A conversation with Chijioke Chinedu Charles, Branch Manager of Stanbic IBTC Bank Plc Alaba Nigeria

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CC:

The importance of digitization in Banking today cannot be overemphasized. No wonder African banks are embracing digitization as it has been seen to help serve and retain existing customers, and help solve easily, otherwise complex problems. However, I believe we can do so much more with digitization. For example, statements for embassies are stamped and signed online, without the customer visiting the bank. Mails can be sent to customers appreciating them and suggesting alternative channels immediately they transact over the counter, etc. What will assist us in consistently reeling out new and brilliant innovative ways of serving customers, and remain top of this digitization chain?

LM:

I fully agree with you, much more can, should and will be done to drive digitization to another level. The advert of cloud computing, artificial intelligence, robotics technologies, augmented reality, data management and other new digital technologies have changed the landscape for financial institutions. They now have a broad range of innovations they can deliver to clients to make banking simpler, better, faster and cheaper. I would, however, caution against 5 important tendencies to avoid: 

Firstly, innovators and technical people often come up with the latest innovations, but sometimes completely forget about the customers, they then try and implement these innovations to a reluctant customer base, with lots of ineffective adoption plans. The key is to always try and align the innovations to real customer pain points, then use digital innovations to address these pain points. In such cases, banks will have very little adoption challenges. 

Secondly; some banks want to develop all innovations in-house. This is challenging at two levels- most banks may not have all the expertise to drive the innovations alone and secondly these may consume scarce resources for a long time with projects that run over at great cost. The phenomenal growth in financial technology organizations or Fintechs offers banks an opportunity to partner with Fintechs to drive innovation. The relationship works much better when it’s mutually beneficial, with the Fintechs bringing the latest technology, innovation and agility whilst the banks bring in scale, a customer base, trusted brands, rich data and a customer base. Mastering this relationship has seen many banks deliver these innovations faster and more cost effectively than doing it by themselves. 

Thirdly, some banks will invest heavily in innovation and technological change over a protracted period. Sometimes these projects are driven by technology people or product or marketing people without a keen eye on the commercials. This means that the commercial viability of the project is in jeopardy. The innovation may be offered for free to the client or at a very low fee, which cannot offset the costs of the development of the innovation or product. 

Fourthly, the silo mind-set in some organizations create a chasm between innovators and the risk management people within an organisation. In done cases, the innovators produce products and services that introduce huge risks to the bank and customers or in other cases, the risk management teams become an effective block to innovation. Those banks that have mastered the agile methodology do much better as they involve the risk and compliance people quite early in the projects and they co create innovative products that have robust risk management capability. 

Lastly, one of the mistakes of organizations is to develop amazing innovative products, market them well in the market, but find that the last cog in the wheel, the staff are not on board. This is a huge problem, an innovative culture includes the broadest base of staff members to be part of the innovative journey – they come up with new ideas, they become involved in the testing of products and become the first users when products are launched. 

If you attend to the 5 points I’ve mentioned, there is no reason why your organization cannot consistently reel out new and brilliant innovative ways of serving customers, and remain top of this digitization chain. 

CC:

In most African states, youths have often time been cut off by policies that inhibit their inert potentialities especially by the political class. How do you think that this situation can be changed which will inadvertently lead to a paradigm shift where this hindered talents can be harnessed and appropriately channelled in order to tinker the development of Africa and the corporate clime?

LM:

Africa needs change, it has to bring in new and fresh ideas about how it will reach its goals. Many of the past policies have yielded very little return. This compounded by the quality and calibre of leaders we have had over the last 20 years or so. Many of them, have plundered our resources, engaged in grandiose self-enriching schemes, stashed cash in overseas bank accounts, misappropriated funds for development and enlisted young people as child soldiers in wars about resources and power. 

Africa needs new leaders, leaders who would focus on a number of key things that may change Africa’s trajectory: 

  • A huge investment in our human capacity, particularly young people, to give young people the necessary skills to compete in a new world order; 
  • Diversifying our economies to other industries and end our over reliance on commodities; 
  • Huge investment in agriculture production and to create market access for farmers; 
  • Create intra Africa trading opportunities to unleash the potential in our economies; and lastly; 
  • Prepare our young people for the changes that will be brought about by the Fourth Industrial Revolution 

Writing in Feb 2015, I argued that those of us who seek to be the midwives of an African Renaissance beyond the “easy headline”, the “catchy soundbite” or social media activism, must accept the responsibility to create the conditions necessary for Africa to rise. Our inaction will inevitably result in Africa faltering. That means we must, in the words of Al Gore, “come to believe in hope over despair, striving over resignation and faith over cynicism.”

