Good management for the Banking Industry

Published on 17th May 2005

Traditionally, managers have built their careers by concentrating on specific disciplines such as investments, banking, management or marketing. That is good, but such specialization pales in comparison to the value that executives can generate when they fuse together insights from various fields into a cohesive whole. This explains why some managers have been able to achieve outstanding results in industries while others just can’t deliver.

Take the case of Vernon Hill, the President and CEO of Commerce Bancorp in Philadelphia demonstrates the value of importing new perspectives from a different discipline or industry. He broke every rule of banking to create one of the highest growth retail banks in the industry. Hill envisioned the company as a “retail that turned out to be a bank” and used this perspective to challenge the assumptions about banking. He emphasized convenience and superior service - opening seven days a week and offering free coin counting machines rather than focusing on lower rates and cost cutting.

At a time when larger banks believed that survival was only through mergers, Hill managed to grow his bank organically and like a retailer, grew one branch at a time. The McKinsey Quarterly advertising campaign emphasised on ‘No Stupid hours, no stupid rules’.

Isn’t this a fresh perspective that requires a manager who is not driven by MBA but some hidden potential? Is this the kind of management we are seeing in the local banking industry today? My answer is no.  Reason? To explain my argument, I will take you back a bit.  Do you remember the incidences in the 1990’s that led to the closure of Finance Bank, and the Euro Bank? These same situations are likely to recur as more and more banks are heading for the mergers due to liquidity crisis coupled with increased industry’s competitiveness.

Hill is quick to refute any plans by a manager to head for merger specialist in anticipation of a merger. He puts it forth that “no one needs a me too bank, everyone of us, everyday has to learn to create value, when you learn to create value, you have value”. This forms the basis to which industries have come to identify key personnel for the greatest ideas that have made business headlines and reshaped industries.

Nick Howard the CEO, Standard Bank gained an edge in the banking industry after the Smart Loan Structuring. Nick employed risk-sharing strategies by uniquely combining corporate and project finance and methods of political risk aversion to create one of the best public - private partnerships in the continent. The structure that he implemented has aided in the completion of the Pande and Temane Gas fields in Mozambique and the construction of an 865km pipeline to transport gas to Sasol Secunda plant in South Africa.

Many venture capitalists and banks would spend a fortune to retain such a person at the top position as its known- it only takes the success of one project to put a bank on top.

Sharazam Mazari, the Standard Chartered Banks MD for Africa has earned the bank its title “standard bearer for Africa”. Previously, he headed consumer Bank for Middle East and South Asian Regions (MESA), Consumer Bank in Singapore and other larger banks in Korea, Indonesia and Thailand. With his leadership style, Standard Chartered Bank has tapped both poor and rich borrowers. According to Mazari, Africa is the least understood continent in the world despite its huge potential. He captured his niche by steering the introduction of products fit for both lower and high income earners like lower charges, debit cards etc. In Kenya, the bank is popular for their USD 27million successful structured finance of the Kenya Pipeline Company.

Adan Mohammed head of Barclays, the largest bank in the continent, has barely held the CEO\'s seat for three years. To many, he is seen as a market zealot who has made great strides in regionalizing Barclays. The graduate of Harvard Business School is ready to take Barclays in East Africa to another level. Adan, who took over from Gareth George, at a time when best practice was only associated with expatriate management has proved many wrong and has become the embrace of many struggling CEOs in the Banking industry.

Driving back to the same old age, the time when Kenya Commercial Bank was slowly waning, under government’s management. Year after year, losses kept increasing until the appearance of Terry Davidson. With him, profits went up 2-fold, expansion plans have beaten all other banks to acquire it the largest branch network in Kenya. With him on board, KCB now rekindles a ray of glory and optimism. He also boasts the revival of Savings and Loan Kenya, a subsidiary of the KCB group.

Mrs. Nasim Devji, the MD of Diamond Trust Bank can be said to be the latest icon as far as Banks rejuvenation is concerned. After a period of shrinking revenues and a declining balance sheet, the bank refocused on its marketing objectives and introduced a strong performance culture.  It has now become a player in the EAC and besides that, Devji has also helped regain some old lost relations. Devji is known to have become the first woman CEO in Kenya and she argues that banks, other than interest income must find other sources of income to supplement lower interest margins. The truth lies in innovation, on what makes a good CEO, confidence, ability to build a strong capable team and also one who ensures that strategies are carried out successfully.

Managers undoubtedly need to expand their thinking in today’s environment. Franklin Allen, a Wharton professor in finance notes that even for someone investing in for example finance or banking, cross functional perspectives are important. “You just can’t look at the numbers, he adds, you need to understand what is behind the numbers, and if you want to be good at marketing, you have to understand finance, and how value is created.”

Africa still has its idols and more, if the right skills are envisaged it can get to that level. One way of achieving this is by assigning employees to work in different parts of the organizations throughout their careers.

This may sound risky - switching from one job to another in lines outside ones career. But the truth is, you never know how the world will be tomorrow and standing still may be the most risky strategy. To crown it all, broader insights and creative approaches are crucial.

What to do? Nevbauer concludes, “You have to integrate, triangulate and focus on the total gestalt of the problem you are trying to solve.”    










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