If you’ve ever been interested in financial institutions and the banking industry but aren’t really sure if this would be the career for you, then this is an article that you absolutely NEED to read. We were lucky enough to grab some time in Zibu Nqala’s diary, for a candid conversation about the financial institution industry and what exactly it is that a CEO does on a day to day basis. You’ll be surprised to know, that while rewarding, it’s not as glamorous as it looks.
What type of work do you do?
My team and I look after a segment of customers who earn between R0-240k. We do a lot of research to understand the customer and their nuances, in detail, so we can craft both financial and lifestyle value propositions that solve for their daily and aspirational needs.
How did you get into this line of work?
I joined banking as a graduate out of university, and all the different roles I have undertaken have involved customers in one way or the other. I have always been passionate about how we solve for customer needs, given the challenges that these customers face with banking, so it was a natural progression to take on this role.
What recommendations do you have for other young women looking to enter your industry?
I would encourage young women that want to join Banking. It has evolved so much over the years and provides a variety of options in terms of different disciplines within banking (whether its technology, data science, engineering, customer experience, finance, sales, and service) all of them impacting real lives and making a difference.
Is your industry female or male dominated and how did you stand out?
Banking has always been quite male dominated, but there have been numerous female leaders in the industry that have paved the way for women to grow and lead in this space. I have also been a person who has never shied away from a challenge, not limiting myself to environments that I was familiar with, so when opportunities presented themselves, I was always willing to learn and thrive. (yassss queen!)
How long have you been at this company for and what has your career progression look like here?
I joined FNB in 2004 as a project manager in technology. I’ve had a colourful and vast career in the Bank and have been fortunate to perform a variety of roles in different disciplines. After 9 years in Project Management, I got my first leadership opportunity in operations. I then moved into HR and got to head up transformation for our Points of Presence division. I moved into a Regional Head role and looked after the Gauteng South Region for 4 years. I then realised that I needed more exposure to other areas within the organisation and got the opportunity in FNB Commercial to look after a segment of customers who turn over between R10 million – R60 million.
After 2 years in that role, I joined a team that was driving the Platform Strategy of the Bank. 3 years later I joined the nav>> team (our fintech within the bank) as an Imagineer driving Platform initiatives and then in 2021, I was appointed as the CEO of Entry Wallet (looking after customers who earn between R0-R48k). I have recently also taken on the role of CEO of Entry Banking (looking after customers earning between R48k-R240k) which together makes up the Entry Market Portfolio.
What is the one thing you absolutely love about your organisation?
I love its innovative flair, diversity, and the fact that young people are given the opportunity to run meaningful businesses within the organisation.
Why should other women join your industry?
The phenomenal strides that women have made in male dominated disciplines such as data science, engineering, technology, and finance enables women to contribute immensely to the banking industry. I also believe the uniqueness we bring as women into any environment creates diversity in thinking, in solutioning and in leadership, which contributes positively to decision making and building teams. Especially in the times we are living in that require non-traditional ways of working. I also think the presence of women in industries such as banking accelerates the transformation within the industry.
What motivates you?
I believe that we are all here to serve a purpose and that must translate into everything I do. I want to make a difference in everyone’s life with whom I interact. I try to use my lived experiences to help others in their journey’s whether it is by mentoring others that may need guidance or listening when someone most needs it, or being a sounding board when someone is stuck, helping influence a decision that will help make our customer’s lives a little easier, or giving encouragement when needed. It’s mostly in the little things but I find they can make the most difference.
What do you do differently to give yourself the competitive edge?
I’m a person that applies myself and prepares for the task at hand, showing up authentically and believing in the uniqueness I bring to the table; this is something that only I can bring.
Are you a mother and if so, how do you balance being a full-time mother and leader and how do you believe corporate SA can empower mothers to achieve more balance?
I am a mother of a kind, inquisitive and energetic 9-year-old (going on 15) son and boy does he keep me on my toes. I don’t believe there is a perfect science to this. Gone are the days when women tried to do it all on their own. It’s important to seek the help you need to show up as your best self.
The African proverb goes that it takes a village to raise a child. I have a strong support system in a very supportive and wonderful husband who is my biggest cheerleader and holds the fort at home when work demands attention. My mom and sisters also jump in when they need to. My friends keep me sane. The best gift any corporate environment can offer mothers is flexibility because it’s important to be present in our family’s lives. We must, however, be mindful and committed to the outcomes and objectives of our work because we still need to deliver.
How do you manage criticism?
As a leader, I believe that constructive criticism is valuable and I have taught myself to have a teachable spirit, which means that as difficult as receiving feedback can be at times, it is always an opportunity to learn something new and continue efforts to improve. Being self-aware is essential because some of the criticism may already be something you are aware of and working on or sometimes its just not about you!
How do you motivate and inspire your people?
I’m deliberate about creating an empowering environment that enables everyone in my team to feel seen, heard and valued. This allows them to be creative, to debate and to contribute to the outcomes while also taking ownership of those outcomes.
I don’t always take myself seriously; I’m also accessible and supportive, and I always include others in our journey. I am not afraid to be vulnerable because it is the only way to build trust with your people and to create a safe space for others to be vulnerable too.
What has been your biggest failure in your career and what did you learn from it?
