Steward Bank retrenches workers

Steward Bank CEO, Mr Courage Mashavave
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HARARE – Steward Bank, Zimbabwe’s largest bank by customer base, says it is reviewing its structures and operations to adapt to technological changes in a move that will see the institution rationalise its staffing levels, resulting in about 20 percent of its workforce being retrenched.

The latest development comes as Zimbabwe’s entire banking sector has been streamlining its workforce over the past two years following huge investments in technology, as well as in response to the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on the sector.

In a communication to staff that has been seen by this publication, the bank’s chief executive officer, Mr Courage Mashavave, said the reduction in the number of employees followed the deployment of the bank’s new core banking system and its on-going digital transformation, which had optimised the bank’s operational processes and rendered some roles redundant.

“Following the successful deployment of the new core banking system, the bank has done an assessment of the impact of the system upgrade on operational efficiency and aligning organisational structures to the strategic vision of the organisation.

“The digital transformation brought about by the system upgrade has, therefore, streamlined a lot of processes and optimised the organisational structure.

“Regrettably, as part of the restructuring programme, the bank will be forced to retrench redundant roles,” Mr Mashavave said, adding that the process would allow the bank to align with “industry staffing benchmarks”.

At least about 700 people are in the employ of Steward Bank. Steward Bank, EcoCash Holdings Zimbabwe Limited’s banking unit, in April last year completed a multi-million-dollar core banking system upgrade from R11 to R19 and in the process modernised its supporting infrastructure to create capacity for growth and enhance operational efficiencies “by streamlining and automating processes to improve customer experience,” according to Mr Mashavave.

“The bank will walk this entire journey with staff, in liaison with the works council (workers and management committees) and respective stakeholders, to ensure that there is clarity and transparency in the process, and that the potential impact of the change on affected staff is mitigated as much as possible,” Mr Mashavave said.

Over the past few months the banking industry in Zimbabwe has seen several banks, such as CBZ, Stanbic and Standard Chartered, among others, implementing similar staff rationalisation and restructuring exercises, including staff reductions, branch optimisations and an increased reliance on digital capabilities. In March last year, Stanbic Bank told its employees that while the bank’s retrenchment process was regrettable, “it has become very necessary”.

“It has become common cause at the bank that digitisation was one of the bank’s key focus areas that we implemented in order to give the bank a competitive edge in addition to achievement of objectives related to client centricity and interrogation,” Stanbic said at the time.

“The bank’s continued drive to digitalise the business since 2014 has resulted in over 95 percent of its transactions going through our digital platforms as well as a change in customer behaviours as they interact with the bank through its various digital channels.

This digitisation effort has significantly improved efficiencies and has afforded clients opportunities to engage in banking activities at their convenience,” the bank said.

CBZ Holdings CEO, Blessing Mudavanhu, whose bank recently went through a business reorganisation, including staff rationalisation, said at the time the group’s operations and the manner in which it serves its customers and clients had changed significantly as a result of digital platforms and automation.

“The group is undertaking a comprehensive review and reorganisation of its structures and business operating model in line with changes in the corporate landscapes and the way we do business,” CBZ said in letters sent out to affected staff in September last year.

“Owing to the nature and purpose of the review and reorganisation of structures and business operating model, the group can no longer retain your service as a permanent employee or as a shift or short term employee,” the bank wrote to affected staff.

More than 500 employees have lost their jobs in Zimbabwe’s financial services sector between 2020 and 2021, and indications are that more job losses could be looming in the country’s banking sector, as the industry intensifies its transition to digital banking platforms. – Herald