The Zimbabwean economy is much closer to turning the corner and has all the ingredients for a huge turnaround in place, according to CBZ Holdings chairman, Marc Holtzman.
Like CBZ, which is Zimbabwe’s biggest bank with a 23 percent market share, Mr Holtzman, who assumed his role five months ago, is also chairman of Rwanda’s biggest bank, the Bank of Kigali and has vast experience in working in emerging frontier markets that are looking at transforming.
In an interview with The Herald Finance & Business, yesterday, Mr Holtzman said in his 30 years’ experience, working in frontier markets such as Hungary, Czech Republic, Eastern Europe, Poland, Hong Kong and Russia; he has “never seen a more exciting investment proposition than Zimbabwe, as a country”.
Mr Holtzman, who has worked for more than 15 years as a board member and later chairman of the Bank of Kigali, talked of the “openness” and the “receptiveness” of the country’s leadership to foreign investment.
Having worked in markets that “transformed successfully” and some that “have taken the wrong path and not prospered” as much as they should, Mr Holtzman is of the opinion that President Mnangagwa is doing an amazing job and is creating a platform for success.
“I know the people in this country are suffering, there are many people that are struggling, economically speaking, (but) I believe that all the seeds are in place and the foundation is very strong for a tremendous economic resurgent.
“There is no question that combined with the blessed natural resource base of this country, the work ethic, the human capital of this country and the extremely high literacy rate, the ingredients are here for a huge turn around,” he said.
Mr Holtzman said efforts to transform Zimbabwe’s economy are akin to “changing the direction of an iceberg”.
“You don’t see the benefits until some amount of time is past. Sometimes as when you are dealing with a patient that has been ill, the medicine is bitter but it’s necessary to kill the virus and to reset the economy.”
Zimbabwe is going through a painful economic transformation with disposable incomes that have been eroded by an exchange rate that has fallen from a start rate of 2,5 to the US dollar to yesterday’s 17,63 in less than a year and an inflation rate that reached an estimated 521 percent by December 2019.
Add to that limited access to foreign currency, fuel, and long hour power cuts coupled with natural disasters such as drought and you have a recipe for economic contraction.
But Mr Holtzman said if people would be a little more patient or understanding, despite the current challenges, “they will see the rewards for themselves and their children very (very) quickly.”
“And incidentally from my experience of 30 years in these frontier markets, I have seen transformations happening very quickly and within a year or two.”
He gave some examples of Hungary, Poland and Czech Republic, as countries that had currencies that were not convertible, “much like RTGS today and within a period of two to three years those currencies became almost fully convertible”.
“I believe that this country has such a bright future, its why I decided to take on the honour of this challenge and that’s why I am so excited about the future of Zimbabwe.”
Mr Holtzman, however, warned against printing money which if not controlled will result in inflationary pressures and a weak exchange rate.
“My advice to Government is to hold the line, don’t print money, respect the integrity of the currency, that’s really the main message,” he said.
Turning to CBZ, Mr Holtzman said the banking group will play a critical role in transforming both the economy and people’s lives, financially.
“We will be an engine that will transform people’s lives financially and we will do that by improving our product offering and by extending our services to our corporate and commercial retail customers.
“There is so much we can do in this country,” he said.
As chairman of the board, Mr Holtzman said his job is to help guide the bank from a strategic objective towards maintaining the current market share, of approximately 23 percent, and also try to grow that piece of the market.
This will be done in an environment and sector he believes would change more in the next 10 years than it has in the last 300 years.
“We live in a disruptive environment, our competitors are no longer the other domestic and international banks, there are mobile phone companies, there are payment providers, and who knows what they might be in the future.”
From what he said, and going into the future, CBZ Holdings will focus more on being customer-centric, creating a positive experience for the customer by maximising service and/or product offerings and building relationships.
“We understand we have fiduciary obligations and responsibility to our shareholders and to the country at large but at the end of the day we are a service institution and it’s all about customers and I have never seen a bank, even a good bank, that can’t do better,” said Mr Holtzman.
Under Mr Holtzman guidance, the banking group “will be very focused on changing the customer experience, shortening wait times in the branches, automating even further making it possible for people to fully engage with digital possibilities to their benefit and we want to be more competitive, competitive on pricing and on what we offer our customers”.
Other key areas of focus would be the agriculture sector where CBZ Bank has already partnered Government under the Smart Agriculture Programme, formerly known as Command Agriculture.
“I am very proud that we are the leaders in the Smart Agriculture Programme that we have extended over US$3 billion in loans to farmers covering more than 210 000 hectares in the country and having done that we can do even better, and we will do better,” he said.
He said the banking group will continue to compete for Government business, just as much as it will compete for private sector business.
“We will be very aggressive, offering the best service, the best pricing and the best quality product.”
He said in the past the banking group was not hungry enough to really extend its private sector lending but is now in the process of an internal transformation that will allow it “to succeed in a way that has never been conceived before”.
The internal transformation, according to Mr Holtzman, include the recruitment of new personnel to head old and new business units.
“We have recently brought on board half a dozen senior executives, such as chief finance officer Tawanda Gumbo who was the head of Deloitte and Touche for all of sub-Saharan Africa.
“The head of human resources, which is now a senior executive position, is a former human resources head for Standard Bank across Africa.
“Former Goldman Sachs and Renaissance Capital senior personnel have also been brought back to head the investment banking arm, CBZ Capital, which Mr Holtzman said is going to be a world class investment bank in the country.
“We are going to be the premier corporate finance investment banking institution and it’s about recruiting the right talent in the country.
“These are going to be key components of our success,” he said.