Things don’t always run smoothly and when the dips happen, man they can be harsh! However, we must take time to reflect and identify what part we played, learn from it and do it better next time. It’s also powerful to share those learnings and experiences openly so that others can also learn from our mistakes. I spent too much time in my earlier years being very hard on myself when challenges came, I have since learnt to be kinder and more patient with myself.
Is there anything you wish you had done differently on your journey to success?
No, I believe everything has worked out the way it was meant to, and they have all culminated to where I am in my journey. All things work out for good.
What did you study, and does it relate to your field of work?
I completed a B Com majoring in Computer Science at the University of Port Elizabeth as my junior degree. I have always been passionate about technology, and have recently completed my Master’s Degree in Digital Business, through Wits Business School, to better understand the impact of digital transformation and how it is shaping how business is done today.
Over the last two decades, technological advancement has enabled closer reach and access to banking for customers, particularly those who were previously unbanked or underserved; however, it has also exacerbated inequalities between the haves and have-nots. It is critical then that we prioritise solutions that are inclusive and accessible for customers. This is at the heart of what we do. Also understanding the dynamic of financial and digital literacy within this customer base means we need to make a concerted effort to drive awareness and education so that customers can better understand banking solutions and make the right decisions for themselves and their children.
Do you believe in power dressing?
Power dressing, in my opinion, has evolved from suits, ties, and stilettos for everyone to what one deems appropriate, gives confidence, and is personal as long as you always show up as your best selves. My favourite item in my closet is my collection of All Stars, which I try to ‘sneak’ into every outfit I can. Add a touch of Ruby woo lipstick and I’m ready for any challenge😊.
What is the most courageous action you’ve ever taken in your career?
I took on a role to join a team that was driving our digital transformation strategy of becoming a platform bank. It was courageous because it was a Group wide initiative and digital transformation was new to the Bank and arguably to the industry as well. I was apprehensive about how I would best position myself in a small team of experts, questioned my readiness for such a role and doubted my voice and its weight. I had to learn to trust the knowledge and skills I had accumulated over the years. I also had to trust the uniqueness and perspective I brought to the table in different conversations. I asked a lot of questions, even the things that seemed obvious to others and chatted to my mentor regularly to keep myself in check. When I left the role after 3 years, I felt I had learnt and grown so much, and it set me up for other roles I have taken on ever since.
What is the best piece of advice you have ever been given regarding your career?
Don’t shy away from roles that can stretch you, stay curious and treat everyone along your journey with respect.
How did you master your skillset?
Observing leadership, taking ‘failures’ as lessons, asking lots of questions, reading, listening, mentorship, coaching and a strong teachable spirit.
What is your leadership style and who taught you how to lead?
I would say I have an inclusive leadership style; I believes in surrounding myself with people that are different from me that also bring diversity in experience and expertise. While leading a team, I make it a point to ensure that everyone on the team feels empowered and that their contributions are being recognised and appreciated. This enables individuals to be creative, engage in debate, and contribute to the results while also taking accountability of both successes and disappointments that comes with it.
Growing up my parents were solid leaders in all the different roles that their played in the community, their work and wider family. My Dad was courageous and broke boundaries even during the most challenging times in our country. He had such presence and was well loved and respected. My mother on the other hand led with her heart, had a way of building strong relationships and was fiercely independent. This has largely influenced the fundamentals of what makes me the leader that I am today. I have also had the pleasure of working with great leaders and through them I continue to learn.
What are your three biggest assets that you bring into your role?
Authenticity, Passion, Intent coupled with experience and capabilities acquired over the years.
Has load shedding affected your industry and if so, how so?
Load Shedding has had a big impact on everyone in the country and has impacted businesses especially SME’s overall. This extends to our work environments as well. FNB has been proactive in creating resilience by investing in back-up systems to ensure minimal impact to employees and customer experience. But despite best efforts, somethings are unavoidable due to loadshedding. Because we are constantly innovating around customer solutions, there are big efforts within FNB to provide alternative energy solutions to customers.
The budget speech took place on 22 February. Do any of those announcements impact your industry and if so, how?
I believe the budget speech was well received and there are some movements in the right direction such as the incentives introduced for installations of rooftop solar systems as well as the inflationary increase on the personal tax brackets which means that there will be a little bit more money back in the consumer’s pocket. There is, however, a lot of work still to be done. One of our responsibilities as Banks is to help guide our customers manage their money better and leverage these benefits. Within FNB this is done through a particular focus on integrated advice across our financial services and lifestyle offering.
We see that millennials and Gen Z’s are job hopping every 2-3 years citing mental health and toxic working environments. What advice do you have for someone who is unhappy in their organisation or struggling with their mental health due to work related pressures?
What I have come to appreciate about millennials and Gen Z’s is that they are a lot more self-aware so when they are not in the right frame of mind they know it. My advice for them would be ASK FOR HELP. A lot of organisations have embraced and prioritised employee wellness as one of the key levers to creating a wholesome work environment.
How important do you believe upskilling is and what type of upskilling do you promote / advise?
Future leadership and talent in the digital age present intriguing dynamics. Maintaining a healthy sense of curiosity and self-awareness is, in my opinion, essential in this regard. I don’t believe there’s ever a point when you know everything so it’s important to constantly learn new skills to stay relevant and to reinvent yourself.