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[Africa offers massive growth opportunities ]

Along with all businesses in the rapidly developing African market, the financial services industry is changing fast – driven especially by electronic and cell-phone banking. However, success in this sector requires a unique set of ‘personality’ skills, over and above infrastructural and operational capacity.

South African banking has seen three big changes in the past year, with new MDs being appointed at First Rand and Standard Bank, the Barclays Africa takeover of ABSA. It remains to be seen what changes the new blood will introduce, in structures or in practice, but what is certain is that change will occur, and it will be on-going. As the continent’s developing economies grow at increasing rates, the market for financial services and enterprise funding will expand accordingly, and South African financial service providers are well placed to reap the benefits of this expansion.

A survey conducted by Deloitte on perceptions of risk in emerging economies found that European financial managers were fearful of investing in Africa, as they had a predisposed view on the risks involved. South African managers were not as fearful, and were more likely to have a realistic understanding of the risks that do exist, with a more nuanced appreciation of how these risks apply, country by country. To succeed in this market, investors need to understand methods of doing business in Africa, and how they differ to those in SA or the rest of the world.

Business built on relationships and trust
“For a start, African business tends to require a much more personal relationship,” says Humanity Search and Select Search & Select, based in Gauteng. “If you’re trying to create a business in, say, Nigeria, there’s no such thing as flying in for a one-day meeting and then leaving, with everything done and dusted. You need to spend several days getting to know each other, getting to know the country and the culture. Only by building a relationship of trust can anything be achieved.”

Different countries have different legislation governing the financial sector, so risk and compliance issues are different. “If you’re going to negotiate a successful deal, your negotiators will need to understand these risk and compliance differences as well; there’s no point in trying to ‘do it like we do in London’,” Barrick continues. “You need people on the ground able to make the correct decisions, who can balance risk, compliance and trust relationships.” It is essential to pick the right people, with the right mental attitudes, to do business in these markets.

Moving out-of-branch across the continent
Expansion into Africa is not the only major change currently affecting financial services – in South Africa, as in the rest of the world, a major shift in retail banking habits is under way. Consumers are becoming more used to “non-personalised” interaction with banks, preferring to transact online or via cell-phone. Call-centre based operations are increasing – and depending on how they’re managed, they can either prove a tremendous asset or a source of extreme dissatisfaction.

“When a call centre works, it’s a pleasure,” says Barrick. “An efficient, effective operation can offer the client the ultimate in hassle-free banking. But an inefficient call centre is a disaster; all it builds is client frustration. The challenge is to find and retain talent that can manage a centralised operation that delivers consistent customer satisfaction; to set a standard, and then replicate that experience for every single caller. This creates very different leadership requirements, compared to the old, branch-based banking.”

The key concept is change: how to recognise it, manage it and profit from it. In a developing country or a transforming retail market, change may be the only constant: this becomes a problem when managers, who may have excellent operational skills, are nevertheless afraid of change and attempt to fight it, rather than optimise it. “Technical proficiency and operational competence are still important,” says Barrick, “but dealing with rapid, on-going change requires an extra skill set: a high consciousness quotient.”

High consciousness equals responsiveness to change
“Consciousness” refers to a particular set of behaviours – namely creativity, openness, trust, courage, self-awareness, confidence, intuition and instinct – that are increasingly important in modern business. Research in the United States and SA has shown that leaders of the most successful companies share a high “Consciousness Quotient” (CQ), exhibiting these behaviours in similar proportions. When seeking new talent, businesses have traditionally relied on the criteria of qualifications, experience and psychometric testing. By assessing CQ as well, they can also ensure that a prospective employee has the right consciousness to fit the business, over and above their technical skills.

Humanity is the first company in SA to develop tools to assess CQ, which they use along with the traditional criteria to establish the best possible fit between the role and the candidate. The success of this approach is demonstrated by the fact that Humanity, who works with a number of global financial institutions, is a preferred supplier locally to First Rand, whenever the banking giant sources new talent. Financial service providers looking to take advantage of the emerging African economy and the growth of electronic banking would also do well to include “high CQ” among their criteria, when searching for leaders.