A conversation with Mukwandi Chibesakunda, Chief Executive, Natsave Bank, Zambia

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LM:

My Leader, Congratulations on your appointment as Chief Executive, Natsave Bank, Zambia, what does this mean for you ?

MC:

Thank you, My Leader.

I feel honoured by the trust and confidence bestowed in me through the leadership role that I have been given with great potential to impact the Zambian people. Natsave is very close to the hearts of many Zambians due to its wide reach in remote areas and as the pioneer of financial inclusion in the country. It is an absolute privilege and responsibility to serve in this role which has given me an opportunity to add impetus to the dynamic team with a clear mandate to attain sustainable goals and bring about prosperity in Zambia.

LM:

Tell us more about the Natsave Bank, its size, reach and history?

MC:

The National Savings and Credit Bank (NATSAVE) is a 100% Government owned Developmental Financial Institution established in 1972 by an Act of Parliament. NATSAVE is authorized to accept deposits, operate savings schemes, provide loans as well as administer any other form of banking business. NATSAVE was essentially created to address the financial services provision gap for Zambians particularly as relates to financial inclusion.

The bank has evolved since then and is currently one of the preferred financial services institutions, particularly in the rural parts of the country. The bank has expended its geographical presence and delivery channels to circa 300,000 clients served through a network of 38 branches, 3 money windows, 31 Automated Teller Machines and 48 Agencies operating on Point of Sale devices (POS). Natsave is currently the only bank providing financial services to respective populations in 16 remote districts in Zambia. NATSAVE products and services has a focus on marginalized segments such as women and youth. With the technological revolution, the bank has now embarked on the introduction of various affordable digital solutions such as mobile banking and internet banking.

LM:

What are the challenges that currently face the bank?

MC:

The bank as any other business faces various a myriad of challenges. Firstly, the huge presence in rural areas means the bank faces operational difficulties in view of poor road and other communication infrastructure.  The business model was also hitherto less commercial in nature, hence creating sustainability insufficiencies.

LM:

As a leader, how do you retain the best of the bank’s ethos and traditions while bringing about change?

MC:

NATSAVE has some heavily inculcated historical ethos and traditions – some good, and some not so good.

As a new leader my role is to ensure that we build on what’s working, and fuse in a base which will support the cultural positives and ensure that what we are trying to achieve going forward through alignment in line with my clear vision for the future is implemented.

LM:

What competitive advantages does Natsave have over other banks in the market?

MC:

The simple fact that NATSAVE is 100% owned by the Government of Zambia creates an inherent strength and resilience in the organization. Furthermore, I have been impressed with the extent to which clients are loyal to the brand locally. The wide branch spread can be an advantage despite the advent of alternative channels. NATSAVE also has some fairly unique product offerings such as a refugee savings product which truly includes the most excluded in our society. It is a Bank with a heart for the people.

LM:

The first few months in a CEO role are quite difficult, how did you spend your first 100 days?

MC:

It’s actually interesting to look back on my first 100 days in this role – the reflection has actually brought a smile to my face. Having spent most of my working life in the Private Sector, the first thing I had to do was to understand the organization and various stakeholders I had to deal with. Thereafter we jointly embarked on an interesting Corporate Governance and Growth Journey which included implementing an Enterprise Risk Management Framework and setting up of the Vision, Strategy, Policies, and Board Charters. The entity required some Organizational Redesign which has since been largely concluded with a few critical staff additions. The journey has definitely been worthwhile and we can already see some tangible results.

LM:

What are the key trends in the Zambia banking market and how do you think banks are responding to them?

MC:

Actually the multi-dimensional trends today are much more global than local. The fourth industrial revolution in particular has an impact on alternative channel and payment options such as the mobile first trend, advent of crypto currency, augmented reality, new risk profiles and changing regulatory frameworks. In my opinion Banks are responding a little late, but at least we can see a shift in the Zambian market. Most importantly, consumer expectations are racing, and we all need to adjust and leap frog to catch up and stay ahead.

LM:

How are you tackling Financial Inclusion in Zambia without more costly bricks and mortar?

MC:

There has never been a better time to have a Financial Inclusion Agenda. Delivery channels are opening up through lower the cost to serve models enabled by technological partnerships. The challenge is one of making the right choices of these strategic partnerships, as well as timing and investment, considering the various opportunities available.

LM:

There is a battle for talent out there, how do you plan to attract, retain and nurture the best talent to be part of the NATSAVE bank story?

MC:

Success is defined by the ability of any organization to attract and retain the best talent, and that is a key building block for us at NATSAVE. Perhaps the best response to competition is to complement the externally sourced capabilities with internal ones. Often times, some internal talent is overlooked, and I am determined to ensure that this is prioritized in NATSAVE – that we train and develop our staff to be the best that they can ever be. Various incentives and motivation tools are being applied to achieve this.

LM:

What are your best leadership memories, and what lessons will you take with you of those experiences?

MC:

One of my best leadership memories actually comes from you, Mr. Lincoln Mali, My Leader! You may not recall a leadership conversation we had a long time ago, when you emphasized that we are in control of our destiny much more than we give ourselves credit for. It was a mix between critical thinking and taking responsibility – I have never looked back!

LM:

Do you have bad leadership memories that you experienced in your career that you would not want others to experience under your leadership?

MC:

None that I can recall, off the top of my head.

LM:

What is your personal leadership philosophy and style?

