A Karachi-based banker receives the latest update on stocks from his counterpart in Hong Kong in a blink of an eye. That information is then relayed to a customer in Doha who then orders electronics made in Chengdu transported across the proposed CPEC route and then by sea on a bulker ship to its final destination. The breakneck pace and the astonishing volumes at which goods, information, and money move from one part of the world to another is conquering inhospitable terrains, exploring new sea lanes, defying traditional methods of communication, taking the world online, and exploiting untapped energies. Global interconnectedness through trade has always and is constantly determining, redesigning, and reshaping human life at a scale never imagined before. London shoppers buy garments made in Pakistan. Chinese watch American TV seasons. Arabs use software developed in Silicon Valley to instigate an earth shattering revolution. The overbearing influence of international trade on human lives is remarkable in the truest sense of the word. Both literally and otherwise, international trade is having a great impact on the way humans conducted life and business.But the idea of global interconnectedness is not new, in fact, it can be traced back to the time of Han Dynasty in 221 BCE when all of China came under one supreme rule. About the same time, the conquests of Alexander established a veritable contact between the Western and Eastern societies widening existing road networks and creating new trade routes. Over the course of next several centuries, a gigantic web of trade networks emerged which spanned continents drawing from China silk, tea, porcelain, and jade while gold and glass wares travelled from Rome, the western terminus of the famous Silk Road. Along the way, many items were picked up from many regions and local kingdoms of Middle East and India which eventually benefited the local populations also. The trade links formed along the breadth and width of the 5000 miles long Silk Road were commercial, cultural, technological, but also financial in nature. The goods, technologies, and even diseases of all kinds were exchanged; such was the power of international trade. Back then, the roads were long, treacherous, and unpredictable. And crossing the inhospitable terrains was incredibly dangerous but the huge demand for goods led to the creation of a complex web of trade networks which were duly supported by local financial moneylenders and money-exchangers backed by local governments and fiefdoms.The long-awaited revival of the old Silk Road (as enshrined in the One Belt, One Road Project of China) has the potential to genuinely alter the world economics like never before in history. This largest ever financial undertaking since the Marshall Plan by USA for Europe post World War II will include over 60 countries and most likely to generate $ 2.5 trillion dollars in trade, if the regional plan works according to the design. This regional pact promises to economically benefit the countries included in it by linking them to global trade networks. Imagine a good chunk of that trade passing through Pakistan and affecting the life and finances of ordinary Pakistanis. This life altering, game-changing, golden goose transformed into a trade route is called China Pakistan Economic Corridor.The $ 46 billion dollar China Pakistan Economic Corridor (CPEC) is an important part of this OBOR project which connects the Western parts of China and Central Asian Republics to the Gawadar port in the Arabian Sea. The deep sea port of Gawadar is strategically located just outside the Strait of Hormuz and near the main shipping route of global oil trade and it is the closest trade route to the landlocked Central Asian Countries which have enormous natural resources and untapped market potential. And Pakistan stands to benefit from all that because this CPEC is not just a trade route but a complete project for life which includes energy projects, railroads, 25 industrial zones, and cross border fiber optics which will connect Pakistan with the world both on technological and trade fronts.Developing countries struggle in the wake of hindered access to markets, lack of finance, and limited infrastructure at home to support economic activities. In that context, the CPEC promises to take Pakistan straight into the international foray where big players play.But here is the kicker: when the global trade fever kicks in through the CPEC, then Pakistan must be ready to welcome it.The ability to meet the challenges of international trade head-on and that too with great success will largely depend on Pakistan’s banking & financial sector’s readiness in adjusting to the new trade environment.The influence and impact of local and domestic players and a whole host of homebred economic forces may ratchet down with the increased international trade moving feverishly back and forth and back again across the CPEC routes. Pakistan’s banks will have to calibrate their strategic position in order to be able to take advantage of the money movements resulting from increased trade passing through the country.Increased integration through increased trade and more of international trade passing through the proposed CPEC routes will create a new set of challenges, opportunities, and risks for the Pakistani banking and financial sector offering financial services to local businesses and their foreign affiliates, to the government and investors at home and abroad.If history offers any guidance, then it is a known fact that Pakistan’s economy never really depended on huge trade volumes (with the current trade volume hovering at about $ 80 billion) as so much as it will do in near future. For once, the central bank of Pakistan (State Bank of Pakistan) in particular will have to use interest rate swings to keep inflation in check, and others banks may have to make considerable adjustments in their positions by administering some radical and some not so radical but smart changes and tweaks here and there in their financial offerings to meet the changing dynamics of the new trade environment in Pakistan. The economic shocks resulting from the new trade environment can be both positive and negative depending on how they are confronted. Therefore, adjustments have to be made accordingly which could result in a great earning opportunity for many.The contrasting snapshot of Pakistan’s current trade environment juxtaposed with the picture of trade likely to emerge in near future offers a great insight into what the local businesses and financial & banking sector might have to deal with when billions of dollars of trade starts to pass through Pakistan. It is important to understand this because the CPEC is going to touch