Bringing calm to BBS
Following the headline-making boardroom squabbles that engulfed BBS Limited throughout April, Bernard Mzizi was identified as the man to rescue the company’s battered reputation.
Appointed Chairman of the Board of Directors on 5 May, Mzizi is a seasoned banker with a wealth of experience.
His journey to the BBS hot seat includes a six-year stint at
Standard Chartered Bank Botswana, where he was employed as the Senior Corporate Dealer.
In 2011, BancABC came calling, headhunting Mzizi for the role of Country Head of Corporate Banking – a position the Francistown native held until 2018.
In this interview with The Voice’s KABELO ADAMSON, Mzizi, who holds a BA (Economics and Statistics) and considers himself an all-rounder in the Banking industry, outlines his plans for BBS.
The new Chair also explains why he is confident the recent infighting that threatened to tear the organistion apart is confined to the past.
Firstly, congratulations on your recent appointment as BBS Limited Chairman.
Thank you, much appreciated.
So, do you feel your experience in the banking sector played a major part in being appointed the Board Chair?
True, my vast experience in Banking was a factor in my appointment to the Board of BBS Limited.
My colleagues on the Board then saw it fit to appoint me to the role of Board Chair.
I am an all-rounder in Banking having worked in Retail Banking, Treasury, and Corporate Banking.
How do you intend to use this know-how to take BBS to new heights?
BBSL’s long-term ambition is to become a commercial bank.
I am confident that with my experience in commercial banking, I will be able to add value to this process by offering the right advice so that we not only create sustainable shareholder value but are also able to bring healthy competition to the commercial banking space through appropriately tailored products and services.
The company recently went through what can at best be described as a chaotic period; would you say BBS has left all its troubles behind?
I can assure our shareholders, customers, and other stakeholders that the episode is completely behind us.
Working with my colleagues on the Board and the Management team, we will ensure that there is no repeat of such an experience.
First of all, as Chairman, I will ensure that we, the Board in particular, never place our interests above those of BBSL.
So, we all have to be familiar with and understand BBSL Board governance documents and other governance processes.
This knowledge will be strengthened through regular training on governance so that as business leaders we are clear on what is right or wrong when we act for the company.
Don’t you feel these boardroom squabbles affected investor confidence and possibly dented the business’ image?
This was indeed an unfortunate situation that should never have occurred. However, the fact that our shareholders took charge of the AGM to ensure the order is restored was an affirmation of their confidence in the business.
We are confident that this will translate to rebuilding investor confidence.
The fruitful engagements with various stakeholders since the events of April 2021 have shown that BBSL is a trusted business.
We do not take this vote of confidence lightly and will work hard to sustain it.
Moving on, BBS has long voiced ambitions of becoming the first homegrown commercial bank – what’s the hold-up?
To acquire a banking licence is an involved and deliberate process.
Nonetheless, following the events of April 2021, which affected the delayed submission of the application, we are now back on track with finalising the necessary documentation.
So when can we expect BBS to submit its banking licence application?
We will do so soon. An announcement will be made in this regard.
Having worked in the industry for so long, in your view what makes it difficult for locals to establish a commercial bank?
Setting up a bank is capital intensive and you need the right people and robust information technology and payments platforms.
What can be done to change this?
The commercialisation of BBS soon, which has thousands of shareholders, the majority of whom are Batswana, will hopefully plant a seed in the minds of fellow countrymen that it is doable.
Remember, BBS Limited was started by ordinary Batswana with the support of the Government in 1976.
Batswana has continued to support its evolution, which will culminate in it being a commercial bank.
With the right mindset and pooling of resources for the long term, Batswana can create big and sustainable businesses such as BBSL.
The philosophy of a building society, from which BBSL comes, is based on the model of communities coalescing to start a venture for all.
What are your views on the state of Botswana’s financial sector?
The local financial service sector is generally resilient and contributes immensely to our economy.
Unfortunately, it is currently under duress due to Covid-19.
However, with the Government vaccination programme, I expect the situation to improve as more and more people get vaccinated and the economy returns to normalcy.
There are complimentary efforts globally to stem the tide of Covid-19 which will, in the long run, help strengthen our economy as a business with trading partners improves. I am optimistic that the situation will improve.
What advice or message of hope do you have for young aspiring bankers?
Having grown up in Somerset and White City in Francistown, I understand the challenges that children in those areas face, including places like Bluetown and Kgaphamadi.
However, challenges are in themselves blessings because such should motivate them to succeed in life.
So, I would like to urge them to focus on their studies, stay away from alcohol and drugs, be patient and disciplined for them to have bright futures.
Away from the boardroom, what keeps you busy?
I am into horticultural and poultry farming, so this has been keeping me busy.
Finally, Thank God It’s Friday, what will you be up to this weekend?
A bit of golf, family, dash to the farm and come back to relax over a bottle of white wine.