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Banking Association South Africa – A future you can bank on

The success and prosperity of every region in the world relies on solid banking infrastructure and with a desire to offer inclusive services to as many residents and businesses as possible, the Banking Association SA makes no bones about how vital its day-to-day operations are. Endeavour Magazine spoke with Mr. Cas Coovadia, Managing Director, to learn more about what drives this energetic operation.

Celebrating 25 years of seamless banking industry infrastructure creation, the Banking Association SA (BASA) has not always been recognisable in its current form. In fact, back in 1992, the initial genesis of the organisation was exceptionally different. Four separate, specialist associations, namely the Association of Mortgage Lenders, Merchant Bankers Association. Clearing  Bankers Association and Association of General Banks, were merged into one all-seeing operation, known as the Council of South African Banks (COSAB).

With a hard-hitting mandate in place to oversee prevailing issues that were cropping up in the banking sector, further reshuffling was a necessary and organic process that would guarantee that the body of people making up the Council were able to focus on the issues that really mattered. This natural development phase resulted in the BASA that we know and recognise today. With a new name in place that more accurately acknowledged the structure of the overseeing body and what it intended to do, all that was left was to officially appoint Mr. Cas Coovadia as Managing Director and the rest, as they say, is history.

Having already worked closely with the former CEO, Coovadia was in a unique position to be able to bring fresh leadership, alongside the values and traditions that were already in place and to say that his leadership during his 12-year total tenure has been inspiring would be an understatement. When we asked what his secrets to effective leadership are, his open and frank response was a real breath of fresh air,

You have to practice what you preach, so don’t expect staff to perform if you don’t and always listen to your staff. Never think you have nothing to learn. Wisdom is not only informed by academic education, but often by experience and insight. Ensure a conducive working environment, embrace diversity and optimise contributions from every member of staff. In addition, develop a corporate identity and be patriotic to it and always try to encourage young talent and develop it.”

Banking, as a sector, has long given the impression of an industry unwilling to change, lead by stoic to the point of stubborn older executives that aren’t keen on change, but Coovadia makes it clear that this is absolutely not an option for BASA. Yes, he values certain codes of ethics and values that are traditional at their core, such as honesty, decisive collaboration and ethical conduct, but aren’t these simple the cornerstones that ANY successful enterprise are built on? Combine these elements with his progressive approach to nurturing young talent and a determination to offer inclusive banking services to as many people as possible in South Africa and you have a recipe for guaranteed and long-lasting success.

If you’re wondering what a banking association does, you’re not alone, and we were shocked to discover just how pivotal BASA is in terms of ensuring a fair and profitable industry that includes everyone,

We represent the banking sector, which translates into every licenced bank being a member. We lobby and advocate for a conducive environment in which banks can conduct profitable, sustainable and responsible business and we work with government and other stakeholders to ensure inclusion in banking, so that as many people in our country have access to some form of banking service. We represent the industry in national, continental and global associations and we drive transformation in the sector.”

Fairness, sustainability and responsibility. Not words that many people associate with the banking industry, but Coovadia is on a mission to change that in order to make it clear that bans should and can be run with the most important people in mind; customers. Working primarily in South Africa, but expanding out into the South African Development Community, it looks as though the message is being heard, understood and most importantly, implemented.  There’s just one potential hiccup; how buoyant is the banking sector right now?

It’s no secret that there have been undercurrents of global financial turbulence for many years, with the banking industry being especially vulnerable, but Coovadia is quick to allay any fears,

SA boasts the second most sound banking sector in the world. Our banks are well capitalised and amongst the best in the world. This is borne out by the fact that our banks weathered the 2008/9 financial crisis and not a single bank experienced any liquidity or capital problems. The current economic issues we have in SA, however, don’t provide a conducive environment for banks because the volumes of bank business are limited by the pedestrian economic growth and lack of investment, which in turn is constrained by a poor environment for investment. The recent downgrades also make the environment difficult because banks are automatically downgraded to the level of the sovereign. However, even in this difficult environment, our banks remain sound, stable and solid and ensure the safety of depositor funds.”

Think about how few countries would be able to make the same statement about their banking operations and you start to understand just how unusual this situation is. With no competitors to focus on, BASA is free to conduct itself in a way that ensures that every single activity is geared towards the benefit of the country, the people who live there and the continued sustainability of the banking sector as a whole. Now that’s impressive!

Coovadia has already intimated that the team who work with him are seen as a valuable asset, but just how is this reflected in the structure of the Association?

We employ 30 people. We promote a learning organisation and culture and encourage staff to develop. We take in interns every year and expose young people to the industry and we try to promote from within wherever possible, bearing in mind that we have a relatively flat structure.”

 There’s the key to a profitable and responsible future for the banking sector in South Africa; constant encouragement of younger generations to get involved and play their part.  But there is another aspect that Coovadia is keen to discuss and that’s the relationship with members of the Association,

“Our members are our key partners and consistently promote the organisation.

We consider government to be partners, although we have a robust interaction. We consider them partners because, ultimately, we have similar objectives of enabling a sector that is profitable and relevant to the majority of our people.

Other business organisations are also partners and we collaborate with them.

Finally, the continental and global organisations we belong to are partners with which we work to increase our global profile.”

Determined to continue offering key advice, guidance and support to the banking sector of South Africa, Coovadia finishes by revealing the future plans for BASA,

We will position the sector appropriately in the public space to counter unwarranted attacks on the sector, which are informed by political considerations. We will also develop a simple guide to how banks work and the role they play and use this to engage community groups, in order to explain banking and we will develop a robust transformation agenda for the sector, beyond the on-going transformation successes.”

 Committed, responsible and for the people, BASA is leading the charge in terms of effective, open banking for all and we look forward to seeing the results of its future triumphs.