Local Solutions for KZN’s
Global-minded Businesses


Ebrahim Shaik

Head: Client Coverage KZN,
Absa CIB


Absa’s distributed leadership approach empowers its regional offices to make quick decisions for local clients. How does that work on the ground, in the busy import/export hubs of KwaZulu-Natal?

If a product is imported into or exported out of South Africa, chances are that it’s been through the KwaZulu-Natal ports of Durban or Richards Bay. Yet KZN is often overshadowed by the more high-profile financial hubs of Gauteng and the Western Cape. “To a certain extent KZN is understated in terms of the value that it brings,” says Ebrahim Shaik, Head of Client Coverage: KZN at Absa CIB. “But we contribute 16% to the national GDP; we have a diverse business landscape that’s driven by manufacturing, agri and agri-processing, retail, consumer, tourism and diversified industrials.”

And its ports are certainly active – Durban mostly with consumables, raw materials and automotive components, and Richards Bay primarily with minerals. “From an import/export perspective, if it’s by sea and by rail it’s most likely coming through KZN and being dispatched to Gauteng,” says Shaik.

That vibrant business environment keeps him and his colleagues in Absa CIB’s Durban-based KwaZulu-Natal regional office busy.

“We cover your mid-corporate businesses and large, listed corporates, across all industries and sectors,” he says. “In between are your large, family-owned corporates. These are unlisted businesses that do in excess of R2 billion turnover per annum, but which remain family-owned.”

Solutions for business ecosystems

No matter the size or ownership model of the business, the KZN regional team takes a client-led, relationship-based approach to servicing its clients. “Relationships are all about building sustainable partnerships,” Shaik says. “When we engage a client, we spend time understanding who they are; how they think; what their business model is and how it works; what their growth strategies are for the next three, five or 10 years; and how we can proactively position innovative solutions to them. If I have a banking request, who’s the first person I’m going to call? It’s the person who brings value to my business.”

That approach – underpinned by a distributed leadership model – reflects the way banking has evolved.

“Historically banks would go to a client and pitch a product,” says Shaik. “We’re flipping that by saying, ‘This is where your business is going, these are the emerging trends, and this is the innovation that will solve for your bigger ecosystem, which is not just your business but your staff, suppliers, debtors, et cetera.’”

A launchpad to Africa

In KwaZulu-Natal, those solutions need to keep businesses going – and growing. The national energy crisis has left many of them (especially in the manufacturing space) battling with productivity and the availability of alternative energy.

“From an [environmental, social and governance] point of view, there’s a tremendous market right now for renewable energy,” says Shaik. “Mid-corporates in particular are asking about the types of funding available from banks, and exploring options to create secondary sources of energy that support their business productivity continuation.”

Energy, however, is just one of the challenges faced by businesses in the region. “Consider where we’ve been as a region over the past three years,” says Shaik. “First COVID-19, then we had the 2021 riots, and the 2022 flooding. The impact on the regional economy has been a mood of caution, where mainstream buyers from wholesalers and manufacturers are not carrying too much stock but are rather taking a month-on-month approach.”

There has also been a review of business strategies. “If I’ve had a DC or head office in KZN, I’m now reviewing it,” he says. “Should I have one in Johannesburg or Cape Town or Mauritius, just to decentralise and manage my risk? Fixed direct investment has slowed in KZN, as businesses explore their options.”

This speaks to Absa’s Pan-African strategy, where regions are used as launchpads into Africa and the greater world, Shaik concludes. “Through our distributive leadership approach, we are empowered locally to make decisions quicker and closer to our clients.”

Ebrahim Shaik

Head: Client Coverage KZN, Absa CIB

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