How Exim Bank is disrupting the East African banking sector

How Exim Bank is disrupting the East African banking sector

Innovation is life: this is the purposeful motto that unites the team at Tanzania’s Exim Bank.

In the banking sector today, digitisation is more important than ever but Exim Bank is taking this one step further to deliver a world-class customer experience.

In doing so, it hopes to become the leading regional player in East Africa.

Founded 21 years ago, Exim Bank has quickly grown to become one of the largest indigenous banks in the region, boasting 30 branches in Tanzania, six branches in Comoro and five branches in Uganda and Djibouti respectively.

Lijocha Nalitolela, Head of Information Technology, credits the firm’s roaring success to the crucial role technology plays in its day-to-day operations.

“The company’s IT function has grown rapidly. It has moved away from being a supportive function to become a huge business driver,” he says.

“For example, when discussing how quickly the bank can expand its customer base, we now look at internet banking, our point of services, our cash deposit machines, all the alternative channels which are cheaper to roll out and quicker. In banks today, we are seeing that technology is taking a lead role in driving the business rather than taking a back seat as it used to five or 10 years ago.”

Championing a disruptive and innovative IT strategy, Exim Bank has carved its own path in the financial sector.

It was the first bank to introduce Mastercard credit cards and mobile ATMs in Tanzania and it was also the first bank to open subsidiaries outside of the country, according to Nalitolela.

It’s this commitment to technological ingenuity which he believes has helped the bank overtake its competitors.

“Exim Bank is trying to become a regional player within East Africa, however, it hasn’t forgotten its calling – a dedication to innovation,” he says. “There are strong competitors in the region but what Exim Bank brings to the market is that new level of innovation that we need. Regardless of what we are doing, we try to be ahead of the market. We may not be the biggest, but we're chasing down the competition by putting innovation front and centre of our strategy.”

This inherent commitment is not only revolutionising the bank's products and services, it’s also transforming its relationship with its customers.

“This commitment to being innovative also means that customers receive an unparalleled level of service which they wouldn't get in a bank that is three or four times bigger than us,” notes Nalitolela. “Customers that bank with Exim prefer the firm because of the level of service they receive, whether they’re using our online platforms or visiting one of our branches.

“Rather than trying to digitise everything, we're looking specifically at the payments segment in the financial sector,” he continues. “We're trying to introduce financial services that customers can access at their fingertips using technology. For instance, we're trying initiatives like corporate cheque clearing whereby corporate customers can scan their own checks from their own location. We also have a cash deposit machines which are being rolled out so that corporate customers don’t have to come to the bank to present the cash.

“We've also rolled out one of the best internet banking transformations. Most of our customers, particularly our corporate customers, even have direct access to executive management and their own personal relationship manager. This gives customers the comfort of knowing that Exim Bank is providing quality services for all, not just services for corporate customers.”

To gain a deeper understanding of its clientele, Exim Bank is leveraging big data and analytics to create what Nalitolela describes as a “customer consistent viewpoint.

Utilising a customer relationship management (CRM) solution, the Tanzanian firm is using data to get a 360-degree view of the customer. In addition to this, Exim Bank has also implemented a business intelligence tool where information is captured, analysed and interpreted into accessible reports.

One outcome of this data analysis is that Exim Bank has used this information to create a preferred customer loyalty programme.

“Using the data, we can analyse and see who our best customers are and give them preferential treatment,” explains Nalitolela. “Like a loyalty programme, whoever falls in the preferred customer bracket, will get preferential treatment at branches and will also get a reduced rate if they visit certain partners of ours and use our credit or debit cards.

“We are using this to try and attract customers who don’t bank with us that much so that they can enjoy these benefits, and it is also helping us retain our preferred customers by giving them an incentive to stay.”

Keen to gain a bigger slice of the market, Exim Bank has also fully embraced the industry-wide shift towards internet and mobile banking.

Mobile phone usage has surged in Tanzania and other East African countries, thanks to the launch of cheaper devices and data packages.

Around 19mn people in the country accessed the internet through their mobile phones, up from 18mn in 2016, according to the Tanzania Communications Regulatory Authority (TCRA), and the nation’s internet penetration rose to 45% in 2017, from 40% a year before.

Exim Bank has transformed its portfolio by making substantial investments in mobile and internet banking and, in doing so, it is attracting those who tend not to use banking services and promote financial inclusion. 

“To try to tap into this population who don’t use banking services, we have not only tried to use loyalty programmes, but we have also integrated directly with the mobile network operators (MNOs) to ensure that we have mobile wallet products,” says Nalitolela.

“It’s the preferred way of banking in the country and it's an easier way of sending funds from one location for another. By partnering directly with MNOs we have given customers the ability to transfer between their mobile wallet and the bank,” he adds. “We have noticed that people who weren’t banking with us or didn’t have an account anywhere have started to shift towards our services because they can access their banking services any time even if they are in a remote location.”

In today’s digital age, online banking is no longer a trend, it’s a norm. By offering two types of mobile banking services – for those with and without smartphones – Exim Bank has ensured that customers are able to do all their financial services using these platforms.

“Compared to most mobile applications in the market you'll find that ours goes that extra mile to try to ensure that the customer does not need to visit the bank if they don’t want to,” explains Nalitolela.

“There are still some customers who prefer that human aspect of banking and would rather come to our branches. However, most people don’t have the time and prefer to have the ability to do their financial transactions from their own devices.”

Over the past 21 years, Exim Bank has achieved meteoric growth and set an impressive precedent in the banking landscape.

In recent times, the Tanzanian firm has expanded into Uganda and has developed this subsidiary to be technologically on par with its Tanzanian operations and, on top of this, it has also established strong partnerships with the Djibouti port and the Djibouti electricity board.

The bank has also developed close ties within the country, forming partnerships with the Tanzanian National Park, where it provides collection for all the national parks across the country, and the Tanzania Revenue Authority, whereby a customer can go to a branch and complete their tax payments.

Reaching this level of success hasn’t come easy, says Nalitolela. To achieve this, Exim Bank has had to adapt and side-step a series of challenges in its path.

Like any banking institution, security is a top priority for the team at the Tanzanian bank and, as such, the firm ensures that all its cards are EMV enabled and that its online transactions are highly secure and encrypted.  

To guarantee the highest security standards, Nalitolela says that the firm is also working with leading security vendors so that customers can feel confident that their finances are safe. 

“It's an evolving challenge so we always need to keep on our toes,” Nalitolela says. “It's not only the bank that has to understand security and fraud issues. We also have to educate our customers and protect cash from fraud and security issues.”

Keeping up with the ever-evolving tech scene has also been a challenge but it is one which Exim Bank has taken in its stride and this is partially thanks to the firm’s diverse and talented team. 

“Whenever I employ a new person I take care to see that I not only hire somebody who has 15 or 20 years’ experience, but also exhibits the drive and potential we need to consistently innovate and deliver excellent customer service,” Nalitolela says.

Although it was only founded two decades ago, Exim Bank has created ripples in the banking sector for its innovative thinking and technological ingenuity. But for Nalitolela the journey is far from over. 

He’s optimistic that the Tanzanian firm will continue to grow and cement its position as a leading financial services provider in East Africa. 

“Between the next four to 18 months we expect to overtake the fourth largest bank in the country and we hope to become the third largest bank within the next couple of years,” observes Nalitolela.

Exim Bank