Barclays Africa CEO Maria Ramos reaffirmed the banking group's continued commitment to the African continent at a recent Gordon Institute of Business Science forum.
"We are here to stay. We are part of this continent. This is our destiny. We are using all our resources to deliver," Ramos said. The group would further invest in and develop the communities it lived and worked in. While the bank would continue to look for and develop opportunities in South Africa, it expected faster growth to come from the African continent in the next decade. The integrated Pan-African Barclays business, which is operational in twelve countries, is dedicated to investing in its banking infrastructure, especially digital infrastructure.
"We live in interesting and fragile times, and Africa is facing a challenging time. But its future is in our hands – its people," Ramos said. Barclays Africa remains optimistic about the opportunities across the continent, despite many short term challenges: The growth of the middle class across Africa bodes well for the demand for banking services and the demographic dividend meant there is an abundant supply of productive labour for decades to come.
"We have demography on our side, if we make the necessary investment into human capital and create opportunities for young people," Ramos said. This must be done by renewed focus on employability and encouraging innovation. However, despite many exciting developments and the narrative of Africa rising, which did much to build confidence in the continent as an investment destination, this was simply not enough. Positive sentiment could vanish in an instant if Africans did not find innovative solutions to help the region catch up with the rest of the world, Ramos said.
Shared growth initiative
Only through a contribution to skills development in the countries and communities where the group operates could Barclays Africa hope for economic growth and prosperity: "We have to generate returns that are good and solid for our shareholders over time, and this can only be done if we are thinking about our customers," Ramos explained. To this end, Ramos said Barclays Africa would invest more than R2,7bn over the next three years in its shared growth programme, a strategic commitment in which the group would contribute to education and skills training, enterprise development and financial inclusion in the markets in which it operates.
R1,4bn has been allocated for investment in youth education and skills training programmes across Africa, and R1,3bn in developing small and medium enterprises. "The shared growth philosophy and strategy is designed to deliver specific and measurable outcomes and is unambiguously commercial," Ramos said. The extent of the programme's activities and sizeable investment was a challenge to the organisation to go beyond traditional corporate social investment initiatives.
The global economy had still not yet fully recovered from the 2008 financial crisis Ramos said, which had resulted in a huge structural shift across the globe and a move away from short-termism. "If we don't develop a solid skills base, we cannot hope to attract investment and grow the economy. That applies to local, regional, African as well as foreign investment," Ramos said.
Despite significant resources being ploughed into communities by governments and corporates, there is not a "single entity that can fix the myriad of social problems across the continent. We have to work together for economic development," Ramos said. "The shared growth initiative is about shared prosperity, and developing the communities where we live and work," she explained.
Building a resilient organisation
Skills training and encouraging innovation was the only way to ready ourselves holistically for the uncertain future we face, Ramos said. The challenge of our times is to produce ideas and identify opportunities that lay solid foundations upon which we can solve our current problems. These would be needed to deal with the sudden shifts brought about by rapid technological change.
Ramos said she worried about a world fraught with social and political fragility, with growth that is challenging everywhere: "Innovation is something we are going to have to live with, and in order to do this, we have to continue learning and invest in skills all the time."
"We want to build a resilient organisation. An organisation that values people and learning and invests in the prosperity of the communities we live and work in," she concluded.