Senior Vice-Chairman, Standard Chartered Bank, Africa.
Sustainability is about working in partnership with our clients to make a positive economic and social contribution in the markets where we operate.
Bola Adesola could not have opted for a more difficult moment to become Vice President in charge of Standard Chartered Bank’s operations in Africa. Standard Chartered is one of the largest and oldest banking institutions in Africa. Since joining the bank in March 2011 as CEO Standard Chartered Bank Nigeria, she has weathered a global financial catastrophe and has had to call upon the broad range of skills honed in previous top level roles. In her current role as Vice President, she is responsible for supporting the execution of the bank’s strategic intent within the Africa region, including representing Standard Chartered Bank on various Boards in Africa. In addition, she leads a group’s Senior Banker on key relationships and transactions.
Before joining standard Chartered, Adesola was Executive Director in First Bank, Nigeria oldest bank. Just before that, she was Managing Director of Kakawa Discount House, with previous experience gained in Citibank through senior leadership roles in Nigeria and Tanzania. Amid the crisis and reforms, one constant remains for Adesola: Holding down the basic retail and commercial banking business formula that’s in line with SC’s heritage whilst fitting in with the regulatory mores of both eras.
There is also a great energy within SC that comes from responsiveness especially with the development of new products. The shift to digital is a good example. Early March SC launched its first digital retail bank in Ivory Coast signifying the start of its growth strategy around digital banking. Ivory Coast has the fifth-highest mobile money penetration globally. In a statement, SC noted that “Digitizing Africa remains at the heart of our business strategy for the region and the plan is to roll out the model pioneered in Ivory Coast in other African markets in the coming months”.
It has been a long journey for Standard Chartered. It was in 1862 that its history birthed. The financial institution has since commenced and expanded its business and has steadily invested in expanding its footprint in the region.
First up, what benefits does the distinction of its over150-year old history afford SC Bank?
We are a leading international banking group, with around 85,000 employees and a 150-year history in some of the world’s most dynamic markets. With this experience, we are able to bank the people and companies driving investment, trade and the creation of wealth across Asia, Africa and the Middle East, where we earn around 80 per cent of our income and profits. Our heritage and values are expressed in our brand promise – ‘Here for good’.
What also sets us apart is our diversity – of people, cultures and networks. We use this to provide the best possible customer experience, whether you’re an individual looking for easy, fast and convenient banking services, or a multinational corporation with highly complex financing need. We work with our clients to improve access to financial services, and to promote responsible finance. By providing finance responsibly and efficiently, we can have a positive impact on sustainable development in our markets, contributing to economic growth in the long term, and enabling people, businesses and communities to prosper.
So how does SC’s place in African business and civic history resonate these days?
Among international banks we have the broadest presence across sub-Saharan Africa by number of markets and in 2016 in Accra we celebrated 120 years of supporting Ghana’s growth and development.
Africa is an important part of global trade and investment corridors, including those on the Belt and Road initiative. And we are well placed to facilitate these flows. Demand for capital remains robust, with favorable demographics, urbanization and infrastructure investment. While the economic challenges in Africa were severe in 2015 and 2016, our business stabilized in 2017 and we remain confident that the opportunities in the region will support long-term sustainable growth for the Group. We continue to invest selectively and drive efficiencies.
Africa continues to benefit from the Group’s decision to invest USD3billion over the next couple of years in digital channels and systems, enhancing our strategic focus, customer experience and security. Standard Chartered services over 1 million retail customers in Africa and over 20,000 commercial, corporate and institutional clients. We believe in forging strong partnerships which deliver tangible value for all members of Africa’s economies, not just our clients. Our USD5 billion commitment to President Obama’s ‘Power Africa’ campaign, in partnership with African governments, continues to bring new light to homes and companies to spur income and growth. We’re excited about the opportunities in Nigeria, and Africa as a whole.
What’s the extent of SC’s compliance to environmental and social governance thinking?