Pakistan on many levels. Pakistan’s current business environment is characterized by a massive shortfall of electricity which can reach as much as 5 million kilowatts in the summers. This electricity shortage acts as a bottleneck in the process of industrialization of underdeveloped economies which means that production lines and factories come to a grinding halt due to lack of energy. Many companies, banks, private businesses, government offices, and even the shopkeepers & students especially only those who have the means are forced to use private generators when the light goes out. But all that is about to change: the Neelum-Jehlum Hydropower plant which is the largest ever overseas power plant undertaking by any Chinese firm will alleviate 15% of electricity shortage. It will generate 45 billion Rupees or $ 400 million in revenues. It is just one of the 22 projects which are included in the CPEC. Thus, the CPEC is truly a game changer as it possesses the ability to get the infrastructure ready for integrating Pakistan with the international trade regimes.The improvement in the macro environment is evidently in the pipeline with substantial investments taking place in the infrastructural development which if supported by the banking sector and small improvements in the basic micro infrastructure stands to give huge advantage to Pakistan on the back of three major global trends promising to alter fortunes of Pakistan for the better now and forever which include investments from China coming in, the return of Iran into the international economy, and the low oil prices.Therefore, the new trade environment of Pakistan will be made up of the results of the CPEC which will offer greater, seamless, and hassle-free access to Central Asia Countries where the potential for business, banking, and trade is immense and the markets there virtually untapped, untouched, and not fully exploited or explored. This means that the trade volumes are going to skyrocket, or break the ceiling, or simply exceed expectations as new markets are explored and regional economies get ready for more consumption. Thus, the prospect of making some serious moolahs on the back of the CPEC is too alluring to ignore for both businesses and banks.Where there is increased trade, there is a trail of money to be found, and there must be a bank nearby. And all trades since the ancient times required a most secure method for all kinds of financial transactions. And that is where banks jump right into the foray big time. Even in the old days when trade was happening through the Silk Road, local money lenders and money exchangers acting as small bankers were offering some kind of safety and security to the financial transactions taking place along the route. The safety and security of financial transactions is as important as giving a real boost to international trade.There are two important things: first and foremost, no country can ever grow quickly and persistently over a long period of time by staying disconnected from the international trade. And second of all, no country can become a thriving economy on the back of trade without the active backing of an equally robust and thriving banking sector facilitating that trade.In any trade environment, the most important thing for an exporter is to get paid and for an importer to get his goods. If the exporter is not getting paid, then he is sending gifts. The banks can facilitate the trade by offering guarantees and other financial services to both exporters and importers in Pakistan. The payment methods if made secure and mediated by banks can help both the trade and bank. The international trade has many payment methods which include Cash-in-Advance, Letters of Credit, Bills of Exchange or Documentary Collections, and Open Account etc. Cash in advance method is best for exporters and riskier for importers. However, LCs or letters of credit is considered to be the most reliable and secure method available to international traders which is basically a guarantee given by a bank on behalf of the importer that if the terms of the LC are met by the exporter, the exporter will get his agreed payment. Billions of dollars of trade in USA is made secure by LCs offered by their banking sector. Documentary Collections or Bills of Exchange is another product which banks offer and is available to international traders. In this method of payment, a bank is nominated which receives the shipping documents from the exporter and once the importer comes in with the money, the goods can be claimed and picked up by the importer. Even in the open account payment method, banks are used as intermediaries between international traders.Therefore, the biggest question that confronts Pakistani banking sector is this: are they ready for what is about to hit them? Because there could be 1001 ways to make real wampum once the CPEC gets underway. Sooner rather than later, Pakistan’s trade environment will be truly global. The banks will have to offer new financial services or old financial offerings into a newly designed package but at an unprecedented scale and magnitude. The bank will to adjust to new trade environment taking shape in the country because it is no secret that international trade slows down if the financial banks are unable to offer secure payment methods.According to the estimates of World Trade Organization, around 80 percent of world trade is backed up by financial offerings and credit guarantees offered by the banks. The reason is fairly simple: everyone wants to be on the safer and beneficial side when the trade happens. The exporter wants to receive payment as soon as the goods are delivered and the importer wants to keep his money with him until he has received the goods because there is an element of risk involved in international trade. Thus, the role played by banks in facilitating global trade is huge. For the developing countries, this role played by banks assumes greater significance because the growth of developing countries greatly depends upon trade volumes which are likely to stay strong and persistent if the banking sector is able to meet the demand for LCs, payment guarantees, and other insured financial services and help keep the wheels of trade moving along smoothly and surely. That is how the banking sector stands to benefit from the shifting trends in the trade environment of Pakistan which will be soon connected with the economies of the world that matter.Pakistani banks will be able to explore new ways for making more revenues for themselves and for traders by forging new and unbreakable alliances with the corporate world, make cross border financial agreements, taking their services worldwide, and facilitating the trade so that the trade