A great Ivorian proverb says: “The outsider doesn’t know the path through the calabash trees.” 

In other words, Chinedu, we know our continent better than others; it is our responsibility to be the primary movers in the rebirth of our continent, with help and support from others. The future we create must and should be a future of our own making. The inescapable fact is that this is our responsibility; no-one else’s.

This time, this moment in Africa’s history, requires what Robert F Kennedy described in his seminal speech at a Nusas seminar in Cape Town in 1966:

“This world demands the qualities of youth; not a time of life but a state of mind, a temper of the will, a quality of the imagination, a predominance of courage over timidity, of the appetite for adventure over the love of ease.”

He went on to say: “‘There is,’ said an Italian philosopher, ‘nothing more difficult to take in hand, more perilous to conduct, or more uncertain in its success than to take the lead in the introduction of a new order of things.’ 

Yet this is the measure of the task of your generation, and the road is strewn with many dangers.”

Chinedu, Africa cries out for man and women of great promise, who are willing to take on the Herculean task of changing the fortunes of a continent, who are prepared to take steps, however small, to change our trajectory and who are willing to stand up for their ideals regardless of the difficulties they may face. There is no shortage of people who profess to have these qualities, who confess to a desire to bring about change, but fewer and fewer are taking any steps towards this noble goal.

CC:

What is your take on personal development, self-awareness and leadership especially as a tool to be used in moving the frontiers of PAN Africanism?

LM:

Many years ago I worked for the Minister of Education, Prof SME Bengu, who was part of Nelson Mandela’s cabinet. One day we were working in Port Elizabeth, my home town. The Minister suggested that he would visit my home, as we had a few hours before our flight back to Johannesburg. I was surprised by this as he was a government minister, I was only his aide, but the Minister insisted. I then called my mother, who was horrified and thought she had time to clean the house and organize special food befitting of a Minister. She then called my father, who was retired from where he was with friends. 

My father and the Minister then spoke about education for about an hour, then my father said something that floored me, and surprised the Minister. He said, Dear Minister, why do you employ an uneducated person in the Education Department?” I can assure you Mr Mali, all our employees are highly educated, skilled and experienced “, responded the Minister. “ What about this one, he has not studied since he left university?” The Minister has no response to this, he promised to ensure that I further my studies. 

My father instilled in me the concept of lifelong learning and a lifetime commitment to personal development and self-awareness. I have been able to do this through the following actions: 

  • I have furthered my studies in various universities in South Africa and abroad culminating in an MBA from the Henley Management College ( UK) and an Advanced Programme in Management AMP from the Harvard Business School; 
  • Learning new tools, skills and content in different roles I’ve played ; 
  • Learning to manage across different cultures and  learning more about each country and its unique experiences; 
  • Learning from feedback from my colleagues and teams about my leadership behaviours. 

In a public lecture I gave at the Bayero University ( BUK) i argued strongly that Africa’s time has arrived. I further argued that its people are ready to take their place among the community of nations and that its youth stands ready to embrace the new age. 

All we need now are men and women of the highest calibre to lead us into the new dawn. These are men and women drawn from the religious, cultural, academic, government, business and civil society. Through lifelong learning, personal development and self-awareness, a new leadership will emerge to lead Africa’s renewal. What will distinguish them is what the well-known South African public intellectual and commentator Songezo Zibi described as “rational, transcendent leadership.” Such leadership is “either unburdened by the dogmas of the past or able to manage them effectively.”  It is such leadership that can reach out to others, make principled compromises, build towards a greater future and always strive for broader rather than narrow interests. Africa’s time has come, it is the right leaders who will take it to the next level, 

CC:

In a growing and competitive corporate ecosystem, and demand for performance on a young employee, what Strategies do you think can be employed in helping a young employee be mentored towards ascending the ranks?

LM:

I think young people have career goals and ambitions, and each one of them wants to succeed in their careers. This is a competitive environment out there and there is no guarantee of success. There are, however, a number of key critical success factors that give more young people a better opportunity to succeed and ascend the ranks. These critical success factors are; 

  • A positive attitude is one of the most important attributes of successful people I have worked with and observed in my career over 25 years across many countries; 
  • Hard work is really an old school attribute that has lasted through the years. Those who are hardworking and diligent are always well considered for promotion and good assignments; 
  • Teamwork is highly underestimated, but those who excel for themselves at the expense of the team, are unlikely to be considered leadership or promotion material. What most organizations look for are highly talented performers who are team players; 
  • A track record in performance is one of the most important attributes required for growth and success; and 
  • Taking the initiative and being proactive is also a very good attribute for young people looking for opportunities and lastly 
  • Adaptability is very critical in an ever changing world. 

