Bank to the Future
Consolidated Bank Ghana Limited is cashing in on new technologies to take a quantum leap into the future of banking. Deputy Managing Director, Thairu Ndungu, tells us more
Writer: Jack Salter | Project Manager: Donovan Smith
“The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology in general and mobile money in particular, but CBG has not been left behind with its digitisation in customer services.”
The Ghanaian government is relentlessly driving digitisation and financial inclusion, heightening the need for all players in the financial industry to adopt digital solutions.
One such player in West Africa’s second-most populous nation is Consolidated Bank Ghana (CBG), Ltd. whose Deputy Managing Director, Thairu Ndungu, expects the banks who get their digital financial solutions right to emerge as leaders in customer experience.
Ndungu has more than 30 years’ experience in the financial sector. Having worked at Standard Chartered Bank’s London-based Africa Regional Office for 16 years prior to a stint at Nubuke Investments LLP, he has been CBG’s Deputy Managing Director since the bank’s very inception in August 2018.
CBG is an Indigenous Ghanaian Universal Bank wholly owned by the Government of Ghana and licensed by the Bank of Ghana under the Specialised Deposit-Taking Institutions Act, 2013 (Act 930). With a corporate head office located in Accra, Ghana’s capital and largest city, CBG today has 114 branches spanning 13 regions across the country.
Accra also hosts the headquarters of the African Continental Free Trade Area (AfCFTA), which is spearheading the re-emergence of talks over intra-African free trade.
AfCFTA aims to reduce the cost of trade and commerce between African countries by providing a comprehensive and mutually beneficial agreement among member states, backed by the Pan-African Payment and Settlement System (PAPSS) and sponsored by the African Export-Import Bank.
Set to raise the prominence of Accra and give it a greater spotlight as the continent’s financial capital, the expectation is that AfCFTA will increase the trade business offered by banks, such as CBG.
CBG offers various personal, business, and digital banking products to its customers, as well as services such as remittance, payments and collections, bancassurance, and investment.
The bank’s suite of digital services, e-bundles, cards, and other solutions are built to ensure that all financial and banking needs are just a tap, swipe or click away. As part of its efforts to build a dominant small and medium-sized enterprise (SME) bank in the digital space, CBG is setting up SME centres across Ghana to cater to the financial needs of SMEs.
“This project is very important to us because our ultimate ambition is to build a strong bank to support the country’s SMEs to drive economic growth,” outlines Ndungu.
“The ultimate aim of the centres is to incubate SME businesses with modern practices supported by technology, create sustainable partnerships that will last for a very long time, and increase employment opportunities for the youth.”
According to a survey by The Economist, new technologies will have a greater impact on banks in the coming years, with DevOps methodologies and modern cloud-based platforms driving the core transformation of banking and the value of artificial intelligence (AI) differentiating the winners from the losers.
In the last two years, CBG has been revamping its technology infrastructure and implementing a new technology reference architecture. As an aspiring digital-led bank, the foundations laid by CBG have to be fit for purpose and be able to leapfrog the bank to the next level of technological maturity.
“We are coming to the tail end of this project, and the final phase is an upgrade of our mobile and internet banking platforms to give our cherished customers a better look and feel for a more appealing customer experience,” Ndungu reveals.
A changing world
Lifestyle changes stimulated by the likes of social media proliferation, information abundance and the introduction of COVID-19 protocols have made the Ghanaian population more tech savvy.
The internet has subsequently become a distribution channel harnessed by banks in order to meet the ever-changing needs of customers, best exemplified by the tremendous rise in mobile money transactions on CBG’s networks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Customer expectations are changing and increasing quickly, but they are very diverse, so banks should focus on strategies to serve their different needs,” Ndungu says.
“The winners will be those that focus on the individual when it comes to both service and marketing. Banks are not just competing with each other for customers; they also have FinTechs entering the market in their droves. Products are now commoditised, and as such, the difference will be in providing a unique customer experience.”
Being a mass market bank, CBG has also seen USSD (Unstructured Supplementary Service Data) sign-ups increase by over 500 percent since 2020. USSD-based mobile banking embraces financial inclusion by allowing users without a smartphone or data/internet connectivity to transfer money, check account balances and generate bank statements, among other uses. This has led CBG to search for better ways of serving the unbanked or underbanked Ghanaians without using its branches.
Indeed, the purpose of the modern-day bank branch is changing, as branches today tend to operate in a more advisory capacity, and can co-locate with the likes of supermarkets and kiosks.
“Since we opened our doors to the public, we have seen transactions carried out at our branches half from 80 percent to 40 percent of the bank’s total transactions,” notes Ndungu.
“Consequently, we have entered into partnerships with telcos to offer mobile loans through their platforms. In June, for example, we launched Vodacash together with Vodafone Ghana, and we are in the process of launching a mobile overdraft product with both Vodafone and MTN.”
Although mobile banking is on the rise in Ghana as a whole, CBG’s rapid increase in mobile banking transactions and account sign-ups has been accelerated by the bank’s numerous product offerings, fast and robust digital platforms, and the 24/7 support services provided to customers.
“At CBG, customers are at the heart of our business and central to everything that we do,” Ndungu emphasises. “We also believe that loyal customers need to be rewarded. For this reason, we are working on a Loyalty Management System to identify and reward loyal customers.”
CBG’s Loyal Management System application will measure loyalty based on the consumption of its services, helping to identify repeat customers and reward them accordingly with points, virtual gift cards, coupons, and other incentives.
Investing in growth
A great area of growth for CBG has been its international remittance (IR) business, facilitating the fast, reliable and convenient receipt of funds from abroad.