could move seamlessly across the borders.Pakistani banks will have to find ways to offer cost effective solutions to international traders. The banks must offer these services in an efficient manner on an absolutely new scale and manage its own operations in a way that the banks can stay competitive and truly global over the coming decades. Their offerings of LCs and Bills of Exchange must be more efficient, robust, and really good if not better than those offered by international bankers. Pakistani banks can automate their financial services in the wake of the new trade environment.The banks in Pakistan can make use of the latest technology which helps in automatically classifying LCs as they are generated in the form of invoices, purchase orders, agreements, and other certificates facilitating cross border trade. This wholehearted adoption of technology is going to put Pakistani banks on par with the rest of the banks in the world but will also prove to be less cumbersome, cost effective, and time saving. This in turn will help boost the trade big time. Pakistani banks will also have to ensure accuracy of their data in order to ensure compliance regulations. This can be done by the use of intelligent technology which helps in ensuring timely extraction, validation, and screening of the data and documents submitted with the banks. These are some of the things that banks in Pakistan must possess if they wish to improve their financial services for the facilitation of trade and also position themselves to better manage the trade happening and passing through the country. The adoption of the right kind of technology, better positioning of trade financial services, and making right adjustments to the scale and magnitude of the expected trade will definitely put Pakistani banks on the world map that helped the country become more competitive both globally and regionally.The new Silk Road is estimated to generate $ 2.5 trillion in trade over the next ten years and some of that trade will pass through the proposed CPEC routes. China imports 60% of its oil from the Gulf and 48% of China’s oil is transported via tanker ships which have to travel 16,000 kilometers for up to three months through the Malaka Straits and through the South China Sea which is fast becoming a contested region marked by competing claims to the sea lanes. That makes the trade through that route somewhat unsafe, uncertain, and ridden with untoward risks. And due to this ensuing uncertainty Gawadar Port offers a much less expensive alternative route which offers savings worth billions of dollars. Just in terms of numbers, CPEC once fully underway will add two percentage points to the GDP growth of Pakistan which will effectively take the GDP beyond 6% growth rate annually. That figure in itself speaks volumes about the sheer money potential of this proposed project. It has the potential to bring in huge influxes of money which would definitely force the banking industry to grow.In the wake of CPEC, a great number of opportunities are coming to Pakistan. The need for strategic management, strategic budgeting, forecasting, planning, overall project accounting, investment banking, new and improved financial services are going to surge. The sectors of shipping, storing, transportation, and finance are going to jack up with huge financial appetite requiring more innovative and improved fast-paced financial and banking services on a larger than life scale. The need for taxation and streamlining of the taxation regime post CPEC will be undeniably great.Anti-money laundering specialists, branch managers, financial analysts, CFOs, financial consultants, tax managers, financial management, banking consultants, investment bankers, trade marketers, and trade accountants will be in great demand over the next decade. Financial services and financial and banking sector will be in full swing once the trade through CPEC begins to flourish.Increasing trade is the key to alleviating abject poverty, boosting economic activities and achieving shared prosperity. Evidence shows that countries open to trade and with better access to markets and better financial support infrastructure and regime for businesses and trade are able to provide more opportunities to their people to become successful businessmen, bankers, traders, and entrepreneurs. With enhanced participation in world economy, Pakistan stands a chance to become a major world economy.Pakistani banks can learn a lesson or two from the banks of China and India. 3 out of top ten banks in the world are Chinese. They got to the place where they are today by actively supporting the international trade and offering products that helped in transforming local traders into world beaters.This happened because in order to ensure double digit economic growth, Chinese banks stepped up their game and grew exponentially in order to provide funds and credit for China’s rapid economic development. Banks in India are reaching out to the remotest areas through a wide network of branch banking.Risky investments are likely to go up as soon as the trade along the CPEC jumps into proper action. In a short span of time, economic wheels will start to roll with increased trade gyrations. With the increased privatization and undiscovered investment opportunities emerging in the economy, Pakistani banks could very well be looking at a rosy fiscal picture. Even an ordinary fruit exporter could be looking the way of the investment bankers to suggest ways for more financing opportunities for improving trade with the CARs.In the wake of what is about to happen, Pakistani banking industry can do a few things to meet the ensuing challenges of CPEC: mobilizing savings through a wide network of branch banking; transforming savings into capital formation which could become the basis for more economic prosperity and development; finance the industrial sector and boost the capital markets; promote entrepreneurship by underwriting shares of new or existing companies; and help people acquire new skill sets in order to be able to better cope with the impending changes and major alterations expected to be caused by the new trade environment in Pakistan.International trade is risky. Exporters want to be paid and importers want to receive their goods.To reduce the risk of losing money or goods, banks offer trade finance products like LCs etc., to facilitate trade. A shortfall in the supply of trade finance could result in trade also plunging – a scenario which Pakistani banks can avoid. G20 countries are already supporting trade finance. Now the ball is in the court of Pakistani banks to lead the charge. Now is the time to make or break: facilitate trade or run the risk of losing the game to other players.
