Absa scrums for change

Mr Flip Buys

Chief executive

Solidarity

Dear Mr Buys

Thank you for your letter, dated ­September 22 2010, which was ­received by my office at 2.34pm on September 23.

I have reflected on the issues you raised in your letter, as well as the tone and manner in which you raised them.

It is very important for all of us at Absa – from the leadership of the bank to all our employees – that we treat all our clients and customers with respect and dignity.

This, ­together with demonstrating ­integrity in everything we do, is core to our value system as a bank.

I want to believe that integrity and respect are values that both Solidarity and AfriForum subscribe to.

It is important that our relationships and interactions with our ­clients and customers be conducted on the basis of mutual respect and dignity.

We value all our clients and customers, including our Afrikaans-speaking customers who have long and deep roots with our bank.

In reviewing all our interactions with customers, staff and stakeholders, including organisations such as yourselves, I am satisfied that we have treated everyone with respect and dignity.

The concerns we raised with the SA Rugby Union (Saru) speak to the values of our organisation and to the commitments made by Saru in its agreements with us as a lead sponsor.

I have been surprised by the tone and approach taken in your communications with us.

I want to assume that we can engage on the issues on the basis of mutual respect for each other as fellow South Africans even when we agree to disagree.

I remind you that we have kept open the channels of communication with yourselves and played open cards with you about what transpired ­between ourselves and Saru (South African Rugby Union) in ­relation to our concern about the pace of transformation in rugby.

It is important for me to set out clearly that Absa is committed to transformation and diversity, and that valuing our people and treating them with fairness is another important value of our organisation.

For us, this means that we must recognise the value that diversity brings to the workplace. Put differently, diversity strengthens and enriches Absa; it does not diminish its stature.

Our values also require us to ­recognise the worth of all our people and create an environment where they can grow and develop to achieve their full potential. That is the ­essence of transformation.

When we enter into contracts, ­including sponsorship contracts such as the Absa Currie Cup, the same principles and values underpin our interactions.

As we have explained before, our engagement with Saru president, Mr Oregan Hoskins, was in terms of our existing contract.

We fundamentally believe that transformation is an essential ­component of a successful organisation.

Surely this too must be central to those South Africans who are ­committed to the project of building a new, vibrant, inclusive and more fair ­society. We raised issues with Saru in the interest of our group and our brand.

More importantly, we raised these issues because we care deeply about rugby.

Our historical association with it attests to this.

I want to ­reiterate what we have said before. While Absa does not, as a principle, involve itself in the administrative matters, we do have a responsibility – together with Saru – to ensure that we derive the anticipated values from our sponsorship.

This is neither an uncommon nor an unreasonable ­expectation on our part.

I have also said in our staff ­communication that what we ­envisage is that all gifted South ­Africans should actively and freely participate in all sporting codes.

Similarly, in keeping with our view that transformation must go beyond numbers, we need all South Africans to be proud of all the events that are staged and the teams that participate in them.

It is this that will ensure that the stadiums are filled by proud and passionate fans.

I also want to assure you that Absa is a bank for all customers, ­irrespective of their race, gender, ­religion or the language they choose to speak.

What is of critical importance to us is that we serve all our ­customers and clients well all the time – that we ­provide them with the products they need, deserve and ­expect from us.

We are always ­disappointed when we fail to do this for any customer. Placing our customers at the centre of all we do is what drives all of the leadership and the employees of our bank.

Let me assure you and your ­members that Absa remains committed to continuing to serve each and every one of you as valued customers and clients to the best of our abilities.

To do this, I know that you will expect us to live up to our values, irrespective of how challenging or difficult the issues.

It is therefore wrong to create the impression that Absa is turning away from any one of its clients.

Nothing can be further from the truth.

We want to continue to serve each and every customer of this bank with the attention and excellence that they deserve.

To avoid doubt, let me restate ­Absa’s position: As a bank whose roots are deeply South African and an active participant in our country’s economy, we have embraced ­transformation not only because it is morally right, but because it is the ­only way to ensure that, as an organisation, we can attract, develop and nurture that best talent that our country has to offer.

If, as a country, we are to share a better tomorrow, then today we must build that country together.

Mr Buys, I hope I have made it clear that we are fully and totally committed to serving all our customers, and a total commitment to each and every single customer remains at the heart of everything we do at Absa.

Our door is, as always, open for ­further discussion and engagement.

Yours sincerely

Maria Ramos

Group chief executive

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