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Standard Chartered remains committed to maintaining presence in Zimbabwe and its digitisation strategy — which has seen the country’s oldest bank closing most of its branches — should not be interpreted as a deliberate move to wind down operations.
The bank, which is left with only three branches in Zimbabwe out of 16 it had — two in Harare and one in Bulawayo — said it was leveraging on the growth opportunities offered by digitalisation.
The closing down of the branches has, however, triggered speculation that the bank might be divesting from Zimbabwe after succumbing to pressure from the US over sanctions breaches.
In April this year, Standard Chartered plc was fined US$1,1 billion by the US authorities for “apparent violations” of sanctions imposed against a string of countries including Zimbabwe, Iran, Burma, Cuba and Syria.
Of this amount, about US$18 million is in relation to Zimbabwean operations.
According to the US Treasury, Standard Chartered Zimbabwe processed transactions through the United States involving Zimbabwean entities or individuals on the sanctions list between May 2009 and July 2013 in breach of the sanctions code.
However, in emailed responses, the bank’s spokesperson Ms Lilian Hapanyengwi, told The Herald Finance and Business last week that the financial institution was committed to doing business in Zimbabwe.
“Standard Chartered has taken the conscious decision to continue to maintain our long-standing commitment to doing business in Zimbabwe.
“With a history of over 125 years, we remain committed to the long-term interests of our staff and customers in Zimbabwe, and to continue facilitating the development and growth of the economy.
“We are moving from ‘places where people go to bank’ to ‘brands clients choose for financial transactions’, which means clients will have more choice and banking will be more convenient.
“The changes in banking . . . are making life better for all of us — less paper, more efficient and faster services, improved technology and remote services, more enriching interactions.
“Finally, we will have a much sharper understanding of clients’ financial behaviour and anticipate future needs to offer tailored products and services.”
Ms Hapanyengwi said there would be no challenges for personal banking clients where branches have been closed down because the new digital bank covers both transaction capability requirements and client queries.
She said all possible scenarios that could bring a client to a branch or contact centre have been migrated to the mobile device for client self-service.
Over 70 of the bank’s services are now on the digital platform.
These include static data changes, card services, bill payment, funds transfer locally and internationally as well as country specific services.
“Our channel strategy remains responsive to client needs and transaction patterns on an ongoing basis.
“As our clients and the world go digital and our branch transaction traffic is decreasing, we are always evaluating how we should reformat our current channels to deliver the most efficient service to our clients,” said Ms Hapanyengwi.
Commenting on job losses, she said while it was inevitable that some people would lose employment, the bank aimed at redeploying impacted staff wherever possible.