When leaders gather to consider appointments or promotions, various names come out for consideration. Candidates who have a positive attitude, work hard, are proven team player, have a track record, take initiative and are adaptable have been given more chances for promotion, new assignments and learning and development opportunities. 

It does happen sometimes that a candidate may see him or herself as being suitable for a role, but the leaders may see him or herself differently. In such cases, it may be either the candidate is not being honest with him or herself or he or she has not been able to make these attribute visible to leaders. The answer does not lie in sulking or withdrawing from engagement, the answer lies in a deep reflection about where you may have shortcoming, seek feedback and then work on those areas of development. 

CC:

Have you ever feel inadequate in any role you’ve occupied, if yes? What is the role and how did you came out of it. Have you ever failed in any position? How did you deal with it if is YES?

LM:

I have felt inadequate in most roles I have taken on, this is because most have been roles that stretched me or that were beyond my comfort zone. The role that comes to mind is my current role, which was totally unexpected, was very technical and was out of my comfort zone of areas of strength. I had a team of deep specialists with over 20 years’ experience in Card and Payments. There were a number of challenges the business faced mainly in its biggest market South Africa. Working with the team, I got to understand the key drivers of the business, the changes required and the actions needed to bring about the change. The most difficult time were probably the first 6 months to a year where I had to learn and lead at the same time. Such a time require a person to assimilate lots of information, to trust the people you work with whilst having an independent mind, the humility to accept that you do not know a lot and may never have time to know all the technical parts of the business, knowing which people could help you turn around the business. The most important part was to involve the team in the identification of opportunities and challenges and creating a common vision. I am happy to say that after a 3 year process, we are performing way beyond expectations and the business has fully recovered and is poised to do even greater things. 

The moral of the story is that, it happens a lot that you have fears when taking on a new role, a new assignment or when you are promoted. It’s important to understand the following things: 

  • Those who appointed you believe in you and would not have appointed you if they did not trust you or believe in you; 
  • There are colleagues and leaders you can lean on for support during these times; 
  • Do not allow your uncertainty to cloud your judgement, influence your relationship with your team and to be reckless in your decisions; 
  • Work through this uncertainly by working with your team to co create a better business and future ; and 
  • Make sure that your body language and leadership behaviour does not create panic and uncertainty within the whole team. 

Gone are the days of “ command and control” or “ hero leaders” or “ Lone Ranger leaders “ – therefore a leader’s success really depends on the level of engagement with his or her team and other stakeholders. 

I have been fortunate that I have not yet had an outright failure in any position, partly because my career has been a combination of being surrounded by some of the most brilliant and most talented people with whom I’ve won more battles than lost. There have been, however, lots of mistakes and setbacks in my career. In such situations it’s been hard, you begin to doubt yourself, you feel the judgement from others, and you feel you have let yourself and others down. In all those times, without exception, I have received tremendous support from colleagues, line managers, family and friends. When you dig deep, you find an inner strength, you trust God almighty, you become closer to your team, you introspect and look at the failure in a cold and sober manner to examine what would have gone wrong. In those cases where I have had a part in the failure, or where I was the cause of the failure, I have had to own up and take accountability. 

Let me use one example to illustrate my point: 

Many years ago, I was the Head of the Gauteng Province for Standard bank. The bank made a decision to centralize all telephones lines in branches into a central call centre. In the haste to execute and implement this new strategy, we overlooked the fact that there were about 10 blind staff members who were telephone receptionists in branches. Our decision cost them a lot of pain, anguish and anxiety. They eventually reached out to me and set up a meeting to discuss their plights. When they described the pain, inconvenience, frustration and humiliation they suffered, i felt so low. I knew I should have known about this, I should have dealt with it, and I’m accountable as the head of the business. Working with these amazing staff members, we created the right space, training, access, space for their dogs in the call centre. I learnt a lot from that experience and I am happy that those colleagues have had years of success in the call centre and we have kept in touch whenever I go to the Call centre. Every setback or failure is an opportunity to introspect, to re learn, to start afresh, to be a better person and a better leader. 

CC:

What do you wish you would have known about leadership in your late teens and is there any book that has impacted your leadership more than any other?

