SME Banker of the Year 2023 nominee: Jenine Zachar (Standard Bank South Africa)

SME Banking
08/05/2023 Article
profile picture of Jenine Zachar

Jenine Zachar

Standard Bank

Head: Enterprise & Direct Banking Segment

Despite experience in teaching, communications, consulting, process engineering, and digital solutioning, I’m constantly surprised that my career of choice turned out to be Business Banking. Working with SMEs I get to live my passion for driving positive change in Africa. This also allows me to live my passion for broadening inclusion in the South African economy by empowering women entrepreneurs to lead and win. 

In my personal capacity I love spending time with my husband, two boys, four dogs and 75 fish whilst drinking my fair share of good coffee, enjoying the occasional book, and attempting to run and cycle. 

"In my experience the entrepreneurship journey can be very complex and, in the beginning, very lonely too. As such, especially at the start up stage when businesses are very small, the expert advice of an experienced business banker is critical "

In the course of your career, what have you seen change in terms of demands/needs of SME clients? And what role should a bank play in meeting these demands?

The needs of SME’s have largely remained the same over time, with the need for access to markets, access to funding, access to skilled resources and reduction of red tape. What has changed significantly, however, is how Banks should, and do, respond to these needs, and demands. 

As the world becomes more digital, many banks have responded by developing exclusively digital channels in the belief that SMEs need quick, reliable, remote banking and support systems. While these are certainly a part of what is required, in my own experience I’ve found that SMEs really need the close and continuous human interaction and support that can only be provided by a personalised relationship, with a real Relationship Manager. In my experience the entrepreneurship journey can be very complex and, in the beginning, very lonely too. As such, especially at the start up stage when businesses are very small, the expert advice of an experienced business banker is critical. While reliable digital channels providing effortless execution is a given, it is also important that these services are affordable, matching a business’s ability to pay. 

Over the years as SMEs have become accustomed to ‘quick and simple’ service on other platforms, most also expect the same from their banks. This has raised the bar on what SMEs deem adequate remote service. In an age where you can buy almost anything online with same-day delivery, bankers shouldn’t expect SMEs to wait weeks for a decision on a loan application, for example. In a digital age, Banks have a responsibility to reduce red tape by ensuring that our offerings are readily available and can be accessed and deployed quickly and effortlessly. Effective digital channels supported by efficient telephonic banking backed up by an always-available Relationship Manager takes both administrative and time pressure off SMEs, allowing them to spend more time serving clients and growing their business secure in the confidence that they are doing the right thing. 

Customers also need to be able to open transactional accounts, save and invest, and lend with ease. In a digital age this means developing remote services, either as fully fledged end-to-end online platforms, or using automation to make banking easier for staff and customers of our business clients. Making funding applications and decisions accessible via digital channels, including online contract signing and quick disbursement, for example, allows our client businesses to respond to the ever-increasing demands of their own customers in an increasingly digital age. 

I have also observed a positive shift in how banks approach partnerships to serve their SME clients. Lately, for example, we’ve seen FinTechs, and niche players enter the financial services industry. Instead of competing with these innovators and disrupters, we look at how we can partner with them to accelerate the growth of our clients by adding beyond banking solutions. By also leveraging our own value chains we can bring our bank’s entire relationship and stakeholder ecosystem to the creation of broad partnerships linking, for example, the private sector with government and FinTechs in the development of policy, legislation and structures enabling accessible, affordable funding. By making it easier for more SMEs to access the funding, advice, tools, and relationships to flourish, we broaden economic inclusion and expand employment.

What have you found to be effective in leading your SME banking team/in your leadership position?

The huge growth potential of the SME segment as well as its potential to create jobs and address social challenges has seen the segment receive a lot of attention in recent years. As a Bank based in Africa, we are committed to driving our continent’s growth, and SMEs enjoy strategic focus at the highest levels of Standard Bank. Group wide strategic support aside, however, elements that I have found useful in personal leadership include: 

  • Setting, and then maintaining, clarity of purpose and direction, not only for one’s immediate teams but for all stakeholders required to achieve our goals.
  • Shared measures of success across teams.
  • Using our stated purpose to guide focus, and then continuously sharing focus areas until they are woven into conversations, prioritisation and decision making.
  • Celebrating and showcasing incremental achievements against focus areas on a continuous basis.
  • Courageous, quick, decision making, combined with the humility to hear the views of others, creating a culture of sharing and healthy debate able to focus on the relentless achievement of purpose without rancour.
  • Delivering through diversity allows us to accurately reflect the communities we operate in, achieving the right results in the right way for the right stakeholders. 