For us, sustainability is about creating long term value for our shareholders, working in partnership with our clients to make a positive economic and social contribution in the markets where we operate. We recognize that our success as a bank is intrinsically linked to the health and prosperity of our markets. The biggest impact we have is through the businesses we finance. By providing finance efficiently and responsibly, we can generate value for our shareholders while creating value more broadly for society. We want to be a force for good by working with our clients to improve their sustainability performance. In recognition of this, we have developed and implemented a comprehensive approach to managing environmental and social (‘E&S’) risks that arise as a result of our provision of debt, equity and advisory services for Corporate and Institutional Clients, and lending to Commercial Clients and Business Clients in our Retail segment. Our long-standing relationships with NGOs and community partners, as well as the support of our employees, enabled us to deliver our community engagement programmes.
SC recently joined a “wave of lenders seeking to use new technologies to reach customers in some of the world’s most under-served markets” with the launch of its first digital bank in Ivory Coast. Is this part of your new strategy for the region?
Clients want to be able to bank digitally so we’re responding to client needs: Retail Clients are increasingly demanding quick, simple and easy ways of banking. The ubiquitous smart phone with a banking app that allows customers to complete all their transaction (including on-boarding) is a natural outcome and is the solution for the Bank to meet retail client needs. The strategic insight and strategy therefore was really simple – put the client at the center of what we do, solving their needs in a simple easy and convenient fashion.
Our strategy is to build standard global platforms and that gives us a first mover advantage: We were able to pull together our international insights to launch a digital bank that we know will resonate with our clients, in CDI and soon in other markets.
Given SC’s long history in the region, what does this new initiative represent for its future?
Continuity and Relevance. Our brand promise is to be ‘Here for good’ and part of ensuring this commitment is sustained is by being familiar with technological advancements and innovations globally and specifically within the financial industry. We are in the digital age where the differentiator for financial services institutions is simplicity, efficiency and convenience; digital banking enables us to that. This new step enables us to deepen our relationship with our existing clients, by providing solutions to their financial needs in real time. Importantly, digital banking expands our reach to potential clients and affords us the opportunity to grow their investments; significantly impact business profitability of corporates and by extension impact economies where we have presence and beyond.
What is the particular feature in digital banking that captures the USP of SC for you?
A true digital bank is one that serves its clients without them ever needing to come to our branch if they don’t want to, not even to open an account. A digital bank relies on mobile and online technology advancements to provide a convenient, end-to-end digital banking service. It means giving clients the choice to do everything digitally from their mobile phone if they want, but they can also get help via phone, chat, a video link when they want more advice for a big financial decision. We aim to be digital… with a human touch.
Does this mean more branches will be closing?
Our branches remain open to clients for easy accessibility. We have deployed many technological solutions over the years however our significantly improved digital / alternate banking platforms will be strengthened further to continue to provide our clients with multiple and convenient access to banking services.
What are your thoughts on the evolving financial technology and Internet?
Digitization in the financial services industry cannot be ignored. It can be categorized as disruptive to traditional banking but if embraced has the potential to position banks to function more efficiently from a service, cost and performance perspective. The needs of clients are evolving along with the platforms for engagement. A few years ago, all transactions had to be done physically in a bank branch; today you could go for weeks or months without physically entering into a branch. The time customers spent in the past wading through traffic, standing in queues and hoping to get attended to by the teller before close of work in the bank are fast becoming a thing of the past. These days customers want and expect more. Technology under proper alignment with regulation and conduct helps banks to do just that. Collaboration and making smart investments in technology is crucial to be the right financial partner to customers in the future of banking.
What has been the biggest surprise since your role as a Standard Chartered CEO?
I would say as much as our markets are different, the needs of our staff, clients and stakeholders are the same. Our clients want smart, easy and convenient banking solutions. Our staffs want support with growing capability, expertise and developing sterling careers. We view diversity and inclusion as a major strength of our business enabling us to provide innovative products and services to our clients, fulfil our purpose, and drive our future success. Our stakeholders want us to remain committed to our heritage and values which are clearly expressed in our brand promise – ‘Here for good’.