The people’s banker

2011-12-07 00:00

“THE perception that you go to Ithala Bank for a freebie is just that — a perception, and it has to change,” says newly appointed CEO of the much-troubled KZN development institution Ithala Development Finance Corporation, Yvonne Zwane.

The career banker is acutely aware of what is at stake for the people of the province in the event that Ithala fails to meet its mandate.

Armed with a BCom accounting degree and a Masters in business leadership, among other qualifications, Zwane (51) boasts a wealth of experience in the commercial banking sector. Over the past 27 years, she has served in retail, commercial, corporate and public-sector banking at three major banks.

But Ithala has not necessarily suffered from a lack of qualified personnel. Instead, issues over questionable leadership have plagued the institution. Until recently, suspended high-level employees and the “related-party” loans furore have dogged Ithala.

Critically, however, for Zwane, leadership is about people. This stems from the most important value in her life, derived from the Zulu saying: “Umuntu Ngumuntu Ngabantu”, or “A person is a person because of other people”.

This defines her approach to management and leadership, she told The Witness in an interview on her appointment.

“I have great respect for other people, irrespective of where they come from. I have a special interest in people. With employees and my team, I want to take an interest in who they are and what makes them tick. I’m very interactive and I like to get involved in work. I want to carry my people with me. I put my people first, as they will ultimately carry out the objectives. I am always looking for common ground and common values. Integrity and respect are also critical for me.”

This people-centred approach to management and leadership is unsurprising, given that she has a natural inclination towards spending time with her family, which comprises seven sisters and a host of extended family members.

“I’m very family orientated. Although I am one of the younger children, it came naturally to me to take care of my parents and the household, and to keep the family together.”

Observers will watch with keen interest the implementation of her strategy for the Durban-based corporation, which has the heavy burden of remaining financially viable while also meeting the developmental needs of previously disadvantaged people.

Her first response left me with food for thought: why can’t Ithala play in the “Mzanzi Account space”? On paper, the institution’s retail arm could be poised for growth in the unbanked market, competing with the likes of Capitec, African Bank and FNB’s EasyPlan low-cost banking model.

According to Finscope research, 22% of adults in KZN have never been banked, giving the province the highest number of unbanked adults in the country.

If successful, Zwane’s plan could bring in much-needed revenue.

“The sky is the limit. Ithala is the bank of the province of KZN. It is the economic vehicle of the province.”

The other arm of Ithala is tasked with meeting the developmental needs of the 10 million-plus citizens of KZN.

A daunting challenge awaits Zwane, who is ready to unpack and analyse the current state of affairs. Moving forward, she believes that development opportunities for previously disadvantaged people will come from all sectors, although special emphasis will be placed on empowerment, rural development, small and medium enterprises and co-operatives.

“This is the asset of the people of KZN. I need the buy-in of my customers, the people, in order to fix this economic vehicle.”

While she says the implementation of developmental projects must be based on solid methodology informed by good business plans and concrete market research, Zwane is also mindful of the fact that there remains an ever-present challenge of non-payment of loans.

“We have to change behaviour, especially among previously disadvantaged people. This will not happen overnight. If you foster a sense of ownership in this economic vehicle, then you get people to realise that once they have received help, they need to bring back the money and pay in order for them to receive help in the future and for others to receive help.”

Asked about managing relationships with the political and governmental leadership of the province, she responds by saying: “We are all human beings. I’m not fazed by this. I believe that every challenge has a solution.”


Who is Yvonne Zwane?


YVONNE Zwane’s most recent role in private-sector banking was at FNB, where she held the position of CEO: national government business. She is also the former FNB provincial director managing the public sector banking portfolio in KZN, with a R20-billion budget.

Although she spent her formative years in various boarding schools across SA, she has a special affinity for KZN, describing herself as a proud Zulu. Born in Soweto, she regards KZN as her second home.

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