Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) has become a major part of corporates in the modern-day world. In fact, belief is that customers have sustained trust on companies which empower communities they operate in. Locally, one such company is First National Bank Botswana (FNBB).
The Bank, which is listed on the Botswana Stock Exchange (BSE), has found it fitting to establish a fully-fledged and independent foundation (FNBB Foundation), which is a vehicle that drives the Bank’s CSR mandate.. FNBB Foundation Manager, Onkemetse Montsheki has recently opened up about the importance of CSR for corporates and how as an institution they have not left this to chance. During the interview, she frequently talked about sustainability and how CSR is important in achieving Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
“At FNBB we believe that CSR is basically empowering communities that we operate in,” said Montsheki who is completing her dissertation for Masters of Science (project management) athe University of Botswana. As things stand, the FNBB Foundation has chosen to focus on six strategic CSR areas. These areas are Arts and Culture, Youth Empowerment, Education, Sport and Recreation, Social Welfare and Environmental Sustainability. As recent as last year, the Bank has been at the forefront of helping artists across all spectrum by giving them an opportunity to compete and get rewarded through the Bodiragatsi Jwame, Lentswe Lame initiative.
The creative and performing arts industry has been hard hit by COVID-19 as entertainment had come to a complete halt since the first lockdown and current restrictions have had an impact on their primary source of income.. According to Montsheki, this empowerment was done under the focal area of Arts and Culture.
The Bank has also helped with tracking devices for rhinos at Khama Rhino Sanctuary. This initiative is crucial especially that rhinos are under siege from marauding poachers. Tourism is one of the major sources of income for the country. She is content that, the Foundation also managed to empower communities in remote areas that have limited or no electricity at all with solar bags. These bags are important to learners for studying at night more especially that they have capabilities of being recharged by solar energy. Areas such as Senyawe, Paragarungu, Letlhakane among others have benefitted from this gesture. The solar bag initiative has been driven with the collaborations of stakeholders such as the ministry of local government. The FNB Park in Broadhurst which has come as a result of a strong partnership between Gaborone City Council and the Bank has benefited the community immensely. The Bank has also helped built hostels for those living with disabilities.
The Foundation Manager has also made it clear that, social needs are not static and at FNBB they are consistently reviewing CSR strategies for relevance purposes. “Over the years we have come to understand that needs in society are not static as such from time to time we review our strategy to ensure that we are still relevant in our help, we look at global priorities like the sustainable development goals to see where the needs are in the global space as well as looking here at home to also assess the national priorities by reviewing the national development plans, so that in our quest to empower communities we do so by complementing the Government’s efforts of empowering its own,” she responded to Botswana Guardian questions.
FNBB corporate responsibility initiatives have been made easier by the fact that, staff members are always on board from day one. Each and every staff member is given two days off to contribute to CSR projects that they choose to be part of.
“On an annual basis, each department/branch is encouraged to do a community needs assessment where they operate in order to lend a helping hand where they can. Moreover, staff members are encouraged to engage with the community by sharing their professional or personal skills in bettering the lives of Batswana. On annual basis, FNBB as a bank reward the best volunteers through awards,” disclosed Montsheki.
Companies are now moving towards Corporate Social Investment (CSI) as opposed to CSR to be able to measure success and sustainability. Montsheki has confirmed they have also as FNBB adopted such an approach for sustainability purposes. Furthermore, FNBB also has internal systems to measure the success of their CSI initiatives. The Bank, which is the biggest in the country, has 3 principles that apply in every project. “The first one is the project should have a lasting legacy, that it is should benefit not only one person or one cohort but it should be able to benefit more people, secondly the project should be sustainable, even beyond the support of FNBB to avoid the dependency syndrome. Lastly there should be a positive impact on the community brought by the said project,” she explained.
COVID-19 has affected many communities and even front-line workers who are mainly government employees. The Bank has found it fit to shift focus to this emerging needs. The Bank has disinfected public spaces to curb the spread of COVID-19, supporting the hosting of emotional intelligence conference for the creative artists, supporting initiatives around substance abuse, awareness raising, supporting child care shelters like SOS, Childline, among other charitable organisations.
