New African Bank CEO is 'back to complete the unfinished business of transformation in SA banking'

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Newly appointed CEO of African Bank, Kennedy Bungane.
Newly appointed CEO of African Bank, Kennedy Bungane.
  • Newly appointed African Bank CEO Kennedy Bungane says he has some unfinished business of transforming banking in SA, and that's why he's back.
  • Bungane, who spent 24 years at Standard Bank and Absa, says he joined an underdog because African Bank will allow him to help the under-serviced masses.
  • Bungane headed a microfinance unit while he was at Standard Bank and saw how access to finance could change lives.

He was just 17 years old when his mom signed on his behalf that he could work at Standard Bank. And ever since, banking has always been his first love, says newly appointed African Bank CEO, Kennedy Bungane.

He took a detour in 2014 to take the position of CEO of the Phembani Group and lead the merger of the former and Shanduka following his stint as the national president of the Association of Black Securities Investment Professionals (ABSIP) - a move that reignited his passion for transformation in the financial services industry, he told Fin24. 

"I was always certain that after Phembani, I would, in my mid-forties, recalibrate as to where to go next. But I have decided to go back to banking because I have unfinished business there," said Bungane.

This unfinished business is to see how far he can push the envelope to serve those who are still under-serviced by the big banks and provide funding to black-owned businesses. 

"The unfinished business of transformation in financial services is something that appeals to me because I am passionate about the extension of credit to entrepreneurs, to households, and how that could change lives."
- Kennedy Bungane

The burning desire for transformation

Bungane spent 24 years in banking – 22 years at Standard Bank and two at Barclays Africa and the Absa Group – and ascended to CEO positions. But his "crowning moment" was when he led the drafting of the Financial Services Charter, which later became the BBBEE Sector Code of good practice in the transformation of the financial services sector.

So, when the opportunity came to lead African Bank – almost seven years after exiting the banking  sector – he didn't think twice about making a comeback, even if it meant joining an underdog and a bank that's much smaller than Standard Bank, Absa, and Barclays Africa.  

He hopes that African Bank, given its history as a bank for black professionals and black businesspeople who the mainstream banks marginalised, will give him the platform he needs to make an impact.

"In spite of all the highs and lows ... especially the curatorship, the dominant culture within African Bank is still that desire to address that niche, serve the under-serviced masses and businesspeople in this country," said Bungane.

But African Bank might be a different animal than what Bungane is used to. The segment of the market it serves is different from what Standard Bank corporate and investment banking (CIB) - where he was CEO - caters for. Bungane became the CEO of Standard Bank CIB at the tender age of 35. But he says he's "done the miles" in many other roles, which taught him the lessons he needs to head a retail business. 

Earned his stripes

When he started as a 17-year-old at Standard Bank, he was in the retail part of the business, rotating through the branches. When he joined the Standard Bank executive committee after being appointed CIB's deputy CEO, he headed the bank's new microfinance venture called Standard Bank Community Banking.

"For over three years, throughout the major townships in the country, I led a group of brilliant individuals who wanted to establish access to financial services for micro-businesses, the grannies selling vetkoek in townships or renting out backrooms. It was microlending at its purest form."
- Kennedy Bungane

Bungane said at Barclays Africa, he also had a mandate to convert 13 retail banks in Africa into fully fledged commercial banks.

"I might have had a highlight of my career at Standard Bank as a corporate and investment banker, but everything else has actually been in the retail space, and therefore, I don't feel out of place in this role," he said.

Nolwandle Mthombeni, a senior banks analyst at Intellidex, said Bungane has a strong track record. There's an acknowledgement that he did a great job in the analyst circles while he was at Standard Bank CIB. 

Mthombeni said leading a retail bank would be a very different experience for Bungane, compared to leading CIB. But many people, including Absa Group CEO Daniel Mminele, have stepped into new banking roles they'd never performed before without hiccups, she said.

"Maybe they do need the lens of a banker like him to get through. He has been in the industry for very long, and he has done well," she said.

Mthombeni said Bungane's top priority would be stabilising and returning the bank to profitability. The African Bank Group reported a R27 million after-tax loss for the year ended on 30 September 2020. 

"At the same time, he'll need to focus on the strategy that will help African Bank win market share and get more clients. They've had some good momentum with retail deposits, but they need to keep up that momentum and grow client base," said Mthombeni.

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