The taste of this new class of customers clashes with the traditional mode of service that dominates the finance sector. They grew up in a completely digital environment. They have no attachment to legacy systems that banks and finance companies have been holding onto for years, despite the wave of new technologies in business and communications.A 2017 report by Accenture indicated that 71% of financial services consumers are open to using “entirely computer-generated support for banking services.” Clearly, the majority of consumers are ready to go fully digital.This prospect presents a problem for legacy system-loving companies, and adequately coping with the situation means decisively acting now. It’s no longer enough to automate customer support through a healthy knowledge base or canned responses to web live chat. What’s needed now is to design customer support and the whole customer experience to suit and enhance an increasingly digital customer journey. At the very least, integrating your voice communication tools and your customer records, like Salesforce Cisco phone integration for example, would allow your customer service teams to streamline the way they provide service by ensuring conversation data is captured at each customer touchpoint.Transforming the whole customer experience from traditional to digital takes a lot of time and work to complete, but gradual changes can still have an impact on CX. Financial services providers can start their transformation by injecting these trends and technologies into their CX strategy:Self-serviceThe first point of customer service contact for most finance consumers is not social media, the phone, or email. It’s actually self-service. More than 80% of consumers choose using a web or mobile self-service app against talking to a customer service rep on the phone. You shouldn’t expect your phone-facing team to be on the front line of customer service. Customers only turn to their phones when they want to escalate their concerns. Even then, having a CTI solution in place like Salesforce-Cisco phone integration makes sure that each customer interaction is recorded in your CRM.Self-service is preferred by financial services consumers because it gives them more control. That is, self-service means customers dictate when and where they will interact with their provider. It also lets consumers have more freedom over their financial activities without disruptive ads or not-so-subtle suggestions from CS reps. As customers demand to become more independent of their providers, financial services companies also become more compelled to provide better self-service options via native web apps and automated CS technologies.Chatbots and virtual assistantsThe demand for faster, more efficient services has eventually led to this: 85% of customer interactions will be automated by 2020, according to Gartner. Chatbots and smart assistants are finding their way in various verticals, serving various purposes from customer support, marketing, and sales. These robots, powered by artificial intelligence, are used by the biggest banks in the world like JPMorgan Chase, Wells Fargo, HSBC (Hong Kong) and SEB (Sweden).Chatbots enable banks and financial service companies to deliver efficient, personalized and responsive service to customers at a minimum cost. Chatbots are available 24/7, and are capable of matching customer queries quickly to solutions. Some are also programmed to take in leads, and the most advanced ones can make personalized recommendations based on previous interactions, customer data, and other factors.Detractors of chatbot technology say that these tools lack the empathy of human CS reps. While that is true, we should also recognize that chatbots improve on this aspect over time. Machine learning algorithms help these virtual assistants learn more about the art of human conversation from experience. With such capabilities, chatbots prove to be sufficient in handling basic customer service queries, pleasing consumers with their efficiency and effectiveness.Omnichannel serviceThese days, consumers interact with their financial services providers in a multitude of touchpoints-from online, to the branch, and even on mobile. Omnichannel service means connecting all these touchpoints to create a seamless, consistent and pleasant experience for customers. Put another way, it means letting customers move from one touchpoint to another without feeling a disruption or disconnection.Crafting an omnichannel experience for customers isn’t a new trend. As early as 2014, a Forrester survey already established omnichannel banking as one of the top five concerns of finance professionals for business app transformation. Yet, many banks and finance companies still lag in this area, owing to unsustainable organizational and operational divisions between marketing, sales and customer support.Banks that want to overcome this problem must change their mindset from product-centric to customer-centric. Putting the customer at the core of their CX question will enable them to see touchpoints more clearly and accurately anticipate the consumers’ needs in every interaction. Another crucial aspect to this is unifying data among teams and platforms, easing the flow of information across channels to ensure that customer interactions aren’t broken when they shift activities from say, making a sales inquiry to addressing a product problem.Going omnichannel pays off not just in increasing customer satisfaction, but can directly result in higher revenues. The world’s top banks derive 50% of their sales from digital channels, proving the importance of digitization for success in the finance sector.Digital integrationsAn omnichannel experience isn’t possible without integration. All the platforms used to interact with customers and manage their data and transactions should be linked to ensure the smoothest workflow and the highest quality service. The key here is connecting digital apps used to serve finance consumers with physical bank locations and customer communication platforms.Digital integrations have been implemented in the financial services sector, but only a minority of customers (16%) are satisfied with the digital experience provided by their banks. The problem here is, again, that data about customers isn’t shared across segments in the organisation. Each team may be doing well on its own, but the stiff siloing of operations affects the overall experience of