Many companies have had to change their business operations during the lockdown period. We caught up with several top executives to find out how they’re holding up, and whether or not it’s ‘business as usual’. Here’s what African Bank CEO Basani Maluleke says.

Where are you working from?

I am working from home.

How are you conducting your meetings?

I am currently using  MS Teams, BlueJeans, Zoom, WhatsApp and Facetime.

How are you finding working away from your usual designated work station?

Disorientating, particularly because I cannot see my colleagues around me, which I now realise was reassuring. Communicating virtually is great but the quality of human connection we experience in many forms of virtual communication is sometimes awful and deprives us of emotional knowledge. The physical distance has made us more deliberate and structured about connecting with each other regularly, which is working well.

We are all learning to lead remotely, which requires a mindset shift for us as leaders and for our employees, the majority of whom are working from home. We have been impressed with many of our employees who have demonstrated discipline and empathy in continuing to service our customers in these very confusing and possibly financially strained times.

Is the lockdown causing a huge disruption in your business operations?

We have made a number of changes to make sure that we stay in touch with our customers. Our employees have been enabled to work from home and those that cannot are required to be on site to maintain service levels.

To date,  about 70-80% of our employees in the service contact centres have been enabled to work from home. This is an ongoing exercise. We have also directed customers to our digital channels as most of the queries that are being raised can be resolved in those environments. These include internet banking, our app, USSD and our chatbot Karabo, who continuously learns from the queries being raised and tries to assist the customer.

We also have a team that responds to queries raised on social media platforms. And our branches remain open to service customers. However, we have changed our operating hours and are closed on the weekends because of the new transport lockdown schedules.

We have seen a circa 30% increase in the volumes in our call centres, largely from the communications we published informing customers that they could rely on the benefit of the Credit Life Insurance policy if they are experiencing short time, retrenchment or compulsory unpaid leave.

The bank has also identified customers who could qualify for a payment holiday and has invited them to access its digital channels (web, app and call centre) to activate this break.

What form of transformations would you say African Bank needs to implement in order to keep up with the changing times? 

  • Enabling more people to work from home and implementing systems, processes and an appropriate culture to support this.
  • Evaluating the possibility of sharing workspaces with other organisations to enable people to work in different locations that are close to their homes, thus reducing commute times and improving productivity.
  • Creating workspaces in our branches to enable our customers to work there when convenient for them and providing them with relevant hygiene support for their comfort and safety.
  • Encouraging customers to use our omni-channel, which allows them to engage with us anywhere and at any time, and to pick up where they left off as they move between channels.
  • As the gig economy grows and gig workers abound, creating credit policies and insurance products relevant to that market.