CSR initiatives requires a lot of funding, which is sometimes hard to come by. Montsheki is happy that, for sustainability purposes, FNBB has managed to create a funding mechanism. On annual basis, the Bank commits up to 1% of its after tax profits, which ranges between P6 million to P8 million annually. The funds are invested back in the society through the staff volunteer program as well as through direct support through the FNBB Foundation.
“Helping communities should no longer be seen as a one-way route, but rather we should remember that it is these communities that form part of our shareholders and customers, and the more they are empowered the more businesses also get empowered. The relationship is a symbiotic one; secondly, our helping should be more sustainable rather than once off donations,” said Montsheki.
She is upbeat that the organisation will continue to empower locals. “We believe CSR initiatives are part and parcel of government programmes aimed at achieving SDGs,” said Montsheki. SDGs, also known as the Global Goals, were adopted by all United Nations Member States in 2015 as a universal call to action to end poverty, protect the planet and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. The 17 SDGs are integrated—that is, they recognize that action in one area will affect outcomes in others, and that development must balance social, economic and environmental sustainability.
The amount of time the average First National Bank customer spends in a branch will fall to 86 minutes in 2016, from 100 minutes in 2015, a decline of 14percent year on year, FNB Business chief information officer Peter Alkema said on Tuesday.
The improvement, he said, means that FNB customers will spend a total of 8 760 fewer days in bank branches during 2016 compared to last year. “That’s a quarter of a century back in their lives [overall].”The reduction in branch use by customers is part of the bank’s strategy to drive users to digital channels, including online banking and the company’s smartphone app.
Although many people still regard physical branch infrastructure as a way into “financial inclusion”, it’s not a “point of dependency” but rather a place of first contact, Alkema said. “We quickly move them onto our digital platforms [after becoming customers].”He said FNB has seen a “dramatic” increase in the use of its app and its mobile banking services in the past year. Total internet, mobile and app transaction volumes have risen by 15percent over 2015. The number of customers using the FNB banking app rose by 85percent in the same period. The bank’s eWallet is also proving popular. FNB expects R1.5 billion to be sent via its mobile money service by the end of the year.
Alkema said fewer customers are using branches to deposit cash, with four times as much cash being deposited at automated terminals than in branches. However, despite the growing move to digital channels and payment methods, the use of cash in South Africa continues to increase at a rate of about 10percent /year.Meanwhile, Alkema has warned that telecommunications operators, which are keen to expand into financial services, may be underestimating what is required of them to build a serious retail presence.MTN Group, in particular, has aggressively hired new top executives with extensive experience in the financial services sector.
They include incoming CEO Rob Shuter (ex-Nedbank), incoming chief financial officer Ralph Mupita (ex-Old Mutual) and vice-president of strategy and mergers & acquisitions Stephen van Coller (ex-Absa), signalling that financial services is a key future focus area for the company.“Those companies must go the Discovery route of putting down big money and building a big team to build a retail bank,” said Alkema. “It’s not an overnight thing. [Discovery CEO] Adrian Gore understands this. When you see the telcos putting serious cash reserves aside, then [we’ll know they’re serious].”
Still, the telcos are well positioned to enter financial services, Alkema said.“Airtime has become a geographically independent store of value. In Africa, people buy airtime for people in other countries — it’s become a cross-border remittance. So, telcos already have a pseudo digital currency. They are already sitting on a digital store of value, which is that data and voice capability. When they can figure out new and innovative business models around that, it will be hugely interesting.”Alkema said telecoms operators need to find innovative business models that are not simply an add-on to their telco capabilities but a full banking offering.
“They need to get out there and say there are building a retail bank, exactly like Discovery has done.”The problem is the market is already competitive, in an economy that is depressed, making it difficult for new players to break in.“The only market share available is the market share you can take away from existing banks,” said Alkema. And that will be a tall order given that local banks have a “strong foothold” and are “innovative”. Also, the regulatory environment is “tough”, making it difficult for new players to enter the market successfully.