the customer.The solution to this is easing the flow of information via digital integrations. Various software and apps are now capable of integrating disparate systems, letting finance companies mix software vendors if they want to. For instance, a CTI solution like Salesforce Cisco phone integration connects voice communication tools to computers, streamlining many tasks for sales and customer support. There are also specific apps that target syncing chat channels or even emails with local banking software.Infusing CX with new financial technologiesWith AI and more mobile technology comes more opportunities to customize CX and make it more enjoyable, pleasant and safer for consumers.Some technologies that financial services companies can explore are:Biometric-based customer ID – Banks and finance companies can now opt to use biometrics technology instead of the username-password combination for customer entry and verification into their systems. Various options are available such as fingerprint, iris, retina and voice recognition. Besides being more secure, these technologies are more efficient and easier to use for consumers.Robo-advisors – Similar to chatbots, these virtual advisers are powered by machine learning and are viable substitutes for human investment managers. They are usually used to analyze risks and aid consumers in portfolio management.Internet of Things – With the internet literally connecting everything, finance transactions will become more fluid and mobile. Checking your account on your wearable? Or while driving? You can do all that with IoT.Banking-as-a-ServiceTechnology companies are leading the way in digital banking experiences, and banks and other traditional financial institutions would do better to learn from them. They could emulate them and build their own, or they can be smarter about this and do this the faster way-that is, partner with companies offering BaaS and BaaP.Banks working with APIs and BaaS will result in concrete changes in the way both individual consumers and business customers do their banking.For consumers, one upside would be that all accounts can be accessed via one app, making it easier to do transactions. Managing these individual accounts can also be done on any device because data would be stored in the cloud. Individuals will also get personalized advice regarding portfolio, stocks, and other finance products.B2B customers benefit even more, as the digitalization of finance translates to savings on administrative and infrastructure costs.Partnering with new digital platforms will allow banks to catch up with the times and provide customers with the sleek, mobile experience that has been made the norm by the digital age. This may cost a bit of investment, but it will definitely pay off in the long-term.–Financial services providers have to decisively switch gears before they lose touch with their customers and get left behind in the digital age. These trends and technologies are meant to usher in a new age of financial services, one that is more adept at serving digitally-savvy and mobile customers. That doesn’t mean, however, that banks and finance companies can do without their customer service lines and human agents.To cultivate productive long-term relationships with customers, it is necessary to cover all the bases, from the digital to non-digital touchpoints. Phone calls, live conversations, and meetings with customers still have a high impact on the overall CX, especially so because these interactions involve human representatives from the company. Ultimately, the digital experiences serve as continuities of the personal connection finance companies make with their customers.
Entrepreneurs build their business within the context of an environment which they sometimes may not be able to control. The robustness of an entrepreneurial venture is tried and tested by the vicissitudes of the environment. Within the environment are forces that may serve as great opportunities or menacing threats to the survival of the entrepreneurial venture. Entrepreneurs need to understand the environment within which they operate so as to exploit emerging opportunities and mitigate against potential threats.This article serves to create an understanding of the forces at play and their effect on banking entrepreneurs in Zimbabwe. A brief historical overview of banking in Zimbabwe is carried out. The impact of the regulatory and economic environment on the sector is assessed. An analysis of the structure of the banking sector facilitates an appreciation of the underlying forces in the industry.
Historical BackgroundAt independence (1980) Zimbabwe had a sophisticated banking and financial market, with commercial banks mostly foreign owned. The country had a central bank inherited from the Central Bank of Rhodesia and Nyasaland at the winding up of the Federation.For the first few years of independence, the government of Zimbabwe did not interfere with the banking industry. There was neither nationalisation of foreign banks nor restrictive legislative interference on which sectors to fund or the interest rates to charge, despite the socialistic national ideology. However, the government purchased some shareholding in two banks. It acquired Nedbank’s 62% of Rhobank at a fair price when the bank withdrew from the country. The decision may have been motivated by the desire to stabilise the banking system. The bank was re-branded as Zimbank. The state did not interfere much in the operations of the bank. The State in 1981 also partnered with Bank of Credit and Commerce International (BCCI) as a 49% shareholder in a new commercial bank, Bank of Credit and Commerce Zimbabwe (BCCZ). This was taken over and converted to Commercial Bank of Zimbabwe (CBZ) when BCCI collapsed in 1991 over allegations of unethical business practices.This should not be viewed as nationalisation but in line with state policy to prevent company closures. The shareholdings in both Zimbank and CBZ were later diluted to below 25% each.
In the first decade, no indigenous bank was licensed and there is no evidence that the government had any financial reform plan. Harvey (n.d., page 6) cites the following as evidence of lack of a coherent financial reform plan in those years:- In 1981 the government stated that it would encourage rural banking services, but the plan was not implemented.
– In 1982 and 1983 a Money and Finance Commission was proposed but never constituted.
