FIRST National Bank of Lesotho (FNB Lesotho) recently appointed its former treasurer, Delakazi Mokebe, as the bank’s new chief executive officer.
The appointment is with effect from 8 June 2020. This week the Lesotho Times (LT) Editor Herbert Moyo and Business Reporter Bereng Mphaki caught up with Ms Mokebe to find out her priorities as she gets down to her new job as well as her views on the overall political and economic situation in the country. Below are excerpts of the interview.
LT: You are the first Mosotho woman in this position. Congratulations. How does it feel to achieve such a high feat and what would you say to inspire other women?
Ms Mokebe: I am absolutely thrilled to be the first Mosotho woman to be the chief executive officer of a commercial bank in Lesotho. It is definitely a big responsibility for me and I do not take it lightly. I must do well so that many women will be inspired to achieve as the possibilities are there. As women we are capable, our talents and potential are recognised and acknowledged in this country.
It is an absolute honour. I am very humbled and privileged to be in this position and to inspire other women.
LT: What is the current situation at the FNB at this point in time and what is your vision and priorities as you take over the hot seat?
Ms Mokebe: Currently, we have four commercial banks in Lesotho and my vision is to grow the FNB’s share of the market in the commercial banking industry. We are a very innovative and digital bank. That is our DNA and it is what we are best known for. I intend on building on that well-known DNA profile that FNB Lesotho has especially now more than ever during these trying times we find ourselves in.
With the scourge of Covid-19, ‘business unusual’ is our new normal and therefore to protect both our customers and staff, it is very fitting that we enhance and build onto our digital platforms as way of offering services to our customers.
LT: You touch on Covid-19. What impact has it had on FNB?
Ms Mokebe: We all appreciate that businesses had to close for more than a month during the lockdown (from 30 March to 5 May 2020) and that had a negative impact on our customers. Some people have lost their jobs. FNB Lesotho has been financially impacted in a negative way and this is the same story for most businesses globally. Economies have been hit hard. That is why we are saying there is a need to adopt a new norm of doing business which protects both employees and the customers, and that is to go digital.
We will continue to offer an array of services that our clients have come to know and love. We will continue to strongly promote using our digital platforms as a way of transacting. We will also continue to aggressively promote the use of our agency banking model in the form of the Cash Plus Lai Lai because it enables financial inclusion of people who are not necessarily bank account holders or even customers of FNB Lesotho.
Cash Plus (Lai Lai) is a convenient way for both FNB and non-FNB customers to deposit and withdraw cash at an FNB Cash Plus agent. All you need is a cell phone. To transact with ease, FNB customers need to be registered for cell phone banking or have the FNB Banking Application. Additional cash plus services include airtime and electricity purchases.
“We will continue to promote these business platforms. We will continue to lend money. You will recall that the Central Bank of Lesotho gave a directive to all the commercial banks in the Lesotho to offer loan holiday repayments to customers who have been impacted by Covid-19.
The loan repayment holiday is just a period given for them to find their feet again and start repaying their loans with the bank. It does not mean our customers who have loans should stop repaying their loans. The loan repayment holiday will be given to genuinely affected individuals and customers. Our clients can apply for Covid-19 relief on our FNB app or through mobile banking.
LT: What has been the response to invitations to apply for Covid-19 relief?
Ms Mokebe: The uptake has been big. Businesses closed for quite some time and many people were impacted in the sense that they were not being paid or their businesses were not receiving income as per the normal. Therefore, they have sought loan repayment holidays.
I must emphasise that the loan repayment holidays are only meant for those whose income streams whether individuals or businesses, have been negatively impacted by Covid-19. It is not for an individual who continues to be employed and business that did not close down due to Covid-19.
LT: Ms Mokebe: What’s your view of the general state of the country’s economy? As a bank, what would you want the government to prioritise?
Ms Mokebe: The economic growth of Lesotho even before Covid-19 was already on the lower side of things. The biggest growth engine we were looking towards was the Lesotho Highlands Water Project Phase II. Luckily enough, construction has resumed after a momentary stop due to Covid-19 and the LHWP II continues to be the pillar of growth for this country.
The diamond mining industry has been one of the biggest contributors to our GDP in Lesotho and it has also been hit hard after having to close due to Covid-19. In essence, I’m saying the private sector should be the main driver of economic growth in the country.
We look to the private sector to generate more jobs, support and empower upcoming and coming individuals or businesses. That is the only way for us to achieve a thriving economy in Lesotho. Obviously, the government must play its part. The government and the private sector have to work together but the private sector should take the lead in building successful economies.
LT: Whichever way we look at it, politics is always going to affect everything that happens in any country. One of the things about our country has been the prevailing instability but we have seen two of the country’s biggest political parties the All Basotho Convention (ABC) and the Democratic Congress (DC) come together to form a governing coalition. How do you see this panning out?
Ms Mokebe: Without getting into the details, it is a fact that political developments affect the economy and how we, as businesses, operate in it. We can’t look the other way and pretend otherwise. Therefore, a much more stable political environment would definitely be conducive for business and economic growth.
Let’s give this new coalition government a chance. The prime minister addressed the nation on Monday. Let’s give the government a chance to implement the plans they have promised the nation and hope for a much more stable and better Lesotho.