The bank is investing in payment technologies, partnering with FinTech and money transfer agents, which are all avenues to bringing convenient banking to the doorsteps of its customers while increasing its IR market shares.
CBG’s core banking system, Temenos T24, will also be upgraded to facilitate transactions. “With the new technologies that are evolving, we need to move to the latest version of T24 in order to exploit them,” explains Ndungu.
Indeed, CBG is constantly exploring emerging technologies such as the likes of AI, machine learning (ML), cloud computing, APIs, big data and blockchain technologies to provide superior services.
New concepts and strategies are also being leveraged by the bank, including Banking as a Service (BaaS) and Banking as a Platform (BaaP), to offer diverse products and services to the customer.
“We have created and resourced a data science unit with data engineers and scientists. We intend to use data mining and models to focus more on selling products to individuals rather than mass advertising them,” Ndungu tells us.
“At CBG, customers are at the heart of our business and central to everything that we do”
Partners and people
Suppliers and partners are key stakeholders in the CBG business model, without whom the bank would not have made such rapid progress in its three and a half years of existence.
They range from cleaning companies that keep CBG’s premises in pristine condition, to security and technology providers that ensure customers are serviced in a safe and timely manner.
Ndungu highlights the support of Temenos, the supplier of its T24 core banking system, and their implementation partner, Inlaks, for the integration of seven different data centres into one, in a record nine months.
“These kinds of partnerships are what have generated our growth to amazing and unimaginable levels,” recognises Ndungu.
“All banks are in on the digital transformation, so partnerships have become really important. You have to look at your business and ask yourself: Can we do this alone? Can we co-create? Can we make more by collaborating?”
Likewise, employees are central to everything that CBG does. It strives to create a working environment where the wellbeing of everyone is taken into consideration, achieved by focusing on individual training and development needs.
A human capital management system is also in place, which serves as a hub for the needs of each individual member of staff, complemented by an online training portal with a wide selection of training materials for both technical and soft skills.
“The heartbeat of our workplace is continuously monitored by using third-party employee perception surveys, the outcomes of which are converted into quantifiable, measurable action points.
“We have undertaken a journey of building a strong culture that fosters teamwork and collaboration amongst our various teams. This is well built into our ongoing three-year strategy, where the people side of CBG features prominently,” Ndungu states.
The bank has tasked itself with building a meritocratic organisation where hard work is rewarded at the end of each year. From the onset, CBG embarked on a system that encourages pay for performance rather than attendance.
There is also a belief in clear and concise communication with staff, so that employees know exactly what is expected of them and how to execute those expectations.
“Feedback from both staff and management is well integrated into the communication systems. We strongly believe in the feedback of our employees and therefore encourage them to be more vocal and assertive.”
“All banks are in on the digital transformation, so partnerships have become really important”
Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) programmes and activities provide an avenue for CBG to achieve a balance of economic, environmental, and social practices whilst simultaneously fulfilling stakeholder expectations.
CBG’s CSR activities focus on three key thematic areas, namely health, quality education, and community and employee engagement.
“We are committed to understanding, monitoring, and managing the impact of our social, environmental, and economic investments to enable the bank to contribute to the larger goals of sustainable development,” shares Ndungu.
A multitude of impactful CSR initiatives have been undertaken to date by CBG. To help Ghana combat the COVID-19 pandemic, it donated personal protective equipment (PPE) and other medical supplies to the Ministry of Health, including sets of protective gowns, ICU patient monitoring system, bedside patient monitors, and Veronica buckets with unique corporate metal stands.
The donation forms part of the bank’s GH₵1 million commitment to help the country combat the pandemic. Since the outbreak of COVID-19 in Ghana, the bank has made additional donations to the Noguchi Memorial Institute for Medical Research (NMIMR) and the COVID-19 National Trust Fund.
At the height of lockdown, food items were also distributed to around 2,000 people in some of the most underprivileged communities in the Greater Accra, Ashanti, and Northern Regions of Ghana.
As part of its regional CSR activities, CBG has donated school items such as desks, chairs, cupboards, pens, pencils and exercise books to the Mantukwa Primary School, located in the Sunwani West District of the Bono Region. For the people of Nyapienya, a small community in the town of Asutsuare, the bank supported the construction of a mechanised borehole and a desalination machine to purify water sources in the area.
“The community, which hitherto was sharing pond water with animals that was unsafe and disease-infested, now has a potable source of water,” Ndungu informs us.
One of the United Nations’ (UN) Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) is to end poverty in all forms everywhere, as well as ensure healthy lives and promote wellbeing for all ages. As a bank, CBG strives to care for the wellbeing of all by giving back in life changing ways.
“In addition to the CBG’s three CSR pillars, driven by UN SDGs 3 (Health), 4 (Education), and 8 (Community), the bank together with other organisations has contributed by reducing poverty and thereby helping to achieve UN SDG 1.”
More to come
CBG turned three years old in 2021, and has already chalked a number of impressive successes.
However, it should be remembered that the bank is still in its infancy and has a lot of catching up to do. Coupled with the speed at which new technologies are emerging, CBG therefore strives to take big strides into the future of banking in the coming years.
“This is the year we consolidate the huge investments we have made into technology infrastructure to differentiate ourselves in the industry,” Ndungu sets out.
“We are going to accelerate our offerings to the MSME (Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises) sector by not only introducing relevant products to them, but also by offering business advisory services through our SME centres that we are launching.”
The goal for CBG is not only to bank this sector, but also support MSMEs into the next level of business maturity through the use of technology.
As well as making inroads into banking the mass market through mobile phones, this will entail lending and investing at a macro level. To achieve this, CBG will need a strong platform and FinTech partners that will allow it to serve this section of society, without them coming into its branches.