– By 1986 there was no mention of any financial reform agenda in the Five Year National Development Plan.Harvey argues that the reticence of government to intervene in the financial sector could be explained by the fact that it did not want to jeopardise the interests of the white population, of which banking was an integral part. The country was vulnerable to this sector of the population as it controlled agriculture and manufacturing, which were the mainstay of the economy. The State adopted a conservative approach to indigenisation as it had learnt a lesson from other African countries, whose economies nearly collapsed due to forceful eviction of the white community without first developing a mechanism of skills transfer and capacity building into the black community. The economic cost of inappropriate intervention was deemed to be too high. Another plausible reason for the non- intervention policy was that the State, at independence, inherited a highly controlled economic policy, with tight exchange control mechanisms, from its predecessor. Since control of foreign currency affected control of credit, the government by default, had a strong control of the sector for both economic and political purposes; hence it did not need to interfere.Financial ReformsHowever, after 1987 the government, at the behest of multilateral lenders, embarked on an Economic and Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP). As part of this programme the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe (RBZ) started advocating financial reforms through liberalisation and deregulation. It contended that the oligopoly in banking and lack of competition, deprived the sector of choice and quality in service, innovation and efficiency. Consequently, as early as 1994 the RBZ Annual Report indicates the desire for greater competition and efficiency in the banking sector, leading to banking reforms and new legislation that would:- allow for the conduct of prudential supervision of banks along international best practice
– allow for both off-and on-site bank inspections to increase RBZ’s Banking Supervision function and
– enhance competition, innovation and improve service to the public from banks.Subsequently the Registrar of Banks in the Ministry of Finance, in liaison with the RBZ, started issuing licences to new players as the financial sector opened up. From the mid-1990s up to December 2003, there was a flurry of entrepreneurial activity in the financial sector as indigenous owned banks were set up. The graph below depicts the trend in the numbers of financial institutions by category, operating since 1994. The trend shows an initial increase in merchant banks and discount houses, followed by decline. The increase in commercial banks was initially slow, gathering momentum around 1999. The decline in merchant banks and discount houses was due to their conversion, mostly into commercial banks.Source: RBZ ReportsDifferent entrepreneurs used varied methods to penetrate the financial services sector. Some started advisory services and then upgraded into merchant banks, while others started stockbroking firms, which were elevated into discount houses.From the beginning of the liberalisation of the financial services up to about 1997 there was a notable absence of locally owned commercial banks. Some of the reasons for this were:- Conservative licensing policy by the Registrar of Financial Institutions since it was risky to licence indigenous owned commercial banks without an enabling legislature and banking supervision experience.
– Banking entrepreneurs opted for non-banking financial institutions as these were less costly in terms of both initial capital requirements and working capital. For example a merchant bank would require less staff, would not need banking halls, and would have no need to deal in costly small retail deposits, which would reduce overheads and reduce the time to register profits. There was thus a rapid increase in non-banking financial institutions at this time, e.g. by 1995 five of the ten merchant banks had commenced within the previous two years. This became an entry route of choice into commercial banking for some, e.g. Kingdom Bank, NMB Bank and Trust Bank.It was expected that some foreign banks would also enter the market after the financial reforms but this did not occur, probably due to the restriction of having a minimum 30% local shareholding. The stringent foreign currency controls could also have played a part, as well as the cautious approach adopted by the licensing authorities. Existing foreign banks were not required to shed part of their shareholding although Barclay’s Bank did, through listing on the local stock exchange.Harvey argues that financial liberalisation assumes that removing direction on lending presupposes that banks would automatically be able to lend on commercial grounds. But he contends that banks may not have this capacity as they are affected by the borrowers’ inability to service loans due to foreign exchange or price control restrictions. Similarly, having positive real interest rates would normally increase bank deposits and increase financial intermediation but this logic falsely assumes that banks will always lend more efficiently. He further argues that licensing new banks does not imply increased competition as it assumes that the new banks will be able to attract competent management and that legislation and bank supervision will be adequate to prevent fraud and thus prevent bank collapse and the resultant financial crisis. Sadly his concerns do not seem to have been addressed within the Zimbabwean financial sector reform, to the detriment of the national economy.The Operating EnvironmentAny entrepreneurial activity is constrained or aided by its operating environment. This section analyses the prevailing environment in Zimbabwe that could have an effect on the banking sector.Politico-legislativeThe political environment in the 1990s was stable but turned volatile after 1998, mainly due to the following factors:- an unbudgeted pay out to war veterans after they mounted an assault on the State in November 1997. This exerted a heavy strain on the economy, resulting in a run on the dollar. Resultantly the Zimbabwean dollar depreciated by 75% as the market foresaw the consequences of the government’s decision. That day has been recognised as the beginning of severe decline of the country’s economy and has been dubbed “Black Friday”. This depreciation became a catalyst for further inflation. It was followed a month later by violent food riots.
– a poorly planned Agrarian Land Reform launched in 1998, where white commercial farmers were ostensibly evicted and replaced by blacks without due regard to land rights or compensation systems. This resulted in a significant reduction in the productivity of the country, which is mostly dependent on agriculture. The way the land redistribution was handled angered the international community, that alleges it is racially and politically motivated. International donors withdrew support for the programme.
