Brand-Aid so­lu­tion

New-look Absa faces a tough task across Africa

Sunday Times - - Business Times - By PERICLES ANETOS ane­[email protected]­soblack­

With the sound­ing of a kudu horn by CEO Maria Ramos in the JSE’s atrium, Absa shed blue and one of the last rem­nants of its his­tory with Bar­clays plc.

The cheer from ex­ec­u­tives clad in cor­po­rate wear with twinges of red her­alded the end of the Bri­tish bank’s 100-year his­tory on the con­ti­nent.

The group now has the task of chang­ing its name to Absa across the con­ti­nent.

While Bar­clays Africa Group is no more, Absa has the right to use the name un­til June 2020.

Peter Mat­lare, deputy CEO re­spon­si­ble for the rest of Africa, said that while they had the time it did not mean that Absa would wait un­til June 2020 to drop the Bar­clays name.

“Most of the sep­a­ra­tion from Bar­clays, the com­plex part, takes place across the 10 banks on the con­ti­nent.

“So we are mak­ing sure we are do­ing that in a man­ner that when we launch the brand ex­ter­nally we have . . . the ca­pa­bil­ity that makes sure we are de­liv­er­ing bet­ter than a brand that had been there for 100 years,” he said.

But the group has a tough job ahead of it to change the Bar­clays brand to Absa in 10 banks across the con­ti­nent in­clud­ing those in Nige­ria, Kenya and the Sey­chelles.

Ni­cola Kleyn, a mar­ket­ing pro­fes­sor and dean of the Gor­don In­sti­tute of Busi­ness Sci­ence, said Absa had a “big jour­ney ahead” to ac­cli­ma­tise clients across the con­ti­nent to the brand change.

Kleyn said the mes­sag­ing around the brand was go­ing to be im­por­tant.

She said most of the suc­cess was not go­ing to come from the colour and logo but from cus­tomer and re­tail busi­ness per­cep­tion of Absa as rel­e­vant to solv­ing their prob­lems.

“At the end of the day it’s not go­ing to be the ques­tion ‘Is this a bad name or a good name?’ . . . The ques­tion is ‘Can you make it mean­ing­ful and rel­e­vant in each of the coun­tries it op­er­ates in?’ And that is go­ing to take a lot of money,” she said.

As part of the sep­a­ra­tion agree­ment, when Bar­clays sold down its stake in Absa, it ne­go­ti­ated a R12-bil­lion di­vorce set­tle­ment of sorts, to be used for re­brand­ing Absa across the con­ti­nent, im­prov­ing tech­nol­ogy sys­tems and other sep­a­ra­tion-re­lated projects.

Absa won’t dis­close how much it has spent on the re­brand­ing so far.

With the name change, Absa has tried to adopt a con­ti­nen­tal iden­tity rather than one pri­mar­ily iden­ti­fy­ing with its do­mes­tic mar­ket.

Nairobi-based in­vest­ment ad­vi­sor AlyKhan Satchu said he found it in­ter­est­ing that the new­est it­er­a­tion of Absa’s brand was less South African and more African and very mil­len­nial, and that it rep­re­sented a sig­nif­i­cant re­shap­ing and tilt away from Jo­han­nes­burg and to­wards the rest of Africa.

“How­ever, sit­ting in Nairobi, there is a very strong Kenyan bias as pre­vi­ous South African en­trants have found. So the re­brand­ing is quite a del­i­cate thing re­quir­ing plenty of fi­nance,” he said.

Absa em­braced a ge­o­graph­i­cal spread across the con­ti­nent but non-South African rep­re­sen­ta­tion was limited, rais­ing un­com­fort­able ques­tions about “South African im­pe­ri­al­ism”.

Out of the group’s 16-per­son board only three are non-South Africans and just two are from the rest of the con­ti­nent: Alex Darko is Ghana­ian, Fran­cis Okomo-Okello is Kenyan and Daniel Hodge is Bri­tish.

The group ex­ec­u­tive com­mit­tee con­sists en­tirely of South Africans.

Kleyn said it was not disin­gen­u­ous of Absa to claim an African iden­tity as it launches its new brand with­out hav­ing rep­re­sen­ta­tion in its top lev­els, but she said Absa would have to be more rep­re­sen­ta­tive of the re­gions it op­er­ates in.

“It will have to; it makes good busi­ness sense as you need the di­ver­sity of the mar­ket rep­re­sented in your top board­room,” she said.

Mat­lare said that for more than a year they had con­sulted some 130 000 peo­ple — from politi­cians to reg­u­la­tors to com­mu­nity groups.

He added that global banks were ex­it­ing the con­ti­nent as they de-risk, so the role of re­gional banks like Absa be­came more im­por­tant.

“That’s why we are say­ing this is not a South African com­pany. It hap­pens to be domi­ciled here, but it is truly be­com­ing an African com­pany that we are all proud of,” he said.

Mat­lare pointed to ex­am­ples of panAfrican busi­nesses tak­ing root al­ready, such as Aliko Dan­gote’s busi­ness em­pire or the growth of banks like Mau­ri­tius Com­mer­cial Bank and Ecobank.

Pic­ture: Alon Skuy

CEO Maria Ramos launches the re­brand­ing of Absa at the JSE.

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