With Covid-19 banks face many difficult choices—including how to protect their workers and clients while still providing essential services.
For instance, while prioritizing the health of its customers and employees by keeping the working environment as safe as possible, the challenge of ensuring customer service support in branches while keeping the self-service terminals and ATM areas open, posed a challenge to many banks.
In continuation of our publication series on CIO Africa Leadership Series webinar hosted recently by CIO MasterClass Africa for Chief Information Officers (CIO) particularly in Africa with the theme – COVID – 19: “The CIO’s Leadership Moment” – Prospects, Challenges and its implication for the African Continent – with the general direction on “leadership, strategy and operational level”, looked at CIOs role in normal times vis – a – viz the new normal defined by COVID – 19, we are focusing on the Banking sector.
The Convener, CIO MasterClass Africa; Engr. Ifeanyi Frank Ogochukwu, a former CIO of Nigerian Airspace Management Agency and the Chief Technology Strategist for Debbie Mishael Consulting – an African premier consulting, implementation and training firm moderated this webinar.
The spotlight is on the Head of IT, Equity Bank, Rwanda, Carole Karema Jeni.
She has an MBA and an MIT; she schooled in Cyprus, in University of Pretoria and Adventist University of Central Africa. Carole is someone who has actually traveled wide, lived in different countries, worked in Telecoms, Investments, Construction, Security Services, Building, Insurance and Brokerage as well as Agric-Business. She speaks English, French, Swahili and Kinyarwanda.
She has got over 20 years’ experience in IT; Carole is actually a Solution Architect and she’s done a lot of extensive work in a number of organizations including; working at PMP Processes, COBIT and ITIL. She’s currently the Head of IT at Equity Bank in Rwanda.
So, what are the impacts of Covid-19 on the CIOs’ operations in banks and how does Carole handles hers?
“I think the experience that we had, first of all, being working for the bank, has been categorized as an essential service. So, we didn’t close shop. We were still working, but at a limited capacity. The good thing like Equity Bank, it’s one of the banks that has strategized for a long time to go digital. So, the impact of Covid on businesses was not that much.
“Of course, in terms of revenue, we can feel the impact. But, in terms of operations, most of the services were actually done digitally. So, you could say that what Covid-19 brought to us was an acceleration of digitization of the service and delivering them to customers.
“So, I’ll give an example with Covid most of the services are provided through branches and branches are only allowed to work-in till 3:00 p.m. So, you can imagine the transactions that were happening at branches are reduced considerably. So, the good thing: I think when Covid started if I can recall around January and February, already the leadership were meeting often to understand the impact, because most of the customers that we have are actually financed to either import or export from different countries.
“So, by having China impacted by Covid-19 we could actually feel some of our customers impacted too. Therefore, we started discussing on what could be done. So, businesses were already ahead and looking at the different alternatives in a scenario where people could not go and buy the stuff from China and go elsewhere. So, with these meetings, I recall, when Rwanda decided to apply lockdown, was the second week of March; already, we were discussing how to provide most of the services on digital. What happened is that we were fast with digital adoption. So, our customers that could not reach branches, because, again things like buses, motorcycles, were not allowed and having people coming to branches was becoming difficult. So, by offering some services on a digital platform was actually giving alternatives to our customers.
“In terms of business, we could still continue working and providing services to our customers, but then on a different channel. We moved from some giving services through branches to the digital platform. Now, the role of connecting the CIO and IT in general was making sure that we maintain uptime of our systems because now having most of the transactions actually shifting from branch to digital, we had to make sure that our digital platforms would be up 24/7.
“So, the shift was also happening to the backend office and also on the support team. Although most of them could not work from the office, what we managed to do was to ensure that most of the staff would have VPN access. They continued supporting clients and we reviewed some of the processes in terms of customer registrations.
“We reviewed the minimum balances on transacting over digital platforms; we offer different services. So, there was a need for customers to still have access to the bank account and the transaction and the good thing also, I say from the Rwandan perspective, is the coordination. The coordinated efforts with the regulator on the financial sector and the government. So, most of the regulations that have been put in place or the responses, were coordinated with financial services like the bank ourselves and then anything that we put in place, will be a coordinated effort and they’ll be also emphasized for the whole sector.
“In addition, the impact, I think, that has been very important for the banking sector, especially for Equity, was to make sure that our people are safe. So, by being safe, we have put in place a BCP (Business Continuity Plan) committee, which I was actually a Vice Coordinator. So, we put in place a BCP and actually activated it and every week we meet to review the actions to make sure that: first of all, our people are safe. Then, we still continued doing business and then we could also project ourselves in the future. So, let’s say when the lockdown was a hundred percent we put ourselves to actions and when there was a little relaxation we also improved. So, the BCP, at first, was starting with more on making sure that our people were safe and then we shifted to the business.
How do you make sure that business continues as usual and also the banks continue making money?
“So, the good thing again: belonging to a very big group that has a lot of big strategies. So there’s a lot that has been put in place to make sure that we continue working and what I foresee as a CIO is we need to continuously be agile because we’ve already invested in digital that was not very difficult for the bank because what will have happened was just a shift of how we’ve been doing transaction and serving customers. But, mostly what has also been important is to continuously be innovative and listen to our customers. That is what has been my experience. We are still in lockdown.
“We are still providing responses to Covid-19 and then we can even project and tell ourselves that there’s so many things that are going to be changed. For example, we can just look at how we are doing business in terms of approval processes serving in branches. We are looking on different innovations that we’re going to put in place to continuously grow the bank, of course, and also assuring customers that they are safe with us by banking with us.
To be continued tomorrow, featuring a member, Universal Service Advisory Council, Communication Authority of Kenya (Government & ICT4D Consultant), Nixon Mageka Gecheo.