– an ill- advised military incursion, named Operation Sovereign Legitimacy, to defend the Democratic Republic of Congo in 1998, saw the country incur massive costs with no apparent benefit to itself and
– elections which the international community alleged were rigged in 2000,2003 and 2008.These factors led to international isolation, significantly reducing foreign currency and foreign direct investment flow into the country. Investor confidence was severely eroded. Agriculture and tourism, which traditionally, are huge foreign currency earners crumbled.For the first post independence decade the Banking Act (1965) was the main legislative framework. Since this was enacted when most commercial banks where foreign owned, there were no directions on prudential lending, insider loans, proportion of shareholder funds that could be lent to one borrower, definition of risk assets, and no provision for bank inspection.The Banking Act (24:01), which came into effect in September 1999, was the culmination of the RBZ’s desire to liberalise and deregulate the financial services. This Act regulates commercial banks, merchant banks, and discount houses. Entry barriers were removed leading to increased competition. The deregulation also allowed banks some latitude to operate in non-core services. It appears that this latitude was not well delimited and hence presented opportunities for risk taking entrepreneurs. The RBZ advocated this deregulation as a way to de-segment the financial sector as well as improve efficiencies. (RBZ, 2000:4.) These two factors presented opportunities to enterprising indigenous bankers to establish their own businesses in the industry. The Act was further revised and reissued as Chapter 24:20 in August 2000. The increased competition resulted in the introduction of new products and services e.g. e-banking and in-store banking. This entrepreneurial activity resulted in the “deepening and sophistication of the financial sector” (RBZ, 2000:5).As part of the financial reforms drive, the Reserve Bank Act (22:15) was enacted in September 1999.Its main purpose was to strengthen the supervisory role of the Bank through:
– setting prudential standards within which banks operate
– conducting both on and off-site surveillance of banks
– enforcing sanctions and where necessary placement under curatorship and
– investigating banking institutions wherever necessary.This Act still had deficiencies as Dr Tsumba, the then RBZ governor, argued that there was need for the RBZ to be responsible for both licensing and supervision as “the ultimate sanction available to a banking supervisor is the knowledge by the banking sector that the license issued will be cancelled for flagrant violation of operating rules”. However the government seemed to have resisted this until January 2004. It can be argued that this deficiency could have given some bankers the impression that nothing would happen to their licences. Dr Tsumba, in observing the role of the RBZ in holding bank management, directors and shareholders responsible for banks viability, stated that it was neither the role nor intention of the RBZ to “micromanage banks and direct their day to day operations. “It appears though as if the view of his successor differed significantly from this orthodox view, hence the evidence of micromanaging that has been observed in the sector since December 2003.
In November 2001 the Troubled and Insolvent Banks Policy, which had been drafted over the previous few years, became operational. One of its intended goals was that, “the policy enhances regulatory transparency, accountability and ensures that regulatory responses will be applied in a fair and consistent manner” The prevailing view on the market is that this policy when it was implemented post 2003 is definitely deficient as measured against these ideals. It is contestable how transparent the inclusion and exclusion of vulnerable banks into ZABG was.A new governor of the RBZ was appointed in December 2003 when the economy was on a free-fall. He made significant changes to the monetary policy, which caused tremors in the banking sector. The RBZ was finally authorised to act as both the licensing and regulatory authority for financial institutions in January 2004. The regulatory environment was reviewed and significant amendments were made to the laws governing the financial sector.The Troubled Financial Institutions Resolution Act, (2004) was enacted. As a result of the new regulatory environment, a number of financial institutions were distressed. The RBZ placed seven institutions under curatorship while one was closed and another was placed under liquidation.In January 2005 three of the distressed banks were amalgamated on the authority of the Troubled Financial Institutions Act to form a new institution, Zimbabwe Allied Banking Group (ZABG). These banks allegedly failed to repay funds advanced to them by the RBZ. The affected institutions were Trust Bank, Royal Bank and Barbican Bank. The shareholders appealed and won the appeal against the seizure of their assets with the Supreme Court ruling that ZABG was trading in illegally acquired assets. These bankers appealed to the Minister of Finance and lost their appeal. Subsequently in late 2006 they appealed to the Courts as provided by the law. Finally as at April 2010 the RBZ finally agreed to return the “stolen assets”.Another measure taken by the new governor was to force management changes in the financial sector, which resulted in most entrepreneurial bank founders being forced out of their own companies under varying pretexts. Some eventually fled the country under threat of arrest. Boards of Directors of banks were restructured.Economic EnvironmentEconomically, the country was stable up to the mid 1990s, but a downturn started around 1997-1998, mostly due to political decisions taken at that time, as already discussed. Economic policy was driven by political considerations. Consequently, there was a withdrawal of multi- national donors and the country was isolated. At the same time, a drought hit the country in the season 2001-2002, exacerbating the injurious effect of farm evictions on crop production. This reduced production had an adverse impact on banks that funded agriculture. The interruptions in commercial farming and the concomitant reduction in food production resulted in a precarious food security position. In the last twelve years the country has been forced to import maize, further straining the tenuous foreign currency resources of the country.Another impact of the agrarian reform programme was that most farmers who had borrowed money from banks could not service the loans yet the government, which took over their businesses, refused to assume responsibility for the