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Heading a bank in tough times

Philip Madinga

In December last year, the Board of Directors of Standard Bank Malawi appointed Phillip Madinga as the bank’s chief executive officer (CEO), taking over from William Le Roux, who has been at the helm of the bank for the past three years. Our reporter TAONGA SABOLA caught up with Madinga to learn about his vision for the bank.

Congratulations on your appointment as Standard Bank CEO. How does it feel to be leading one of the top banks in the country?

I am really delighted by the confidence that the Standard Bank Group and our board has placed in me, by appointing me as the first Malawian Chief Executive for Standard Bank plc. This is historic. I am looking forward to taking the Malawi business to great heights and leading its transformation towards becoming more than a bank – that is a digital platform-led business.

In line with our purpose “Malawi is Our Home, we drive her growth”, I am also excited to lead a team that is committed to supporting the growth and development of our beloved country.

What are your plans and vision for the bank?

My ultimate ambition is for the bank to realise its vision of becoming the undisputed number one financial institution in Malawi.

In order to achieve this, it will be important that we, as a bank, offer unique, efficient and legendary experience to our clients, through our innovative digital platforms and offerings and experienced employees. This cannot be achieved through the traditional banking approach.

As a result, we have decided to reposition our business to be digitally-led and become a future-ready platform business. We want to understand our clients better and offer them far more than just financial products and services. Our aim is to provide complete solutions, and increasingly rely on trusted partner organisations in our ecosystems, to meet the needs of our clients.

This means we will be far more than a bank; we will be a provider of diversified services and will play a far greater role in the lives of our clients. We will continue focusing on improving delivery of service to our clients by making sure that any interaction which our clients have with us is enjoyable. I believe that, by doing so, we will enable our bank to realise its ultimate vision of becoming the number one financial institution in Malawi but also enable it to generate sustainable shared value for all our shareholders.

At the same time, I would also like our bank to work closely with the government and support the national development agenda and key strategic initiatives. I strongly believe that the newly adopted vision of the country, MW2063, which is focusing on inclusive wealth creation and self-reliance through the key pillars of agriculture productivity and commercialisation, industrialisation and urbanisation, resonates very well with the aspirations of our bank.

Where would you want to see the bank in the next three years?

Although we expect the operating environment to continue being tough and challenging, given recent developments related to Covid-19 coupled with our own country-specific challenges, I am still optimistic about the future. The operating environment has changed the past year and Covid-19 has taught us new lessons and things that we never imagined before.

Despite these changes, I believe that investments we have made and continue to make in technology, systems, digital platforms and in our people have positioned the bank to adapt to the various changes that have happened but also exploit new opportunities emanating therefrom.

Standard Bank plc is one of the oldest and largest financial institutions in Malawi and we have maintained this position for quite a number of years now. Our ultimate goal and ambition is to become the number one undisputed financial institution in the country. Whilst financial performance is important, we also want to make sure that we do this in a responsible manner; we do not only seek to be number one from a financial performance perspective but also in many other respects.

You have a very successful career so far, having served in many senior positions in various banks; what has been your main secret to succeed as a professional? What is your advice to young people?

My philosophy around success is that one should always ensure they have a clear vision and plan to achieving their goals, aspirations and vision. Success requires commitment and hard work and belief in oneself. Don’t be afraid to try something new, but just remember that Rome was not built in a day. Be daring and ambitious because anything is possible. Stay focused and do not accept mediocrity. With belief, anything is possible. Maintain the highest levels of integrity; it has proven useful for me over the span of my career and I strongly believe it will do the same for you now and in future.

Do you think we have made progress with the financial inclusion agenda which is driving the government?

We have made some good, albeit, slow progress with regards to financial inclusion. I feel that, as a sector, together with the Reserve Bank of Malawi and other players in the market, we can do more. Although the banked population has increased to around 24 percent, up from 22 percent according to a Finscope report. This is still quite low compared to other countries within the region and across Africa.

Although banks have invested and continue investing heavily in IT systems, infrastructure and digital channels to improve access to banking, we still have many challenges to overcome. Over the years, all banks have invested in several products and services, like mobile banking, ATMs, point of sale devices, etc, but these require concerted efforts amongst a number of stakeholders, not banks alone.

What is the bank’s rationale behind the shift of its tag-line from ‘Moving Forward’ to ‘It Can Be’?

We are a purpose-driven organisation; so, despite the changes and challenges Covid-19 has brought, our new brand positioning, ‘It can be’ represents our belief in our purpose – that Malawi is our home, we drive her growth!

‘It Can Be’ is about building partnerships for enterprise development in Malawi; making a difference for our clients by supporting and helping them to achieve their dreams and realise their full potential; connecting our clients to the world and the markets and vice versa, whether they are importing or exporting or when they just need expert advice.

It is about partnering for social, economic and environmental impact in Malawi to create shared value; collaborating with our partners and different stakeholders including the central bank to drive financial inclusion in the country. It is also about making a difference for and helping our communities; imparting our knowledge and expertise in different sectors we operate in to make the dreams of our stakeholders possible.

How do you rate the operating environment?

We need a stable economic and operating environment for the market to have a vibrant banking sector. Over the past few years, this has not been the case. The economic challenges that this country faced over the past few years have created uncertainty on the market.

Before Covid-19 hit —post 2019 election— there were some signs of economic recovery. However, the gains from that period have been eroded by the pandemic. In addition to our own domestic challenges such as high domestic debt, high levels of corruption, inability to generate adequate foreign currency, poor implementation of economic and development plans, Covid-19 has brought even new challenges and changed the way we live and do business and, of course, also brought new opportunities for the market including banks.

Covid-19 has accelerated technological and digital developments, such as artificial intelligence, robotics, contactless. It has also accelerated the uptake and usage of digital channels because human behaviour has changed—reduced physical contact, home deliveries, etc. It has also impacted our geopolitics —supply chain dynamics, protectionism, access to capital, etc. All these present both opportunities and challenges to us and the rest of the market.

What is your message to clients and what they should look out for?

My message to our clients is that IT CAN BE a great 2021. The global Covid-19 pandemic we are all living through has forced businesses to rethink how we engage with our clients in a socially-distanced, safe and largely virtual manner. However, above all this, the bank assures its valued customers, it will be easily accessible once again and even better through various digital interventions. On top of our agenda in 2021 are the following: online payment, contactless transactions and system stability.

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