Global Banking,
Local Relevance


Clinton Clarke

Managing Executive:
Coastal Regions at Absa CIB


How Absa CIB’s client-centric strategy and emphasis on distributed leadership shaped the structure of its Coastal Regions teams

Absa is a proudly Pan-African bank. Its clients have global operations and take-on-the-world ambitions. But, as wide as our worlds may be, humans like close relationships … especially in South Africa’s coastal regions.

“Our clients in KwaZulu-Natal, the Western Cape and the Eastern Cape demand a more regional feel,” says Clinton Clarke, Managing Executive: Coastal Regions at Absa CIB. “They like dealing with people they know, and they like being serviced by people in their own regions.”

Absa CIB’s client coverage in South Africa’s coastal regions balances that personalised, hyper-local approach with the support of the bank’s centralised team. “Our regions are at the end of that global network,” says Clarke. “For example we have bankers in New York and London who work with our Global Clients in those locations to execute on leads and opportunities in Cape Town.”

Distributed leadership in action

For Clarke, the idea of Absa CIB’s regional structure came when he started working for Absa CIB in the Western Cape. “When I arrived here in 2015 our colleagues were sitting in five different buildings,” he says. “Even though they were serving one client, they were all in silos. The next eye-opener came when I went to a client with one of our bankers. The client had a query about a charge on a current account. It wasn’t big. The effective ask was for us to write off a few hundred rand. But the banker couldn’t commit to doing it in the meeting. He had to go back to the office and speak to someone in Johannesburg first. That’s when I knew that we needed to relook at our regional model. We wanted our people to have that agency.”

The core of Absa CIB’s regional strategy was to build a regional structure that included coverage, product and enablement functions around clients. “We’re client-led, so our clients tell us what they need,” says Clarke. “Our regional teams are also centre enabled, as there are some competencies that we don’t do in the region, and here we rely on our colleagues in the centre to deliver that expertise. We do influence, and we do tell our central teams what our regional clients want and what a good strategy for each region looks like.”

That regionally delivered model enables Absa CIB to be much more responsive and accountable to the bank’s clients. “Our Group strategy emphasises distributed leadership,” says Clarke. “That doesn’t just apply to the leadership within the teams in Johannesburg. It’s about how you distribute your teams across the country. Regional businesses are the ultimate example of distributed leadership.”

Regional focus with central support

All three of the coastal regions are important import/export hubs, with vital ports like Cape Town, Saldanha, Gqeberha, Ngqura, Durban and Richards Bay. Yet each region has its own quirks and its own demands. It follows, then, that the Coastal Regions teams are very deliberate in the segments in which they choose to operate in each region.

The Western Cape region has businesses for Global Corporates, Large Local Corporates, Mid-corporates, Non-bank Financial Institutions, Public Sector, and Natural Resources and Energy. In the Eastern Cape there are businesses for Global Corporates, Mid-corporates, and Public Sector; and KwaZulu-Natal has Large Local Corporate, Mid-corporate, Global Corporate and Public Sector segmentation.

“We choose very carefully what we want to focus on in each region, and we deliver it in a way that is supported by a local banker with central support,” Clarke concludes. “That combination makes us a lot more relevant to our clients, and it really lands our client-led strategy. We’re able to service them regionally, with the segment speciality that they need. That’s quite a big differentiator for Absa as a bank.”

Clinton Clarke

Managing Executive: Coastal Regions at Absa CIB

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