Q: Kindly explain what your role as Head of Business Banking at Absa Botswana entails?
A: I am responsible for driving the strategic direction of the Business Banking function of the bank. The function comprises Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) banking, Commercial Banking, Agri-Business, Commercial Asset Finance, and Enterprise Supply Chain Development. I also lead a team of highly talented and dedicated bankers in strategy execution, ensuring that they remain focused and motivated to deliver the exceptional service that our customers expect from us.
In addition, I drive the overall business performance of the function and ensure that it contributes meaningfully to the overall performance of the bank. Driving excellent customer experience is also an important part of my role. With the ever-changing business environment, we constantly have to be mindful of the requirements of our customers. So as part of my responsibilities, I ensure that our Customer Value Proposition aligns with customers’ needs.
Q: How important is this segment to the bank’s overall performance?
A. Every segment within the bank plays an important part in driving overall business performance as it has specific mandates to provide support to the clients and customers that it serves. The segment that I lead caters for the banking needs of specific business clients whose requirements are best served in business banking.
Q: I understand your career spans over 25 years across various sectors. Would you please take us through your career briefly.
A: I started my career as an Investigator at the Directorate of Corruption & Economic Crimes (DCEC). I later joined National Development Bank (NDB) as a Credit Officer and got promoted to Senior Credit Officer. In 2001, together with a team of my colleagues then, I was transferred from NDB to establish CEDA.
I worked at CEDA as a Business Advisor and got promoted to the position of Branch Manager, serving in Francistown, Maun, Ghanzi and Selibe Phikwe. In 2007, I left CEDA and joined the Local Enterprise Authority (LEA) during its infancy stage as the Branch Manager at Selebi-Phikwe and was later promoted to be the Director of the National Branch network, looking after a total staff of 295 and 13 branches countrywide.
In 2010 I joined Stanbic bank as the first Head of SME Banking and left in 2013 to join back the then Barclays Bank as the first Head of SME Banking. At Barclays, I transformed the local business into SMEs and built it into what it is today. Later in 2020, I was appointed as the Head of Business Banking.
So, I have spent most of my career dealing with SMEs and that is where my passion is, given the role that the sector plays in most African economies. I can safely say I have played my part in various areas by influencing some policy changes around how commercial banks viewed the SME segment.
Q: That’s quite a long journey. It must have had its ups and downs. What would you say has been the highlight of your career so far?
A: I am honoured and privileged to have such a career that has taken me to various great organisations over the years. What comes to my mind is the fact that I was instrumental to the establishment and growth of the Absa Bank Botswana SME Banking Business Unit into what it is today where the segment contributes more than 50 percent of the Business Banking revenue.
I would also mention the role I played in contributing towards building CEDA. I am one of the people who contributed to the development of the Loans Management System that is being used by CEDA even to-date. I have diffused the perception often associated with the risk in the SME and am proud that commercial banks now believe in the SME sector.
Q: Your role involves working closely with SMEs, which is something you are passionate about. What are some of the biggest challenges that local SMEs face?
A: Back in the day access to funding used to be a major problem but we have now seen availability of funding being easy with the likes of CEDA and commercial banks relaxing their lending criteria. In my view, the biggest challenge is still managing the businesses and ensuring that they remain sustainable.
The government and the private sector are pushing citizen economic empowerment programmes that address access to the market and therefore the entrepreneurs should ensure that they take advantage of such programmes by delivering and managing their businesses professionally.
Q: How is Absa Bank addressing these challenges?
A: We continue to engage with SMEs to develop solutions that are tailor-made to address the challenges. The following indicates some of the programmes and interventions that we are doing to support our clients.
Our Enterprise and Supply Chain Development (ESD) programme which focuses on SMEs has assisted customers in different sectors of the economy, amongst others Mining, Retail and Manufacturing. We believe that we are in a unique position to serve SMEs by using our core assets and strategic positioning and influence. The (ESD) seeks to give SMEs access to markets, finance and business support (capacity building).
To-date we have invested over P650 million in our clients and trained over 2 500 customers in various courses to enable them to run their businesses better and therefore are pleased with the progress we are making. As a way of extension of the ESD programme, we introduced the Enterprise Development Centre, an intimate working space that our customers can use to access free meeting rooms, workstations, and WiFi.
As part of our commitment to fighting the COVID-19 pandemic, we remain open to helping companies that procure goods and services for and relating to the fight against COVID-19 with Purchase Order Financing. Our PO financing is aimed at assisting our clients to meet the demands during the challenging times we are living in, and we have relaxed our lending parameters to enable the SMEs to deliver on their contracts.
Q: It has been found that most SMEs collapse within the first five years of setting up. What do you think is the major contributing factor to this?
A: There are several factors like poor management, poor record keeping, high input costs and lack of market access, just to mention a few. I believe the issue of access to finance has been addressed by various players in the market.
Q: And how can this be avoided?
A: I would recommend some basics first. I strongly believe that thorough market research, training or capacity building, and dedication or passion would ensure that a lot of businesses survive. In all of these, owners of the businesses still play a major role and can decide the success or failure of the business.
Q: Do you think the policymakers are making the right policies for the SMEs. If not, where is the lack?
A: I do applaud the policymakers as they are doing everything possible to support or promote SMEs. Establishment of CEDA and the temporary ban on importation of fruits and vegetables and the Buy Botswana promotion are some of the initiatives that demonstrate commitment and willingness to support the sector. Lately we have seen the enactment of the Economic Inclusion Act which will propel the empowerment of local businesses and the citizen economic empowerment programmes, both by the government and the private sector.
Q: Besides SMEs, what else does your segment focus on?
A: We also focus on commercial agriculture to support the government to achieve food security, create employment and economic diversification. We are also responsible for training the businesses owners through our ESD programme. We believe that capacitated entrepreneurs will run their businesses better, hence minimise the failure rate.