loans. By concurrently failing to recompense the farmers promptly and fairly, it became impractical for the farmers to service the loans. Banks were thus exposed to these bad loans.The net result was spiralling inflation, company closures resulting in high unemployment, foreign currency shortages as international sources of funds dried up, and food shortages. The foreign currency shortages led to fuel shortages, which in turn reduced industrial production. Consequently, the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) has been on the decline since 1997. This negative economic environment meant reduced banking activity as industrial activity declined and banking services were driven onto the parallel rather than the formal market.As depicted in the graph below, inflation spiralled and reached a peak of 630% in January 2003. After a brief reprieve the upward trend continued rising to 1729% by February 2007. Thereafter the country entered a period of hyperinflation unheard of in a peace time period. Inflation stresses banks. Some argue that the rate of inflation rose because the devaluation of the currency had not been accompanied by a reduction in the budget deficit. Hyperinflation causes interest rates to soar while the value of collateral security falls, resulting in asset-liability mismatches. It also increases non-performing loans as more people fail to service their loans.Effectively, by 2001 most banks had adopted a conservative lending strategy e.g. with total advances for the banking sector being only 21.7% of total industry assets compared to 31.1% in the previous year. Banks resorted to volatile non- interest income. Some began to trade in the parallel foreign currency market, at times colluding with the RBZ.In the last half of 2003 there was a severe cash shortage. People stopped using banks as intermediaries as they were not sure they would be able to access their cash whenever they needed it. This reduced the deposit base for banks. Due to the short term maturity profile of the deposit base, banks are normally not able to invest significant portions of their funds in longer term assets and thus were highly liquid up to mid-2003. However in 2003, because of the demand by clients to have returns matching inflation, most indigenous banks resorted to speculative investments, which yielded higher returns.These speculative activities, mostly on non-core banking activities, drove an exponential growth within the financial sector. For example one bank had its asset base grow from Z$200 billion (USD50 million) to Z$800 billion (USD200 million) within one year.However bankers have argued that what the governor calls speculative non-core business is considered best practice in most advanced banking systems worldwide. They argue that it is not unusual for banks to take equity positions in non-banking institutions they have loaned money to safeguard their investments. Examples were given of banks like Nedbank (RSA) and J P Morgan (USA) which control vast real estate investments in their portfolios. Bankers argue convincingly that these investments are sometimes used to hedge against inflation.The instruction by the new governor of the RBZ for banks to unwind their positions overnight, and the immediate withdrawal of an overnight accommodation support for banks by the RBZ, stimulated a crisis which led to significant asset-liability mismatches and a liquidity crunch for most banks. The prices of properties and the Zimbabwe Stock Exchange collapsed simultaneously, due to the massive selling by banks that were trying to cover their positions. The loss of value on the equities market meant loss of value of the collateral, which most banks held in lieu of the loans they had advanced.During this period Zimbabwe remained in a debt crunch as most of its foreign debts were either un-serviced or under-serviced. The consequent worsening of the balance of payments (BOP) put pressure on the foreign exchange reserves and the overvalued currency. Total government domestic debt rose from Z$7.2 billion (1990) to Z$2.8 trillion (2004). This growth in domestic debt emanates from high budgetary deficits and decline in international funding.Socio-culturalDue to the volatile economy after the 1990s, the population became fairly mobile with a significant number of professionals emigrating for economic reasons. The Internet and Satellite television made the world truly a global village. Customers demanded the same level of service excellence they were exposed to globally. This made service quality a differential advantage. There was also a demand for banks to invest heavily in technological systems.The increasing cost of doing business in a hyperinflationary environment led to high unemployment and a concomitant collapse of real income. As the Zimbabwe Independent (2005:B14) so keenly observed, a direct outcome of hyperinflationary environment is, “that currency substitution is rife, implying that the Zimbabwe dollar is relinquishing its function as a store of value, unit of account and medium of exchange” to more stable foreign currencies.During this period an affluent indigenous segment of society emerged, which was cash rich but avoided patronising banks. The emerging parallel market for foreign currency and for cash during the cash crisis reinforced this. Effectively, this reduced the customer base for banks while more banks were coming onto the market. There was thus aggressive competition within a dwindling market.Socio-economic costs associated with hyperinflation include: erosion of purchasing power parity, increased uncertainty in business planning and budgeting, reduced disposable income, speculative activities that divert resources from productive activities, pressure on the domestic exchange rate due to increased import demand and poor returns on savings. During this period, to augment income there was increased cross border trading as well as commodity broking by people who imported from China, Malaysia and Dubai. This effectively meant that imported substitutes for local products intensified competition, adversely affecting local industries.As more banks entered the market, which had suffered a major brain drain for economic reasons, it stood to reason that many inexperienced bankers were thrown into the deep end. For example the founding directors of ENG Asset Management had less than five years experience in financial services and yet ENG was the fastest growing financial institution by 2003. It has been suggested that its failure in December 2003 was due to youthful zeal, greed and lack of experience. The collapse of ENG affected some financial institutions that were financially exposed to it, as well as eliciting depositor flight leading to the collapse of some indigenous banks.