MC:

My personal philosophy and style is based on mutual trust and transparency in teams. I believe in an honest day’s work and perhaps naively I believe in the goodness of man and woman, until they prove otherwise.

LM:

What challenges have you faced as a senior woman executive in the banking sector?

MC:

The honest truth is that it’s still a man’s world out there but there is a window open for us to get in. As women executives we often work harder than our colleagues, and we have minimal support through any challenges, but it can only get better for the next generation as we continue to prove ourselves, and lay the ground work for the future leaders.

LM:

What kind of environment should leaders create for women to thrive in our corporates?

MC:

A trustworthy environment which recognizes that women are equal partners who are ready for growth opportunities based on merit and hard work.

LM:

What are the challenges facing the Zambian economy, what are the key things that the government should do to enable the economy to grow faster?

MC:

Key challenges include copper dependency, high inflation, high cost of living, and slow economic growth, increasing inequality, youth unemployment and urbanization. Various measures have been put in place through the 7th National Development Plan to diversify the economy and create employment, stimulate growth, improve income distribution and bring about development in rural areas to curb urbanization.

LM:

One of my favorite books was written by a prominent Zambian, it’s title was, “ Nothing wrong with Africa, except …. Leadership “. How do we nurture a new type of leader in both the public and private sector that will help propel Africa towards a new dawn?

MC:

Africa is by and large a product of its history and some structural context which requires addressing. Perhaps as a start we should change our own narrative first.

LM:

Will Natsave partner or compete with Fintechs ?

MC:

Part of a large pie is better than the whole of a small one or even none. Competition for the sake of it can be destructive and today’s business is largely complementary. NATSAVE welcomes all partnerships beneficial to the institution, and Fintechs in Africa are leading in the digital evolution – strategic partnerships with them can be beneficial in achieving scale quickly.

LM:

You have served in a number of boards as a director, what are the key corporate governance issues companies face today?

MC:

Corporate Governance is the foundation of any organization and must be taken very seriously. I have noted that most corporates struggle with the implementation of the Governance Structures, beyond just having them documented on paper.

LM:

How can we instill a deeper ethical culture in our young leaders to protect them from the downfall and humiliation of a corporate scandal or corruption?

MC:

It’s a decision that we as a society must take that our young leaders must be raised with integrity. Corruption is just not worth it.

LM:

What role should banks play in the socio economic development of Zambia?

MC:

Banks are a critical catalyst in the fabric of economic growth through their financial intermediation role. The financial sector can stimulate and accelerate economic growth and development through mobilizing deposits for onward lending, foreign exchange stabilization, capital markets transactions for developmental projects as well as lending to SMEs which are the building blocks of any economy. It’s a serious stewardship role with a commercial benefit.

Part 2

LM:

Tell us a bit about your early years on a farm, how are those experiences helpful for you ?

MC:

I believe that those early years on the farm gave me a work ethic which I still live by today. This also nurtured my decision making and problem solving abilities, whilst also teaching me patience to wait for the harvest.

LM:

Who were your role models or people who inspired you as you grew up?

MC:

My Parents remain my primary role models. My Father was a mathematician who has been recognized for his role in laying the foundation for Statistics in Zambia. My Mother was the most loving person I ever knew.

LM:

What are your core values, and how have these been shaped and molded over the years?

MC:

As a devout Catholic and member of St Ignatius Church in Zambia, I am quite a private person and I spend most of my free time with my family. I believe in honesty, and integrity in everything I do. I actually considered joining the Sisters of Charity when I finished school – my father told me he would agree if I didn’t change my mind after university – that was the end of that story! However, I think it formed a base for my character that most people don’t immediately see or maybe even understand.

LM:

How valuable is your faith on your life journey?

MC:

I have stayed consistent in my faith, which I believe has carried me through the good times and the bad. God is always there like footsteps in the sand.

LM:

What was the lowest moment in your life or career, and what pulled you through, and what lessons did you learn about yourself?

MC:

My philosophy on low moments is that they are always an opportunity for growth, so I don’t dwell on them much. Suffice to say that faith in God can carry you through anything, and there is always a silver lining in every cloud.

LM:

You are seen as an amazing role model by many women, what is your responsibility as a role model?

MC:

I think the biggest responsibility of any role model is to be aware of the impact of actions which speak louder than words. People are always watching, and those so inspired will do what you do so the challenge is to always act responsibly if not only for ourselves for the others who look up to us.

LM:

What values are you instilling in your children?

MC:

My husband and I always joke about how there is no rehearsal for parenting so we are learning as we go. We encourage our children to be honest, diligent, and place God first in their lives. The rest will take care of itself.

LM:

How have you balanced your hectic schedule with your role as a loving wife and a doting Mum?

MC:

The struggle for work life balance is real, and sometimes one has to lean more towards family and sometimes more towards work depending on the need. There must be a conscious effort to achieve some consistency such as doing the school run and keeping some family moments as sacred.

LM:

What programs are you involved in your community?

MC:

I’m quite passionate about the girl child, so when I can, I assist with some programs based on a girl child orphan organization where I once served as a board member. You can never do enough but hopefully we are making a difference one life at a time.

LM:

What advice would you give to your 21 year old self?

MC:

Be intentional and less trusting – there are sharks out there!

LM:

Thank you so much My Leader, your personal and life journey will inspire so many young leaders across the continent. 

MC:

It’s my pleasure, My Leader, I should thank you for this opportunity.