Steward Bank A Victim Of it's Own Success

www.fbc.co.zw

Heads are currently rolling at 101 Nkwameh Nkrumah avenue as the greatest success they have made has been spinned up side down by technology, only to bite them.

Steward Bank, Zimbabwe’s fastest growing ‘digital’ bank, has been battling bad publicity over some technical glitches which it says are residual “teething problems” from its recent system  upgrade.

While the system upgrade was meant to meet a sizable growth pattern, TechnoMag can reveal that the bank chewed more than it could  digest as thousands flocked to Steward bank, with high transactions skyrocketing with huge numbers, the system gave up the fight only to the ire of their customers.

A closer source told TechnoMag that the Steward bank technical team had not anticipated such a phenomenal growth and we’re caught flat footed when the system reached it climax, slowing down most transactions including the basic processes.

Unfortunately the only quick fix is to import a bigger system which enables their financial inclusion, but with the current foreign currency shortages, the central bank will not be in a hurry to prioritize system upgrade under their current priority list .

A technical analyst who could not be named for Proffessional reasons stated that they are now forced to use manual system of capturing data and reconciling between internal and RTGS system, which makes the process a mine

“The challenge is that Steward Bank is no longer using a Straight Through Processing solution that integrates RTGS with their core banking system T24. As a result RTGS transfers take up to 10 days to reflect in peoples accounts,” said the IT expert who requested anonymity.

According to Investopedia, Straight through processing (STP) is an initiative that financial companies use to optimize the speed at which they process transactions.

The delay in RTGS transactions in the bank is one of the various reasons why its customers are disgruntled. Best case scenario, processing the transaction takes about 48 hours with worst case being a period beyond 10days.

We published a story saying that some of its customers had taken matters onto their own hands and were now threatening to sue the bank amid a petition that was circulating on Social Media seeking signatures from fellow customers to pressure the bank to address their grievances.

Whether the petition will gain traction or not is something else, but just the idea of your customers ganging up to take action against you should cause Steward Bank management some sleepless nights.
The bank, which ironically is supposed to be tech-savvy, has drawn the wrath of some sections of its customers over the failure of the bank’s systems to perform, probably due to capacity issues.

Steward bank boss Lance Mambondiani

So, when your customers are talking of suing you, that is not nice, any way you look at it, even if they do not succeed.

But from our perspective as a Tech Blog which champions tech issues and the use of technology to solve problems and improve ordinary people’s lives, we can’t help but empathize with and feel for the Bank.

Yes, there is no excuse for not delivering for your customers, and we sympathise with those customers that have been on the receiving end of Steward Bank’s delayed transactions, long queues, unanswered queries and all that they have had to put up with.

But if the truth be told, Steward Bank is the victim of its success. It has been phenomenally successful in attracting hundreds of thousands of customers – from every walk of life – everywhere in Zimbabwe, to a point where its systems curved in. It’s probably something that Steward Bank will not admit to, but their biggest problem is that of not anticipating the growth that they have achieved.

The bank is therefore now paying the price of being an innovator and an early bird in using technology to bring financial inclusion to thousands of previously unbanked people.

The reality is that those who take bold risks – anywhere – will always carry the risk of getting some things wrong and so expose themselves to criticism. And again this is not by any means to downplay the serious inconvenience and, in some cases the possible prejudice that the bank may have caused some of its customers.

Our point is that it was probably bound to happen – if not to Steward Bank, then to whoever would dare do what had not been done before to bring real financial inclusion.

The cash shortages and the shift to transacting using cards caused such a growth in business to banks, with so many of them reporting profits despite the tough operating environment in Zimbabwe. And besides, long queues and people reported to be sleeping outside banking halls is not just a Steward Bank problem.

But Steward Bank’s system failures, where the bank sought to bypass the long queues via digital banking, has made the bank look much worse off in comparison to other banks at this time.

Should the bank management have responded earlier to the challenges? Definitely. They are now paying the price for not anticipating their success.
Should they have been explaining their challenges more clearly and more regularly to their customers?

By all means, yes. In fact, there are those among us – again, without trying to underplay the challenges caused to some customers – that think that Steward Bank “crisis” has been made worse by the bank’s failure to communicate their challenges much clearly, and explain them early. As a result, some trust may have been lost, making management’s task much harder now.

We however understand that the bank has begun to take decisive steps, in the wake of the social media storm, to communicate the challenges and to explain the measures they are taking to address them. Customers everywhere always want to know that their concerns and grievances are being listened to and something is being done to address them.

Customers everywhere hate being misled.
The bank has put up statements to say it completed its much-spoken about system upgrade on July 1, 2017. It has also changed or strengthened its IT team.

But after what has happened, the customers will need more convincing and the bank will need to regain their trust.

This is why we believe the bank’s CEO, Dr Lance Mambondiani himself, should come out openly and talk to his customers directly and about what they have done and they are doing to address the issues that have affected a sizeable chunk of their customers.

And we strongly suggest he does so fast, and he stays engaged for as long as he can.
Otherwise, we will be saddened to see a tech-driven bank slowed down or even beaten back by technical issues when the real story about Steward Bank should be how a local bank is using technology and digital platforms to bring banking to the majority of the unbanked.

Steward Bank was yet to respond to questions sent to this publication by time of going live.

A disguntled Steward customer yesterday initated an online petition to mobilise signatures ordering the bank to  fix their situation.

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