Take total assets of over R1,333 billion ($172 billion) combined with representation spanning 17 African countries and 16 countries outside of Africa, and it’s easy to pin down Africa’s most successful banking group. Despite the economic crisis, Standard Bank has performed extremely well throughout challenging times, maintaining a position that was initially achieved through the leadership of a driven executive line-up - headed by CEO, Jacko Maree.
However, since July last year, Standard Bank has taken a new turn. Maree, not content to take a back seat, kept a close eye on the world’s ever-changing economy and sought to redirect the bank’s focus into the emerging markets business; an area it believes has “greater opportunities”, particularly in the credit crunch era, than developed markets. And so, a new business strategy was born, moving its focus from domestic and individual business lines, to a much more integrated international model that would build on its BRIC (Brazil, Russia, India and China) trade relationships.
Recognizing that Standard Bank’s people are integral to shaping its future, the organization’s next step was to draw in the views of all 50,000 employees through an engagement survey named Heartbeat. Providing insights into what employees think of Standard Bank, its leaders and chosen direction, the survey also served to build up vital connections throughout its workforce.
Shortly after the survey took place, Elizabeth Warren, with over 20 years of senior HR banking experience, was brought into the organization to assess and respond to its results. Quickly, Warren found that with a new direction, comes new leadership requirements. “There were many positives that came out of the survey around our culture and the pride people felt in the organization. But also, there was concern around communications, the style of leadership and performance management.”
Moving from what had been a South Africa-dominated organization, to one that instead utilizes its strong footprint in Africa and looks to build out internationally, Standard Bank realized that a global and integrated approach to people strategy would be required to support the change. “One of the reasons why I came on board was to build a global HR function. We’re actively looking at how we develop effective people strategies that can be applied across the world to enable an integrated international organization to be developed,” explains Warren.
“We have a very strong top leadership here that is highly respected. But we need to develop our leaders to operate in a matrixed cross-border world where collaboration and inspiring others to achieve goals is key.
“Our leaders really live our values – high integrity, strong risk management, which has been part of our business success – therefore it is about building on these qualities, rather than changing them,” Warren adds.
DEVELOPING LEADERSHIP STANDARDS
Currently, Standard Bank is developing leadership standards, which Warren says will apply to “everybody”. “Ultimately it’s not just the leader that leads, so we want a clear framework of behaviors for all to drive our culture,” she says.
One way in which the bank has already addressed this is through its ‘Global Leadership Centre’, which opened three years ago on the outskirts of Johannesburg. “It is a fantastic facility, which shows a lot about the importance placed on leadership development here,” Warren adds. “What we want to do now, having had three years of the initial stages of leadership development, is to review how we develop our leaders to really meet our global needs. We will look at leadership behaviors and the experience and skills they need in an expanding international organization.”
EMERGING MARKETS LEADER
It is clear that Standard Bank has big plans to grow both in Africa and globally to ultimately become an emerging markets leader. “The main foundation of our business strategy is to leverage the relationships between the BRIC countries, and between BRIC and Africa, in order to build out our footprint in emerging markets in Africa, Asia, Latin America and Eastern Europe,” Warren reiterates.
After years focusing on improving liquidity, preserving capital and managing risk, the bank now looks set to compete on an international scale. And with tailored, well-researched leadership plans underway, the result will be an aligned and unified workforce critical to the success of Standard Bank’s new strategy and defined positioning.
5 minutes with... Janthana Kaenprakhamroy, CEO, Tapoly
Founder and CEO of award-winning insurtech firm Tapoly, Janthana Kaenprakhamroy heads up Europe’s first on-demand insurance platform for the gig economy, winning industry awards, innovating in the digital insurance space, and leading with inclusivity.
Here, Business Chief talks to Janthana about her leadership style and skills.
What do you do, in a nutshell?
I’m founder and CEO of Tapoly, a digital MGA providing a full stack of commercial lines insurance specifically for SMEs and freelancers, as well as a SaaS solution to connect insurers with their distribution partners. We build bespoke, end-to-end platforms encompassing the whole customer journey, but can also integrate our APIs within existing systems. We were proud to win Insurance Provider of the Year at the British Small Business Awards 2018 and receive silver in the Insurtech category at the Efma & Accenture Innovation in Insurance Awards 2019.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I try to be as inclusive a leader as possible. I’m committed to creating space for everyone to shine. Many of the roles at Tapoly are performed by women and I speak at industry events to encourage more people to get involved in insurance/insurtech. Similarly, I always try to maintain a growth mindset. I think it’s important to retain values to support learning and development, like reliability, working hard and punctuality.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
Build your network and seek advice. As a leader, you need smart people around you to help you grow your business. It’s not about personally being the best, but being able to find resources and get help where needed.
How do you see leadership changing in a COVID world?
I think the pandemic has proven the importance of inclusive leadership so that everyone feels supported and valued. It’s also shown the importance of being flexible as a leader. We’ve had to remain adaptable to continue delivering high levels of customer service. This flexibility has also been important when supporting employees as everyone has had individual pressures to deal with during this time. Leaders should continue to embed this flexibility within their organisations moving forward.
They say ‘from every crisis comes opportunity’, what opportunities do you see?
The past year has been challenging, but it has also proven the importance of digital transformation in insurance. When working from home was required, it was much harder for insurers to adjust who had not embedded technology within their operating processes because they did not have data stored in the cloud and it caused communication delays with concerned customers at a time when this communication should have been a priority, which ultimately impacts the level of customer satisfaction. This demonstrates the importance of what we are trying to achieve at Tapoly in driving digitalisation in insurance and making communication between insurers and distribution partners seamless.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
Start sooner, don’t be afraid to take (calculated) risks and make sure you raise enough money to get you through the initial seed stage.