Briefly describe, what would be your top 3 achievements/ projects delivered by your bank for SME customers?

Standard Bank South Africa has developed an extensive ecosystem of initiatives, products, services, relationships, and insight to support SMEs in Africa’s ever-changing environments to get off the ground, stay in business and grow. Three key initiatives that stand out for me in this regard are our: 

  1. Full-service banking model providing access to a Relationship Banker for micro and small businesses with a turnover less than R5m per annum. Starting at R5 per month this is the most affordable relationship banking offering for sole proprietors and registered businesses in the South African market.
  2. Initiatives geared towards quick, accessible, and differentiated funding; one of the flagship products launched for the Standard Banked SME market has been the BizFlex loan. This loan is offered digitally end-to-end on our digital banking channels and repayments are uniquely based on daily revenue earned as opposed to fixed monthly repayments.
  3. Beyond Banking initiatives supporting SMEs through start up, management and growth of their businesses. These include our BizConnect platform providing access to information, guides, templates, and content supplied by experts or other entrepreneurs on the platform. BizConnect also provides access to step-up funding initiatives, like crowdfunding, by assisting SME campaigns, managing the collection of crowd-funded donations, and matching funding in instances where campaigns meet specific criteria. BizConnect also provides access to skills development through the Thinkubate Academy, a free online business skills development platform providing small enterprises masterclasses and practical learning tools across a range of business management subjects. 

What would be the most significant business case that you've applied and learned the most out of it? Both positively or negatively?

Whilst the words ‘Covid-19’ no longer populate our daily vocabulary, the pandemic drove a lot of innovation which, still today, is inspiring innovation and new thinking, especially around crisis management and agility. One of the outcomes of this thinking is novel ways of partnering with and automating all aspects of Standard Bank’s value chains to better serve the needs of the SMEs. 

On partnerships, for example, we have become much more agile with how we work with government, the private sector, private investors, and like-minded institutions to go further, together. Our Covid-19 inspired partnership ecosystem is, today, truly shifting the dial on SME support and development across South Africa. 

Equally, our test & learn opportunities for automation and digitisation on processes is delivering significantly faster turnaround times. Together with our ability to automate components in a continuously iterative manner, these and other Covid-19 response innovations have dramatically improved the SME customer experience at Standard Bank. 

Related news & insights

SME Banking
05/06/2023 Article

Financial services for the gig economy: Catering to the unique needs of independent workers

A recent Qorus report discusses the rise of the gig economy and its impact on the future of work and...

Digital Reinvention
31/05/2023 Interview

Fibabanka reinvents consumer finance by taking the bank where the customers are

In Turkey, Fibabanka created a stir with the launch of its BNPL Alışgidiş solution and the merchant ecosystem that accompanies...

Digital Reinvention
29/05/2023 News

CBA announces new reimagined banking services

Commonwealth Bank has announced a series of innovations and technological advances designed to strengthen and deepen the customer experience as...

Open Finance
28/05/2023 News

Airwallex and TrueLayer partner to enhance payments infrastructure

Airwallex, the leading global payments and financial platform for modern businesses, announced its partnership with TrueLayer, the payments network powered...

SME Banking
28/05/2023 News

CaixaBank launched a contactless payments app

CaixaBank has created an app that enables contactless payments of any amount to be managed quickly and easily from Android...

SME Banking
26/05/2023 News

ASB offers discounted lending to support businesses’ social and environmental sustainability efforts

ASB is helping businesses on their sustainability journey with its new Business Sustainability Loan, aimed at supporting positive social and...

SME Banking
24/05/2023 News

ADIB becomes the first UAE bank to provide instant and secure account opening for SMEs via deploying Emirates Face Recognition (EFR) technology

ADIB becomes the first UAE bank to provide instant and secure account opening for SMEs via deploying Emirates Face Recognition...

SME Banking
22/05/2023 Article

The best of SME banking in Milan at the Reinvent Forum

This year the event is getting bigger with the SME Banking awards and the SME Banking Community open meetup.