Steven Bogatsu’s journey with First National Bank Botswana (FNBB) began in 2007 when he joined as Chief Financial Officer (CFO).
It was a position he excelled in for six years until he was promoted to the role of Director of Product Houses.
A year late and the father-of-four’s career path took an international turn when he was transferred to Swaziland as Chief Executive Officer (CEO).
After a successful two-year stint in the land of the Swazis, Bogatsu returned home in 2015 to spearhead FNBB’s innovative drive.
Under Bogatsu’s tenure, FNBB have gone from strength-to-strength and were recently named the Best Bank in the country for the second year in a row in the Euromoney Excellence Awards – they also won the prestigious prize in 2010.
The Voice’s Portia Ngwako-Mlilo caught up with the busy banker, where they discussed the award, the world of banking and Bogatsu’s role in it.
Q. What does this award mean to you as FNB?
A. There are so many awards happening on an annual basis, most of them based in Europe and Dubai by magazines involved in banking and finance.
For the entire banking and finance industry the most prestigious one is the Euromoney Awards.
The award is based on the survey from our customers and other stakeholders and it means a lot to us.
Despite the challenges we have had as financial institution, customers and stakeholders still value us.
Q. What were some of the requirements for this competition?
A. They were judging the banks based on the solutions that they put forward for their customers and how innovative they are.
Banks are awarded based on the performance of the institutions, how they have been able to grow their balance sheets and profitability in a challenging economic environment.
Q. What do you think FNB is doing right to make it stand out from other competitors?
A. I believe that it is the solutions and the product that enable convenience to our valuable customers and ensure the bank is open to them 24/7.
Our customers can do banking wherever, they do not necessarily have to visit the bank.
It is those innovative solutions that set us apart from our competitors.
Q. It was recently revealed that digital platforms account for 90% of all bank transactions, should employees be worried about their jobs?
A. When you look at surveys done in a world economic forum they do indicate that there are some skills and jobs that are going to be lost.
In the process of introducing these innovative solutions you are creating other jobs because new skills are required.
When I talk to staff members I usually say they should not focus on the fact that they may be replaced but rather focus on the new skills that are required in the industrial revolution so they upskill and remain relevant.
Q. What are some of the challenges FNB face in business?
A. We have faced a number of them.
The first is regulatory because of the various challenges that banks abroad have had that led to the collapse of banks in 2008/9 in America and Europe.
The challenges of anti money laundering and terrorism financing, we had to put very robust systems in place in order to address them.
Those systems came at very high costs to the banks, they greatly inconvenienced our customers as we request information that some are not comfortable with.
Q. How has the closing of mines and loss of jobs affected your business?
A. The world economy has had its ups and downs and the credit has declined.
When years were good we used to talk of credit extension growing at double-digit figures like 18%; now we are talking of credit growing in the economy at between 5 and 7%.
Our customers find it difficult to repay their loans because of economic challenges.
In Botswana when you are working you take care of your immediate and extended family and when you lose your job you are unable to repay your loans.
Q. Some would argue you are too quick to repossess a house if one fails to pay mortgage, what is your response to that?
A. What hit us most is the property finance and sometimes customers think we are too quick to repossess their houses but it is not the case.
We are not making any money when we repossess a house.
If I talk of the evolution of the housing valuation, it has dropped by at least 20% in the last 5-8 years and when we go for auctions we are not getting even 100% declined value, we probably get about 80%.
When you look at the period when we first grant a loan and we ultimately decide to dispose it in the market through an auction, we get between 65 and 75% of the original loan.
We do not enjoy repossessing houses because it means your customers are not successful and the bank too will not be successful.
Q. What does the future hold for FNB as far as innovation is concerned?
A. What I always say to my team is that innovation is quickly bridging the innovation gap.
What I mean is whereas a couple of years ago we introduced products and our competitors took years to replicate them now with the advent of technology they are able to do it quicker.
We cannot continue doing things the same way we did in the past and we need to bring in technologies that are ages apart from our competitors.
There are many interventions that we have put in place to ensure that we continue being the most innovative bank in the country.
Q. Describe your journey as CEO to date?
A. I must say the journey has been enriching. I have seen myself grow both professionally and personally.
I am grateful for all the years I have spent in this institution.
Q. What was business like in Swaziland compared to Botswana?
A. There were many things we had achieved in Botswana that Swaziland had not yet implemented so it was easy for me to replicate the success we had here.
In terms of levels of maturity both countries are classified as mature subsidiaries and expected to have similar characteristics.
The economy of Swaziland has greater potential for diversification because there are a lot of agriculture activities like sugar and timber.
Q. What value have you added to FNB?
A. I am a team player and it is through the staff members’ commitment that we are this far.
The first thing that I did was to have a team that is empowered to make decisions to take the business where we all want it to go.
We crafted a strategy and every team member is empowered in their space to ensure that the departments they are leading go towards our common objective.
I encourage a lot of communication so that every employee understands where the bank is going in terms of business.
In the morning I have coffee with the staff members, have interaction and allow them to share ideas so that we all participate towards a common goal.
Q. What is your greatest career achievement?
A. I was humbled to be selected to go and represent FNB in Swaziland.
It was an important career achievement because it shows the organisation has a lot of confidence in me.
In Swaziland together with my team we were able to achieve double-digit growth in an environment where the macros were not favourable!
Q. What advice can you give to those aspiring to be in leadership positions?
A. You have to invest in yourself. Sometimes I worry that some of the leaders are being rushed.
A leader should be cooked over some period not rushed through a process before getting the experience and the learning of what leadership is about.
A leader should have the ability to ensure that the business continues even after you leave by making sustainable decisions.
When you consult you are likely to reach a decision that will have the buy-in of everybody.
Q. Thank God it’s Friday, what are your plans for the weekend?
A. I love spending weekends with my wife Neo and our kids Tumelo, Mosekiemang, Reabetswe and Olebogeng.
I feel more relaxed when I am at home than when away from my family.
I enjoy playing tennis with my boys. On Fridays, I chill with friends sharing our favourite drink and that’s basically how I relax.