Chasing seamlessly integrated offerings

Biniam Ghirmatsion is Nedbank Namibia’s executive for wealth management & bancassurance. He talks to Business7 about the industry, its challenges and growth opportunities.

25 September 2019 | Banking

Banking is a dynamic industry with a wide range of career paths and an opulent amount of opportunities for growth.

B7: Give us the 101 on Biniam Ghirmatsion, the person and the professional.

BG: I was born and raised in Asmara, the capital city of Eritrea, where I obtained my first degree from the University of Asmara. I later moved to South Africa to further my studies, there I completed an honours degree in accounting at University of Free State and subsequently a master’s degree in financial management from the University of Cape Town. After this I pursued my chartered accountant profession through Unisa and qualified in early 2010.

After working at an asset management company in South Africa, I moved to Namibia where I initially worked as head of financial reporting at another financial institution, before joining Nedbank Namibia in 2015 as the head of finance. I have been at Nedbank since then, and have recently taken up the role as executive for wealth management & bancassurance.

In total I have over nine years of experience in the banking and financial industry.

B7: Your business card for Nedbank Namibia states: Executive for Wealth Management & Bancassurance. In layman’s terms, what does a day at the office entail?

BG: Well, every day is different, as it is the nature of the business.

Every morning, once in the office, I go through my agenda for the day. I check on with my teams for updates and follow ups. If there is a meeting or event coming up, I spend time preparing for that by reviewing reports to have an insight in the business.

Interactions among my team and greater Nedbank colleagues take the better part of the day. This includes driving and providing direction on focus areas. Over all, I’m accountable for providing direction, market positioning, sustainable performance, competitiveness, transformation, risk as well as the compliance of the Nedbank wealth and bancassurance division, through crafting and delivering a value offering that satisfies clients and key stakeholders by integrating and optimising the key components of strategy, products, channels, people, processes, culture, management and systems.

B7: What is your take on the current economic environment at the moment?

BG: In August, the Bank of Namibia (BoN) reduced the repo rate to 6.5% down from 6.7%. The BoN expects the economy to contract by 1.7% this year, as agricultural output is hurt by the drought condition, while activity in diamond mining as well as the wholesale and retail trade sector will are also expected to be weak. In general the level of economic activity is expected to fall.

This means higher unemployment rate, lower disposable income as well as low saving. However, it should also be noted that because of the uncertainty that arose due to the current economic environment, there are some segments of the market sitting with lazy cash, which is available because it has not being invested into high yielding investment.

In my view the level of investor confidence and investment heavy rely on and only improve once prudent economic policies are implemented. This will ultimately contribute to job creation. The establishment of the High Level Panel on the Namibian Economy is one of the initiatives that is expected to address the current macro-economic issues and drive economic recovery.

B7: How does the current economic environment impact your industry?

BG: Annual growth in total private sector credit extension stood at 7.5% at the end of July 2019. The persistent slowdown of the Namibian economy means a lower level of consumer (both the household and business sector) appetite for credit, particularly for home loans and vehicle financing. As a result, the interest income banks are earning is under pressure, not only due to lack of loans and advances growth but also through increase of the bad debt. Similarly, the insurance business is also impacted due to affordability of the insurance offering in itself and reduced business activity on the underlying asset that could have been insured.

B7: What are the major challenges facing the industry and how can they be mitigated?

BG: The persistent economic slowdown is causing significant pressure on the consumer. There is an increase in unemployment levels across different sectors of the economy, which affects the consumption of banking offerings negatively and increased bad debt. There is increased compliance and regulatory requirements putting pressure on bankers and requiring time allocation from their core duties. Also, there is increased digital adoption causing changes in consumption of banking offerings, as well as changes in workforce dynamics are some of the key challenges the industry is facing.

These mitigating strategies are put in place in order for the industry to create an agile environment which will be able to respond these challenges. Furthermore, the industry needs to proactively address the challenges based on insights on the market in which we operate. Customer centric products and services as well as strategic workforce management are critical and have to be at the forefront of business, if they want to remain relevant in this dynamic industry.

B7: What are the growth opportunities in the industry?

BG: During this challenging economic environment growth opportunities are limited. Any possible growth should come from rethinking ones’ business operating model and reshaping strategic focus. The industry needs to push for offerings that are the outcome of insights received directly from the customer, as well as rethink the way products and services are offered through various platforms.

B7: What is your vision for your role at Nedbank Namibia?

BG: My vision as executive of wealth management and bancassurance at Nedbank Namibia is to see a more digital and seamlessly integrated wealth and insurance offerings into the banking relationships and experiences of the customer. My vision is closely aligned with Nedbank’s vision which is to be most admired financial services provider by our stakeholders. For this we need the most passionate and motivated staff members so that we will be able to attract and retain our clients that are key to the delivery of sustainable profits for the shareholders.

Coaching and mentoring is my passion, which I strongly consider as a package one should give to their best performing team members, as they are eager to learn for their future growth. Also as a financial services provider, Nedbank operates in a regulated environment and we aim to be admired by our regulators. Lastly, I know that each and every one of us needs to play a significant part in our communities, at Nedbank, which has also come to be known as the green bank, we are strong advocators of environmental matters.

B7: Would you encourage young professionals to follow a career in banking? Why?

BG: Absolutely, I would encourage young professionals who have the passion for service excellence to follow a banking career. Banking is a dynamic industry with a wide range of career paths and an opulent amount of opportunities for growth. Imagine for example Nedbank’s front line businesses namely retail and business banking, corporate and investment banking and the private wealth management and bancassurance, employ quite a number of professionals. In addition, there are also opportunities in the support divisions such as finance, compliance, risk management and information technology, marketing and communication, just to name a few.

B7: What is your best piece of advice to young professionals entering the field?

BG: My advice would be to work harder and smarter than anyone else. Banking is a dynamic industry that you can achieve your desired potential. It is however important to keep in mind that the skillset required by banking institutions is changing, thus, one needs to say relevant by continuously upskilling by training and equipping yourself to fit the demand. Last but most importantly, as the technological advancement continues to disrupt the banking environment, tech-savvy individuals will always be in demand going forward.

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