LM:

Leadership is not a position held, but an influence felt. I truly wish I understood that in my late teens, and my father was there to demonstrate that to me every day. It’s only in my late 20’s that I fully realized that a leader has to influence others to action and allow themselves to also be influenced. I hope more young people would fully understand this much more earlier than I did. I see people, across our continent, with no titles nor positions, influence across a large segment of society – these are true leaders of our society. Some of them are teachers, priests, imams, doctors, etc. they lead communities to tackle challenges every day. On the other hand, there are some, who hold the fanciest titles, and most elevated positions who are not leading at all, but only occupy these positions for their narrow and selfish interests. 

“The Leadership Challenge “by James Kouzes and Barry Posner is the book that has had the biggest impact on my leadership journey. Like Kouzes and Posner I firmly believe that leadership is learned, not something one is born with, it can be done by both introverts nor extroverts. 

CC:

When faced with two great opportunities, how do you decide which one to go with?

LM:

This is a hard one because it depends on the opportunity and your interests and ambitions. The only advice I could give is the following: 

  • Are you sure what criteria you want to use to judge opportunities? 
  • Are you sure what is more important to you in assessing opportunities?
  • Are you aware of what your own unconscious biases may be that may sway you one way or the other? 
  • Are there other advisors, be it families, friends or colleagues, who will help you with the decision, if so what is their bias?

In the end, one has to make a cold, sober and dispassionate assessment of the opportunities, eliminate all biases and make a final decision. After making the decision, you execute on it without going back to what could have been. That’s the way I make decisions. 

CC:

Do you think there is reason to be optimistic for entrepreneurship in Africa? What enabling environment do you think that African governments need to especially provide to aid entrepreneurship in Africa?

LM:

I think there is reason for optimism as new industries are opening up, customers are becoming more demanding and some of the constraints on businesses are slowly changing. Entrepreneurs with a great business model, 

  • Can disrupt current players 
  • Can focus on pain points of clients that incumbents cannot solve; 
  • Can use the latest technologies to compete and to offer innovative solutions to clients; 
  • Can take advantage of intra African trade 

Entrepreneurs need governments and other stakeholders to go beyond lip service to concrete steps aimed at creating an enabling environment for entrepreneurs. The key components of that enabling environment would include:

  • Reduce the red tape in opening businesses; 
  • Reduce regulations that strangle innovation and growth in the sector; 
  • Promote access to markets; 
  • Enable access to finance ; 
  • Create non-financial support for entrepreneurs; 
  • Improve the use of technology to make entrepreneurs to be more competitive and 
  • Change other policy and regulations on such things as taxation, employment rules etc.

CC:

The Standard Bank Group is known to be the largest bank in Africa, boasting a lifespan of over 150 years. To achieve this, the Group must have overcome both internal and external challenges. The African continent is made up of mostly third world countries; the banking industry has suffered various disasters in many African countries, with the crumble of 2008 (economic meltdown) etc. an example in Nigeria. So hearing from one bank as SBG that has enjoyed long years of success, what can we say is the BIGGEST THREAT TO THE GOING CONCERN OF BANKS IN AFRICA?

LM:

I think that it’s a huge blessing that Standard bank has been a success across Africa over 150 years. This is credit to the generations of wonderful staff members, leaders and customers who have been part of the Standard bank story. As much as we are blessed by this great history, it’s important to remember that there are great companies that either failed or did not adapt: 

  • Xerox
  • Kodak 
  • Nokia 
  • GE
  • Yahoo
  • IBM 

These were great companies, with some of the most talented leaders in the corporate world, unfortunately they did not respond to changing circumstances. The Nokia CEO ended his speech at a conference by saying this “we didn’t do anything wrong, but somehow, we lost”. Upon saying that, all his management team, himself included, teared sadly.

Nokia has been a respectable company, it is true that they didn’t do anything wrong in their business, however, the world changed too fast around them. In addition to this, their opponents were too powerful, nimble and forward thinking. 

Those companies missed out on learning, they also missed out on changing, and thus they lost the opportunity at hand to make it big. In the words of Rahul Gupta, the key lessons for current players, across the industries, are: 

  • The advantage you have yesterday, will be replaced by the trends of tomorrow. You don’t have to do anything wrong, as long as your competitors catch the wave and do it RIGHT, you can lose out and fail.
  • To change and improve yourself is giving yourself a second chance. To be forced by others to change, is like being discarded.
  • Those who refuse to learn & improve, will definitely one day become redundant & not relevant to the industry. They will learn the lesson in a hard & expensive way.

