Finweek English Edition - - COMPANIES & INVESTMENTS -

When we pub­lished our Hospi­tal Pass cover story in 2009 (see pic­ture op­po­site), two months ahead of Maria Ramos mov­ing down the road from Transnet at the Carl­ton Cen­tre to Absa Tow­ers – she needed rugby-mad (now) hus­band Trevor Manuel and his sons to act out ex­actly what the phrase meant. De­spite what was an ap­par­ently ex­u­ber­ant and ac­cu­rate dis­play played out in the fam­ily lounge – she took the job any­way.

We cau­tioned that a com­bi­na­tion of in­creas­ingly ad­verse global eco­nomic forces cou­pled with a “com­plex ar­ray of in­ter­nal chal­lenges” meant that Ramos, who had no ex­ec­u­tive-level bank­ing sec­tor ex­pe­ri­ence would find it tough go­ing. It turns out we were right.

Mea­sured against its ri­vals to the end of De­cem­ber 2012, Absa is un­der­per­form­ing on prac­ti­cally ev­ery ma­trix that mat­ters. It has lost more than a mil­lion cus­tomers – a fact Ramos ac­knowl­edges. Its im­pair­ment charge at R8bn is sec­ond only to Stan­dard Bank’s, it was also the only bank to reg­is­ter an earn­ings de­cline in 2012 courtesy of sig­nif­i­cant write offs in its le­gal mort­gage book. Its ri­vals grew non­in­ter­est rev­enue (NIR) in the teens but Absa man­aged to de­liver only mid sin­gle-digit ex­pan­sion while non­in­ter­est in­come (NII) shrank as that of its ri­vals grew. It’s never a good idea to haem­or­rhage cus­tomers as trans­ac­tion vol­umes are a key fac­tor in driv­ing NIR.

“We are tak­ing the pain a lot later than the oth­ers who’ve taken it al­ready,” says Ramos who tries to make light of cus­tomer losses, “if you added up the num­ber of ac­counts we all claim to have to­gether you would have a num­ber con­sid­er­ably higher than the num­ber of bank­able peo­ple in South Africa.”

The re­al­ity is that it hurts to be be­hind the curve and there is a temp­ta­tion to play catch-up – some­thing the CEO is cog­nisant of and keen to avoid be­cause of the new risks that would bring on to the Absa book.

Four years into the job and Ramos doesn’t

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