Founded as TN Bank in 2009 and rebranded in 2013


Founded as TN Bank in 2009 and rebranded in 2013, Steward Bank is a commercial bank registered and trading in Zimbabwe. Dr Lance Mambondiani, the CEO, explains why, first and foremost, they are a telecommunications and technology company and what the bank of the future is.

Please could you provide us with an overview of the bank’s history by taking us through its journey and evolution? Why was the decision taken to rebrand and what is your relationship with Econet Wireless Zimbabwe (EWZL)?

Steward Bank was established in 2013, following the acquisition of TN Bank by EWZL, the country’s largest telecommunications company. We are one of only a few banks in the world wholly-owned by a mobile network operator. We occupy a very unique space globally—the convergence between telecoms and banking.

The bank’s mandate is to offer simplified, low-cost, accessible and universal banking services to every Zimbabwean previously excluded from participation in the financial sector leveraging on technology and innovation.

We are a telecoms and technology company first before we are a bank. We like to say we are a technology company that happens to have a banking license. Our approach is digital and mobile first with all the products and services we offer.

Our close partnership with other group-related subsidiaries such as EcoCash (the Econet group’s mobile money subsidiary) has been a key piece in our competitive advantage. This allows us to simplify and to scale our business to reach as many of our customers as possible without having to build a large physical distribution channel as our peers have done.

Steward Bank is the first bank in the country to converge with telecommunications. Why is a focus on technology so crucial and how will it change the way Zimbabweans view banking?

Technology and, in particular, the mobile phone has changed the way people do banking. We believe the bank of the present and the future should be in your pocket—easily accessible and on the go. The customer of the future, as Brett King says, is “more interested in banking and not banks”.

New technologies also allow us to reduce the cost of distributing banking services to our customers. We are aware a number of banks worldwide are looking for similar partnerships with mobile network providers. We are privileged to drive this new banking model, not only in Zimbabwe but across Africa.

We believe we can make banking more exciting and engaging for customers who have chosen to bank with us. We have committed to developing simplified products on the mobile phone such as savings accounts (EcoCash$ave), microloans (EcoCash Loans) and digital group savings services (Mukando or a Stokvel), which allow clients to save as a group using their mobile phones. We’ve observed group savings within our communities, we’ve just found a way to make group saving digital, safer and more convenient. That, to us, is the power of convergence between telecoms and banking.

You’ve said the bank of the future is not necessarily about apps, but about engaging people where they are spending time. Please could you explain this sentiment in terms of what you believe the future of banking to be and why the use and growth of cell phone usage on the African continent is where the future of financial inclusivity lies? How will partnering mobile and banking services change the story of Africa?

Mobile banking services are already changing the story of Africa. The success of mobile money players, such as EcoCash, is an example of how transformative this revolution has been. Despite the declining prices of smartphones, they are still out of reach of the majority. Feature phones provide the greatest potential for financial inclusion at this moment and remain a bigger part of how financial services are currently being delivered to millions of households across Africa. We have to find innovative ways of delivering relevant solutions to our customers through USSD platforms.

Africa is a young continent. In 2015, the UN estimated that 19% of the world’s youth aged 15-24 were from Africa. By 2030, 42% of the global youth will be from Africa. This generation consists of the Millennials and Generation Z. Our research suggests that this generation spends about a 1/3 of their waking hours on smartphones, much of this time on social media platforms, such as Facebook, WhatsApp and Twitter. In our view, to remain relevant, banks have to offer services where customers are spending their time, on Facebook or WhatsApp. Whilst closed-loop platforms such as bank apps will continue to serve a limited number of customers, the future belongs to platform businesses.

The advent of the Fourth Industrial Revolution and the Internet of things (IoT) is upon us. How is it transforming the industry and why is it so important to embrace Industry 4.0?

We are about to witness a rapid transformation of various industries worldwide due to the acceleration of technological innovation. In Africa, where it is estimated that 200 million people are between the ages of 15 and 25, the young population and how they are working with technology will be a major growth stimulus and determinate of exponential growth.

The current buzzword in the banking sector right now is digitisation. Incumbent banks will increasingly find themselves under extreme pressure from digital, agile and nimble first ‘challengers’ such as Steward Bank in Zimbabwe, TymeDigital, Bank Zero in SA or Orange Bank, which is currently being launched in a few African markets by Orange Mobile. Big data, the blockchain, and artificial intelligence will drive the transformation of banks into platform-based ecosystems.

What opportunities lie in the digital space?

The acceleration of digitisation in the banking sector will allow banks to scale their businesses, increase efficiencies and reduce the cost of serving the customer. We will most likely witness an increase in adoptive collaboration between banks, fintechs and other various financial service players. I also expect that banks will reduce the cost of hosted services due to the increase in cloud services.

What are the dangers of failing to evolve with Industry 4.0?

For banks, as with companies in many other sectors vulnerable to disruption, the current business models will not survive in their current formats. The current pace of transformation will blur the lines across many industries whilst increasing the onslaught on businesses protected by licenses or through legislation.

There will be a significant increase in the number of start-ups who will offer some form of banking product or service without the encumbrance of a bank license or huge capital requirements. To use the popular Game of Thrones tag, ‘Winter is Coming’.