Standard bank, like other big players must take note of the following key changes: 

  • The rapid growth of Fintechs focused on payments and other banking services; 
  • Blockchain technologies ; 
  • changing customer preferences on personalization – this creates the segment of One ; 
  • Cloud computing and the growth of big platform organizations such as Amazon and Alibaba; 
  • Payment options presented by Alipay, Apple Pay, and Samsung pay etc. 
  • Financial services options in Facebook, WhatsApp and Google 
  • Data as the new oil in the world of business; and 
  • New Risk’s such cybercrime etc. 

Standard bank needs to remain nimble, agile, and innovative to survive across different markets in Africa, with different economic and business challenges. 

CC:

In your post about making a difference, you mentioned that you have crystallized your life mission and your response to Prof Christensen’s challenge will be “helping young leaders to grow, prosper and lead in a selfless, caring, ethical, responsive and inspiring manner across the African continent”….Is there anyone who you think has left a mark of success on this path, whom you would want to call a ROLE MODEL?

LM:

There are a lot of role models that are unsung heroes and heroines, who daily chart a path for young people across our beloved continent. The one person who did it on a large scale remains Nelson Mandela he has the stature and reach to do it from the confines of his small cell to when he came out of prison to when he became South Africa’s President. He used every speech, interaction, visit, television appearance to every country to inspire young people across Africa. I hope to lead other leaders of influence to reach out to young people, to make them buy into a more dynamic future. Each of one is must be the light that illuminates a path to success for young people across our continent. 

Jack Kennedy reminded us of the timeless words of Archimedes: “Give me a place to stand, and I will move the world.” He also pointed out: “The reality is that few will have the greatness to bend history itself, but each of us can work to change a small portion of events, and in the total of all those acts will be written the history of this generation.”

Each one of us, in our spheres of influence and in line with our capabilities and interests, can play a meaningful role in our families, communities, societies, countries or across the continent to bring about change. Such change will not come from one heroic action by one individual or a chosen few brave souls; change across our continent will come because “It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped,” again in Kennedy’s words.

Kennedy profoundly states, “Each time a man stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centres of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.” I urge all those who, like me, are moved by the plight of our continent, but may feel that your efforts would be futile, to start today to focus on one or a few areas of change that you may influence and concentrate on these with purpose, passion and determination. I assure you that each act will send forth those tiny ripples of hope Kennedy referred to.

CC:

Can you name a person who has had a tremendous impact on you as a leader? Maybe someone who has been a mentor to you? Why and how did this person impact your life?

LM:

I have had many people who have contributed to my life and career. My late father was my best mentor, he has been the North Star that has led me from childhood to now. I had the greatest privilege to learn at the feet of a giant. My father was selfless, honest, humble, kind, caring, engaging, authentic and stood up for his beliefs and principles regardless of the consequences. I learnt to treat everyone with respect and dignity regardless of status, culture or religion; to lead with both the heart and mind and to always people at the centre, to be humble in my behaviour, Inspiring my actions and inclusive in my decision making. 

CC:

Based on your vast experience in banking, what’s the best leadership style that can bring out the best result in my team considering the stiff competition in all areas of banking out there?

LM:

The important things I’ve found in leadership approach is to have the following key things I have tried to lead by in my long career: 

  • You have to be your authentic self and not a made up image of another, no matter how great it looks; 
  • You have to understand the people you lead, their ambitions, hopes, anxieties and fears in the most detailed manner( 
  • Co create a stately, vision or plan with them so that you align their interests towards those of the team and the overall organization; 
  • Vary your style depending on the needs of the situation; 
  • Celebrate publicly whilst you reprimand privately; 
  • Empower your teams so that they can learn and grow;
  • Lead with a heart, love your people and make them feel always loved and appreciated ; 
  • Take responsibility from problems and failures whilst giving credit to the team for successes; 
  • Be there for your staff members when they go through difficulties; 
  • Remain humble, visible and approachable; 
  • Always treat all your staff with respect and dignity regardless of their status, religion, culture, ethnic background, gender or position and 
  • Ensure that your staff have fun, are adequately remunerated and receive rewards and recognition for great achievements. 

In addition to these, try and avoid doing the following: 

  • Never have favourites, factions, cliques and victims in your team; 
  • Never be a leader of only those that belong to your race, tribe, or religion; 
  • Never use your staff to accomplish narrow ambitious goals; 
  • Never use the resources at your disposal to enrich yourself and 
  • Never ask your staff to do things that you yourself would not do. 

I hope this helps 

CC:

Thank you so much My Leader, your insights have been very valuable and a lot of people will benefit from your unique experiences. 

LM:

It is my pleasure My Leader 

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