment or Fixed Deposit accounts.
Retail Bank also provides Housing, Vehicle finance to customers who want to create a home for their families or purchase a new or used vehicle.
We also offer personal loans to both new and existing Absa customers.
The retail bank offers cash flow management solutions for retail customers such as credit cards and overdrafts.
Lastly, we offer various life, funeral, and short-term insurance products to our customers.
Impressive – so exactly how important is this unit to the bank’s overall operations?
Retail banking is a critical part of the bank’s overall operations as it is a significant business function in the bank from a point of view of revenue generation, as well as customer numbers.
We serve over 250, 000 customers in retail banking with a branch footprint of 33 branches, 113 ATMs, and additional alternate channels including POS acquiring estate of over 4, 000 and a leading digital banking offering.
Last year we introduced to tap and go cards for our clients and launched Abby, our WhatsApp service and transactional platform.
We are therefore a critical part of driving innovation in the bank and we seek to provide relevant solutions to our clients.
How has Covid-19 affected this section of the bank?
The pandemic has challenged the way we work, do business, and socially interact with our customers and colleagues.
The ‘new normal’ began with an uncomfortable feeling of change and anxiety about what the future holds.
It has challenged the way we serve our customers and therefore accelerated our innovation journey mostly underpinned by digitization, as customers also started to prefer self-service channels to stay safe.
In addition, we realised that our clients had been affected in different ways as certain sectors of the economy were affected differently and we, therefore, accommodate these clients through loan repayment holidays.
Talk us through some of the changes.
As a bank, we have accelerated our investments into digital platforms and technologies to strengthen resilience and thrive in the future.
We also supported our clients through payment holidays where this was needed.
The bank launched various platforms such as the Absa SkyBranch, which offers a wide range of services through the contact centre, Abby (Chat Banking), contactless payments and other user-friendly services as a result of the above.
Tell us more about Family Banking and Chat Banking?
These products were launched as a response to customer needs.
Family Banking: Absa customers can now enjoy world-class banking as a family.
Through the existing premier banking customer, Family Banking opens a world of benefits designed for each member of the family.
Some of the offers in our Family Banking proposition include a 50 percent discount on account service fee for the spouse and children over the age of 25 get a 10 percent discount on the service fee of the Ultimate Current Account.
Abby (Chat Banking) is our 24/7 digital-personal-banker.
Through Abby, our customers have access to a wide range of our products and services.
Banking with Abby is as simple as carrying out your day-to-day transactional activities such as Airtime purchases, Bill Payments, Electronic Fund transfers, etc.
Lastly, what can Absa clients look forward to in the near future?
Our clients can be assured that their trusted go-to transactional bank will continue to innovate in order to bring enhanced transacting convenience to them.
We will continue to roll out our digital corners which we launched in two of our branches this year.
With the enhanced need for families to save, our clients can look forward to an enhanced target-saving product that will make it easier for them to meet their savings goals.
In addition, we will continue to improve our digital channels with features that our customers need based on their feedback.
Recently, we provided customers with the ability to generate proof of payment from their mobile app, manage their card – change PIN, block cards, etc – from their app.
We also added more billers like BTC onto our platform and convenience partners offering discounts to our clients and saving them money.
We have exciting campaigns coming up and I encourage our clients to look out for them and benefit from our offers and transactional capability.