Steward Bank may be one of Zimbabwe’s youngest banks, but in a bid to become an innovative and leading player in the digital space, you’ve recently introduced a range of new products. Please could you tell us about these products/innovations and what their purpose is?

Most of the products and services we introduce are often aimed at addressing a significant challenge for the country. In January this year, we launched the Kwenga solution, a low-cost merchant solution for SMEs such as vendors, transport operators, barbers and other small businesses struggling to take electronic payments as a form of payment (Kwenga translates to ‘swipe’ in Shona).

The Kwenga merchant solution allows up to five small merchants to share one device, the bank also provides merchant loans to Kwenga merchants based on the number of transactions on the Kwenga device. The service has been hugely successful and an answer to a call by the Zimbabwean Government to create a cashless society.

In March, we introduced social media banking, allowing our customers to perform limited banking transactions on their social media accounts for now. We believe that in the future, banks will have to innovate their products and services on channels where customers are spending their time.

Cyber-fraud is an ever-growing challenge as fraudsters adopt increasingly sophisticated methods. What are some of the biggest challenges cyber-crime presents to banks?

The reality worldwide is that the more we digitise, the more businesses systems and client data become vulnerable to cyber attacks. This often results in frauds, theft, data manipulation and misuse and threatens confidentiality.

Technological tools such geolocation and biometric authentication are helping to address some of these challenges. For instance, our new mobile app includes biometric login as an option, which is more secure than a four-digit PIN.

Please tell us about your selection of NetGuardians’ software to fight financial crime. Why did you choose NetGuardians/what can they offer in terms of cybersecurity?

We were looking for a reputable international player to partner with to improve transaction security and monitoring for our customers. NetGuardians has a unique approach to fraud and risk assurance, which leverages big data to correlate and analyse transaction behaviours on all our platforms, mitigating the bank against fraudulent transactions.

Recently, you were a keynote speaker at the prestigious Zimbabwe Achievers Awards. What type of platform does one such as this present and what was the nature of your address?

We are very active in the Zimbabwean diaspora community connecting the millions of Zimbabweans living abroad to Zimbabwe. We would like to believe we are a bank away from home for many of our clients in the diaspora. The Zimbabwe Achievers Awards, which recognises and celebrates exceptionally talented Zimbabweans around the globe, was a perfect partner for us to reach the diaspora community. For us, this platform is to share our vision as a financial partner to the diaspora community through their various endeavours.

Please could you provide us with an overview of your educational and career history, prior to being appointed CEO? What set you on your current career path and prepared you for your role?

I am a father and banker, both are full-time professions. I’ve been with Steward Bank since 2013. Whilst I have a PhD from the University of Manchester, and experience working in several financial roles in various countries across Europe and Africa, the most important qualification for me is passion and love for what I do. I am relentlessly curious, a fintech enthusiast and hopelessly hooked on innovation as the only constant.

I always say, “Success is an inside job.” Nobody is born a CEO. You can only stay relevant in any CEO role not because you have some shiny qualification from an Ivy League School—you have to be willing to take calculated risks to achieve exponential results, and constantly innovate to stay ahead of the game. Before I was a CEO, I was just a hungry kid who was audacious enough to think outside the box and challenge the status quo.

Which aspects of your role do you most enjoy and how do you maintain your passion on a daily basis?

I have the privilege of being a part of a highly driven team that believes in making a difference through relentless innovation. I am also honoured to be part of the Econet Wireless Group and Cassava Fintech with a presence in several African countries and with a DNA for constant innovation. I love being a contributor in the global fintech space and take every opportunity to showcase to the world, on every platform I am invited to speak at, some of the world-class innovations that have come out of our group and Zimbabwe in general.

What does it take to be a good effective leader? What is your leadership philosophy?

The ability to serve, to listen and to act decisively. I strongly believe in failing fast and forward. I also believe in rolling up my sleeves and leading by example. The demanding customer of today wants to be engaged. Social media platforms have reduced the distance between the customer and the CEO. Sometimes I spend a fair amount of time resolving customers’ social media queries. Unfortunately, this is now part of the modern-day CEO’s job. It’s not all glamour. Oftentimes, it’s getting your hands dirty.

Who are some of the role models that have inspired you during the course of your career and why?

Strive Masiyiwa, the Chairman and founder of the Econet Group is one of my inspirations. He is a global figure, a business leader, a philanthropist, a mentor and one of the most influential people on the planet. I could go on. He has achieved a good balance between dedicating his time to business and philanthropy. Africa as a whole is in great need of inspirational leadership that can inspire the next generation to do ten times more, ten times faster and, to me, Strive Masiyiwa is one such leader. 

comments powered by Disqus

This edition

Issue 414


Leadership_Mag JJ's View - The rise and fall of leadership in the 26 years of democracy. #JJsview #leadership #may2020 Read on pag… 16 days - reply - retweet - favorite

Leadership_Mag Leadership May 2020 Cover Story - The future of South Africa post the Global Pandemic. Read it in our new interacti… 16 days - reply - retweet - favorite

Leadership_Mag The interactive version of the May 2020 #Leadership magazine is available now. 20 days - reply - retweet - favorite