How FBC bank is disrupting the Zimbabwean banking sector with technological ingenuity and fintech collaboration

|May 19|magazine17 min read

In no industry can digital transformation be seen better than in the banking sector.

Swapping old cash for mobile wallets and e-payments, customers have increasingly embraced the simplicity and ease that digital banking brings and, in Africa, it is no secret that the continent’s high mobile phone penetration makes the region fertile for such a change.

Although it celebrated its 20th anniversary last year, FBC bank is a financial institution that has its feet firmly placed in the future.  

Banking in a digital age

A frontrunner in Zimbabwe’s digital banking landscape, locally-owned FBC is setting a precedent that digital and mobile banking is a critical chapter in the country’s future.

Zimbabwe’s banking market is evolving rapidly. The soaring growth of mobile financial services, specifically mobile wallets, has taken hold in the region as more and more consumers rely on their mobile phones.

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Not only does this offer a more streamlined model of banking, it is also accelerating financial inclusion.

The African country has also uniquely switched over to a multi-currency system – using the South African Rand, the US dollar, Euro and more. For the local economy, using this system for everyday transactions can be understandably difficult.

With the rise of mobile use and an unconventional currency model, Agrippa Mugwagwa, Executive Director of Group Retail Banking & e-commerce, says that this is where FBC’s digital services offer a transparent solution.

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“We’ve seen an upsurge in terms of usage of mobile banking, internet banking, and mobile wallets in the market,” he explains. “In fact, last year 96% of around $98bn, went through electronic platforms, according to the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe.

“This change in the market presented us an opportunity to become an innovative and dynamic financial sector player,” he continues. “Now, everybody wants bank cards. Everybody wants mobile banking and mobile wallets. It gives them the flexibility they need to transact across the market and, as a bank, we adopted open banking early. We foresaw the migration of payments from physical cash to electronic and have embraced the shift to digital banking.”

Collaboration with fintechs

Open banking is the next step in the digital banking revolution. By shaking up the traditional, insular nature of banking, this system allows banks to collaborate and learn from fintechs in the market.

In Zimbabwe, FBC is keen to leverage this change to transform the banking landscape and, more importantly, enhance its customers' experience.

Keen to tap into this digital shift, FBC is collaborating closely with leading fintech companies to offer disruptive digital technologies such as application programme interfaces (APIs).

“At FBC we are focusing on opening up our ecosystems,” Mugwawa explains. “As banks, we are designed more for process and stability. We don't move with speed, but this is something which fintechs can offer. They have speed, agility and expertise around data. They’ve also got a free-spirited approach to innovation. This move to open banking facilitates integration with these third parties. At FBC, we collaborate a lot and this is mutually beneficial for the bank, the fintechs and customers alike.”

From bricks-and-mortar to online

Embracing the open banking ecosystem is one matter, but FBC is also making waves in the sector by moving away from traditional brick-and-mortar branches to become a digitally-engaged, digitally-focused brand.  

 “We are moving slowly away from the brick-and-mortar model because of the change in the demographic, whereby millennials or digital natives are becoming the dominant consumer of financial services,” says Mugwawa

“They don't have much interest in using brick-and-mortar models,” he adds. “They are quite happy to use their devices to engage and transact with the bank. They prefer conversational banking via instant messaging. Hence, we are also looking at new innovations around artificial intelligence and around chatbots, for example. We are more integrated into our consumers’ lifestyle. It's not just about providing functionality. It’s about providing an experience.”

To facilitate this transformation, FBC has embraced the agent banking model and works closely with its partners – dedicated distributors for its financial services – who sell its cards, insurance products, transaction and payments.

“This also means we now have a better reach,” Mugwawa highlights, “especially in some of the places where it would have been viable for us to set up a branch.”

Putting the customer first

In many aspects, FBC shrewdly foresaw the shift towards digital banking long before some of its competitors. As such, the company has tirelessly worked to revamp its technologies, deploy point of sale infrastructure and integrated its bank with mobile wallets.  

With technological ingenuity, FBC is accelerating its digital banking and e-commerce portfolio to offer services like no other. However, amidst this impressive transformation, one thing has remained the same – the company’s commitment to its customers.

“What has changed the most and what has been most defining about us diverting technology is the level of customer engagement,” comments Mugwagwa. “Through multiple platforms we have availed the customer with access to the bank. We have built a 24-hour call centre which uses channels such as email, SMS, web chats, mobile and even WhatsApp to engage with our customers.

“We've ensured that our response times are timely and we’re also looking at embracing the new technologies to even make our platforms even more efficient. So, if you look at the volume and traffic of engagement that has come through all these multiple platforms, it is a rapid increase from what we used to have 10 years ago.

“The customer is confident that the bank has got their back because we are there to support them, meet their requirements, and respond to their queries in a timely manner when issues arise,” he adds. “We've also embraced social media in terms of customer engagement, and because of this I think the customer feels now they've got a bigger voice.”

Inclusive, innovative, disruptive

At FBC, customer engagement has remained at the forefront of its agenda and, therefore, the Zimbabwe bank is also keen to include customers who have often been forgotten by financial institutions.

“Financial inclusion is an important issue at FBC,” Mugwawa says. “As a result, our bank has set up an SME division that addresses the needs and requirements of smaller businesses. We are also working to support specific demographics such as women and young people so that they can enter the mainstream economy through advisor support, an extension of credit, or other activities that help them realise their entrepreneurial dreams. On top of that, the use of our various electronic channels that have moved banking from the urban centres and opened it up to the countryside.”

The Zimbabwean economy has undergone some difficult times but, as a result, FBC has adapted and evolved to become one of the most innovative and disruptive banks in the market. The Zimbabwean bank has astutely positioned itself as a market leader in digital service and e-commerce, and as inward investment into the country grows, it seems FBC is set to continue on its upward trajectory.

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