Stanchart boss on gender equality, changing trends

Chief Executive Officer Kariuki Ngari. [Wilberforce Okwiri, Standard]

Standard Chartered Bank Kenya is disrupting the status quo by increasing female representation in the boardroom. 

How have you managed to achieve this inclusion?

I think that’s something that we have deliberately worked on. It has been deliberate. When I look at our total staff population today, 54 per cent are female while 46 per cent male. But when you move to senior positions, it reduces to about 47 per cent female and 53 per cent male. There is a time it was a male-dominated industry, but it is now becoming a female-dominated industry.

Our challenge now is how to ensure that we replicate what is happening in the overall staff numbers in the senior positions. We have to ask ourselves what keeps women out of senior positions. If you look at our maternity leave options, we make sure you take your six months plus the normal leave, and this is paid. We have to make sure that our policies do not disfavour women.  

What is it like being a banker in 2022 in Kenya? 

As we talk about the tail end of the pandemic, we have got to accept that it is endemic, but then we still have to continue protecting our staff. I think that’s important. What’s happening in terms of the global challenges is so uncertain, and no one can be certain about the future, but you’ve got to plan for it. 

Banking as we know it is undergoing constant transformation – we are seeing automation and robots doing most of the repetitive work. The banker of the future will need to be flexible, creative, entrepreneurial, customer-centric and willing to learn and unlearn. 

As you plan for the future of the bank, what informs your priorities?  

You have to think about the staff and then the customer because the staff provide the service to the customer. For instance, over the last two years, we have had to continue facilitating their businesses because of the pandemic. We accelerated our plans to help them continue with their financial transactions without worrying that: “I’m putting my health at risk.” You have got to think about your colleagues, the clients and then the shareholders because they have to fund the investment.

You have at least 30 years of experience in the banking industry.  What advice would you give someone who’s just starting? 

When you look at the younger generation, they do everything online, but the older generation has been resistant to technology; we are now forced to accept technology. I’d emphasise resilience, patience, and a willingness to learn new things.

What, in your view, will shape the banking industry this year? 

Technology is going to disrupt and reshape the banking sector completely. It has also brought in other players who are now competing with what we knew as the traditional banks. When you look at the payment space, for instance, FinTech players have come in big time. You can imagine how the sector will be 10 years or 30 years from now. They will be big players and FinTech players will probably crowd that space. When you talk about blockchain technology, it has become mainstream. At Standard Chartered, we are using blockchain technology in certain corridors within our global network.  

In the Asian corridor between some markets like the Philippines, China and Hong Kong,  we have already rolled out a blockchain-based digital trade finance platform that can offer buyers and sellers – who are typically small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) – improved access to trade finance. The use of blockchain, which will be enabled in due course, also means enhanced transparency and traceability for all transactions across the entire supply chain, which reduces fraud risk and provides greater assurance, resulting in increased trust among all trade participants. 

What exactly does it take to work for you?

Passion and attitude. That’s important because we are in the customer service business. I think in terms of skills very few roles will hire for skills. 

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