The MD of Access Bank, Kgotso Bannalotlhe, has defended the bank’s strategy of expanding footprint by opening service centres across Botswana, saying the bank has little will to take away customers’ desire to have personal interaction with its employees or agents.
“We are at a point where some customers prefer digital and for some transactions, perhaps for advice, a customer still wants to sit and have a conversation,” Bannalotlhe said in response to a media question recently.
The concern from the floor was that most banks are moving to digitalisation and investing less in brick and mortar branches. The bank’s finance director Ratang Icho-Molebatsi had acknowledged as much when she noted that customers of Access were moving in numbers to digital platforms and were visiting physical branches less frequently.
Nevertheless, Access is expanding its service centre network across Botswana. The bank plans to have nine new service centres in new areas to serve customers within their geography. Asked why the bank is taking such a position, Bannalotlhe responded: “We are not going to dictate to customers how they want to experience the bank”. “We opened four service centres and those service centres have been very successful for us. We need a distribution footprint across Botswana that says if you are in an area where you want to go and access our physical brick and mortar, you should not be driving more than 50 kilometres.”
The MD said the bank will do this in a cost-effective way. The most expensive aspect of building a branch, he added, is ability to provide cash there. As an example, he pointed out that a branch costs between P10 million and P15 million to build, depending on size. However, he said the Access model enables the three or four branches built with the same amount of money. Clearly on a roll, Bannalotlhe emphasised: “Is it going to cost us a lot of money? No. Is it a proven model that we have worked with in Botswana? Yes.”
The point about Access Bank is being where “our customers live and can access us”. In his observation, everyone is moving toward localising presence. Kentucky Fried Chicken came in for an illustration as a business that used to be one big store but now has little shops closer to where customers are. “We divide that big thing and bring it much closer to customers in a manner that can serve the customer well and then let the place grow its own roots and how it want to be served.”