On the Spot with Chairperson of EBank, Monica Kalondo

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Namibia’s first-ever female Chairperson of a commercial Bank, Monica Kalondo, recently said that EBank aims to develop and introduce solutions that will enable every Namibian access to relevant financial, investment and banking instruments.

Kalondo, who is the Managing Director of Stimulus Private Equity and also an executive of Pointbreak, said her team has investigated various banking models, consulted a wide-range of subject matter experts and the Namibian public, to find a solution that is best suited for the Namibian market.

New Era’s senior business and economics journalist Edgar Brandt sat down and had a one-on-one with Kalondo to talk about her career choice and the entrant into the commercial banking sphere, EBank.

NE: Can you give us a bit of insight into who Monica Kalondo is? 

MK: “I am a mother, a daughter, a sister, a friend and a Namibian who firmly believes in the greatness and potential of this country and all its people. These roles shape who I am and determines the decisions I make.”

NE: How did you become involved in Namibia’s financial sector and when did you decide this is the career path for you? 

MK: “It was a trip, a hop and skip scenario where, out of economic necessity, I parked at the Namibian Stock Exchange as a Listings Assistant in order to fund a post-graduate law degree. As life happens, I fell in love with what I was doing at the NSX and that resisted any desire to practice law. That is where my journey began from the stock exchange to a corporate finance/investment bank and then to Stimulus. The moment I fell in love with my work at the NSX, my destiny path was set and the whole universe conspired to ensure I gained the right experience and exposure to bring me to where I am now.”

NE: Tell how you came up with the idea of starting a new entrant into Namibia’s commercial banking industry? 

MK: “The numerous banking license applications to the Bank of Namibia confirms that there are many players who believe the Namibian banking industry is able to accommodate more players. I have played a large role in the formulation of EBank from the outset but it was neither my idea nor my individual initiative. It was an issue of credible players who have always had banking aspirations meeting those who had innovative and credible banking technology, combining forces and implementing their shared passion for inclusive banking. Too many business plans gather dust because of the inability to mix the right people with the right plan. In my view, EBank is a potent mix of the right team entering the market at the right time with the right technology.”

NE: What obstacles did you face in the establishment of EBank and how did you overcome these challenges? 

MK: “There were many challenges and there will be many more in the future. Why those challenges were never insurmountable is that there were many formidable brains applying their collective experience and ability to ensure that EBank got its license from the Bank of Namibia while concurrently working on a solid implementation plan.”

NE: How would you characterise our banking sector and would you say there is space in the market for more entrants, after EBank? 

MK: “It would not be reasonable for EBank, or any other player, to believe that there is no space for new entrants as there is always space for new ideas and a new way of doing things. The most striking characteristic of the Namibian banking sector is that it is very well regulated which has spared clients the horror of depositing money in a bank which fails and is unable to return deposits. The banking sector, however, will and must change and adapt to changing customer needs and technological advances and we are excited to be a small part of this change process.”

NE: What does EBank have to offer Namibians that is different from existing banks in the market? 

MK: “Existing banks in the market are not the focus of EBank. Our focus is and will remain a shared dream of efficient, effective and accessible banking for all. EBank is a startup and our offering will evolve and expand with time but what will always stay the same is our consistent focus on being innovative and offering market relevant and affordable solutions.”

NE: Some of the commercial banks in the country have a reputation for employing non-Namibians in strategic positions. In this regard, what percentage of EBank’s top management positions are Namibians and do you foresee employing foreigners in strategic positions? 

MK: “One of the most consistent reasons provided by EBank employees for accepting our employment offers was the desire to be in the engine room of a new bank and have direct influence on core operational decisions. This has enabled us to employ an energetic, competent and passionate staff complement which is 100 percent Namibian, inclusive of top management.

Employing a non-Namibian would not be an easy decision for us but we are mindful of the skills shortage in Namibia and would resist the temptation to make any absolute statements regarding future plans. What we can confirm is that we will always give fellow Namibians a chance to prove themselves and provide an enabling environment that is encouraging and supportive.”

NE: How extensive will the services and products of EBank be to the Namibian public and when can the public expect EBank’s doors to open?

MK: “EBank is a start-up so our solutions will continue to expand and evolve over time. While we have a specific date we are working to, we prefer to remain prudent and commit to opening our doors before the end of 2014 and will communicate that date closer to the time.”

NE: As the first female chairperson of any Namibian commercial bank, what message do you have for Namibian girls who see you as a role model?

MK: “Technically that is true. I am the first female Chairperson of a commercial bank regulated by the Bank of Namibia. That is, however, a technicality and I would like to shift the accolade of being the first female chairperson to Elize Angula who is the Chairperson of the Development Bank, a position which was approved by the first female Minister of Finance, Hon Sara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila. I mention these two women as their ability and competence has far outweighed the fact that they are female. The issue of being “first female” or “first black” is a bit of a poisoned chalice as it should not make us celebrate the few individuals who break barriers but rather question what these barriers are and focus on removing them so more women may enter. While breaking barriers is a positive sign, we must celebrate when we can see many competent women in top management positions and not be surprised by it. What we have been able to do with EBank is groundbreaking and should resonate with any young person, male or female. I do however recognise that there are gender specific challenges in the corporate space and my advice to the Namibian girl is to understand and define what you do well and establish how to build a career out of your strong points and stay away from people and situations who undermine you and try to minimise your abilities.”