Five years ago, owning a bank account was a far-fetched dream for most Zimbabweans. Banking was only for those with registered businesses and or individuals who had proof of income to show that they were employed or had a stable source of funding. In a country with more than fifty percent of its population employed in the informal sector, a solution was required to cater for not only this segment but for every other individual who needed to open an account, for saving or transacting.
The restrictive KYC requirements for opening an account made it impossible for just anyone to walk into a Bank and open an account, even for savings purposes. When Steward Bank came into the scene five years ago, its core purpose and strategic goal was to foster financial inclusion, making banking cost effective, universal and accessible to every Zimbabwean. The Bank introduced a KYC light account which only required customers to bring in their ID and a minimal account opening fee which covered the cost of debit cards. The transactional account, called iSave, which targets the middle to lower income customers attracted a lot of attention and became popular overnight due to the fact that it carried no bank charges and could be opened instantly. In addition, the account came with an option to link to the EcoCash platform which significantly increased convenience as it almost completely eliminated the need for customers to go to the Bank. Customers could transact over their mobile phones and through the vast agent network that the Bank set up countrywide.
Steward Bank became known as ‘The Neighbourhood Bank’, due to its strategic partnerships which produced more than 1,200 operating agents across the country. Banking services became accessible in the neighborhoods through the agent network, proving that anyone can have a bank account, regardless of their location, income level, status or occupation. The Bank also introduced Agents in rural areas and provided mobile banking in farms and villages, including the most remote of all places in a bid to cater to the previously marginalized everyday people.
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The Bank went further to ensure that customers were able to access mobile banking facilities both through mobile App and USSD for customers with feature phones. In addition to the agent banking facilities, the Bank currently is the largest payments acquirer in Zimbabwe with more than 11,000 POS devices nationwide. These POS devices are NFC enabled and customers can also pay using tap and go, EcoCash, USSD, EcoCash Mobile App and EcoCash Debit Card. The Steward Bank MasterCard has broken individual barriers to access financial convenience of credit cards as customers have an option to apply for credit cards that are offered under the MasterCard banner. In line with the company’s banking strategy to provide financial inclusion for all Zimbabweans, the partnership with MasterCard has enabled cardholders to access close to 10,000 point of sale transaction points within Zimbabwe and over 47 million points of sale points globally.
The Bank also introduced the Universal banking concept throughout its Agent Banking Network, which allows both Steward Bank and other banks’ customers to transact on the POS infrastructure both at Agents and at other service providers including toll gates.The SME sector has also been catered for accordingly under the financial inclusion agenda. The charges for the SME are significantly lower than those of corporate accounts. Previously, this category of business people was classified under the same banner as bigger corporates and this repelled the SMEs from opening business accounts.
In addition, the SMEs receive financial literacy and business management skills, taking them from being unbanked to being banked and running businesses well. Steward Bank has embraced Zimbabweans living in the diaspora by providing them options to manage their finances back home from wherever they are in the world. Steward Bank facilitates remittances for diasporians wishing to send money home to their families through different partnerships including Western Union and Cassava Remittances. Put simply, the Bank has provided Zimbabweans living abroad the ability to access financial products and services in Zimbabwe, but with international transactional capability, through its Diaspora Banking Unit.
At the same time, parents can now save for their children between the ages of zero to twelve through the Savvy Kids account, while teenagers and students have an opportunity to learn from a young age how to manage their own finances through the Savvy teens and iStudent accounts respectively. These accounts carry a zero minimum balance and no bank charges as there are no monthly charges deducted by the Bank. From the outset, the mission was to bring in Zimbabweans who had previously been excluded from the banking mainstream and what Steward Bank has done is to come up with a model supports that goal.
Essentially, the Bank has experienced the widest reach across the country and there is no question that this new financial inclusion model is a game-changer for the banking industry in Zimbabwe.Steward Bank has led the banking revolution in Zimbabwe by adopting a strategy which ensures that the previously marginalised individuals and communities are introduced to a banking and saving culture through Steward Bank.
The Bank has significantly grown due to its bold strategy to pursue a digital banking model anchored on transactional banking and a seamless integration with the EcoCash mobile money platform as a central pillar. In line with Steward Bank’s mission to offer affordable financial services to every Zimbabwean, and propelled by a strong brand,180 000 new accounts were opened in the past six months, as testimony to how far the Bank’s financial inclusion agenda has reached. The Bank has really become an Everyday Bank for Everyday people resulting in the Bank receiving various accolades for its role in financial inclusion.
“We are proud to have been recognised on a global platform for our part in writing the Zimbabwean story on how we can improve and change banking across Africa, making it relevant to the 21st century and contributing to the Reserve Bank’s vision to improve financial inclusion for people in the remote parts of the country. Despite the challenges we face, we believe it is possible to innovate and offer the banking products and services that people want and not what bankers believe they need. Banking should be affordable, it should be universal and easily accessible” said the bank’s Chief Executive.
For further details on the iSave and other accounts, please log onto www.stewardbank.co.zw