TBY talks to Andrew Okai, Managing Director/CEO of Standard Chartered Bank Zambia, on the long relationship the bank has with the country, and the view ahead.

Andrew Okai
Andrew Okai was appointed Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of Standard Chartered Bank Zambia in September 2013. He previously served as Executive Director of Consumer Banking (CB) in Ghana. Having joined the Bank in 1997, Okai has valuable expertise across wholesale and consumer banking and has worked in Ghana, South Africa, and Hong Kong. Okai led a significant turnaround in business performance in Retail Banking in Ghana, doubling operating profit and winning the Bank’s Global Consumer Banking Award for Best Business Performance in 2012. Prior to Ghana, Okai was Regional Head of Banks for Transaction Banking (Africa) in Johannesburg. In this role he oversaw the successful integration of the acquisition of American Express Bank.

What is the significance of Zambia for Standard Chartered?

Standard Chartered Bank Group has eight regions in terms of how it manages its geographies. One of those regions is Africa, which has seen a fast track record of development in recent years. Africa's growth rate has been higher than the average of the world for the past three years, thus Africa is receiving greater interest from investors. As a group, we have also seen our business in Africa grow and our African market will continue to offer exciting opportunities. Zambia specifically is one of the African countries where we see advantages and opportunities, and this makes Zambia an attractive market. The economy is growing at 6% to 7% annually, while the banking sector typically grows double the rate of GDP Growth. Zambia is one of the big four markets for the group in Africa

Where do you see Standard Chartered within the competition among major banks in Zambia?

For the past three or four years, we have continuously been the most profitable bank in Zambia. In the last three years, we have been consecutively voted “Best Bank in Zambia" by Global Finance Magazine, The Financial Times, and The Euromoney Awards for Excellence. In 2014, Euromoney and Global Finance again voted us as the best bank. We have also won several local awards. This demonstrates the fact that we have been profitable. We have won awards for our digital campaigns because we have pioneered innovation in banking in many ways. For example, Standard Chartered was the first to introduce Automated Teller Machines (ATMs) in Zambia as well as International Visa cards. We were the first to introduce check deposit machines, and have been a leader in terms of product launches. Also, we have been instrumental in supporting the economy of Zambia. In 2013, we did a landmark transaction, where we provided financing in the region for $3 billion to the mining sector. Through this transaction, Standard Chartered contributed significantly to Zambia's copper production. We are the oldest bank in the country, and we have acted as a central bank before, and I think that gives us a certain degree of credibility. In the 108 years that we have been operating in Zambia, we have remained through the changing economic environment—we have never threatened to leave this market. Our recruiters also attest to the fact that we continue to trend as the number one employer of choice amongst young people looking for employment. We have become in a sense part of the fabric of this society.

What have been your most recent product innovations?

Recently, the most critical products have been in the digital sphere. We launched the first solely-digital branches—Electronic Banking Centres (EBCs)—where all services and transactions are digital and online. We introduced check deposit machines recently—another first on the market. In addition to physical infrastructure, we have also introduced specialty products. When interests rates were going up, with our own in-house funding methodology, we were able to launch a mortgage scheme at a competitive interest rate so that more people could own homes. For example, we looked at the income of the family in totality, not just at the individual applying for the loan. It helped many people who otherwise would not have qualified for mortgage. We have also launched offshore wealth management services.

How significant are SMEs for your current strategy and for your lending portfolio?

SMEs are what we need for evolution in Zambia. They are very important to us. They need capital and capacity building in terms of management and the right markets. We continue to grow our SME lending annually in double-digit terms. We currently work with about 8,000 SMEs. Under our new strategy, we have separated the SME segment into Commercial Class [middle market] and Business Clients [small businesses] since otherwise it can be a broad category, and a medium-sized company has very different needs from a very small company. This segmentation will increase our focus and also help us to spur growth.