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‘I’m an accidental banker’

BANCABC Zimbabwe chief executive officer Lance Mambondiani, a lawyer by training, says he became a banker by accident.

Mambondiani (LM), who has worked as a top executive at local and international financial institutions, narrated how he transitioned from being a lawyer to a top banker in a wide ranging interview with Alpha Media Holdings chairman Trevor Ncube (TN) on the platform In Conversation with Trevor. Below are excerpts from the interview.

TN: Dr Lance Shingai Mambondiani, I love these middle names, I keep on telling people.

Thank you so much for creating the time to join me on In Conversation With Trevor.

LM: Oh, thank you so much for having me. I feel so undeserving.

Such an incredible platform and you guys have been doing a really, really fantastic job.

TN: Thanks for that Lance. Let me start with the way you carry yourself as a banker.

You are not the traditional stuffy banker. I mean look at you, hahahaha.

LM: I am wearing Mickey Mouse socks!

TN: You know Mickey Mouse socks and that kind of stuff. Is this deliberate?

LM: I don’t know. I would not say that it is deliberate, I think that is just who I am personally.

I always say that I am an accidental banker.

I am not trained as a banker initially.

I actually trained as a lawyer.

Some of your viewers might not know, so I studied law and was taken through law school by people like Welshman Ncube and Lovemore Madhuku.

They were some of my lecturers in college.

So I went into banking almost as an outsider and it is simply because I was passionate about looking at banking a little bit differently.

Of course, I kind of made my transition from law into banking through NMB Bank, so I was trained into banking by James Mushore.

I know Mushore was one of your guests on this show, really exciting. I went in as what we call a legal adviser working with Tawanda Nyambirayi.

TN: The best in the market?

LM: Absolutely. So, it was corporate finance time at NMB, and so it was good training ground, but still I was an outsider.

I was a lawyer, who became a banker, so I would not say that I am a consummate banker.

Who best to disrupt the banking industry more than somebody coming from the outside?

TN: Exactly. How has been the journey like?

I mean the transitioning from wanting to be a lawyer, and then suddenly the accidental chief executive officer of a bank?

LM: You know what, I think that the transition was extremely brutal and very difficult.

I remember that I made many mistakes through my journey.

After NMB, I worked with Nigel Chanakira. In fact, Chanakira is the one who got me from NMB and asked me to be managing director of an outfit that you called Kingdom Private Bank then.

I was very young, made a lot of mistakes and I always say I did make a little bit of a blog that I was fired by Chanakira.

TN: Did he fire you?

LM: He did, he fired me. It was kind of consensual.

TN: Let us go separate ways?

LM: Yes, it was a “let us go separate ways” situation because I had made quite a number of mistakes there, and I realised that I needed to grow.

I left and then went to the United Kingdom and decided to beef up on my experience because some of the mistakes I had made were mistakes of youth and exuberance, because I was extremely aggressive and also because I wanted to do things so quickly and so fast.

Also, perhaps because some of my ideas were a little bit radical and just a little bit more ahead of their time I would say.

So I went to the UK and started from the bottom and I started looking at banking in Zimbabwe.

I had been researching banking in the UK, I think for close to six or seven years, until I came back to Zimbabwe when I thought that I was ready.

TN: Talk to me about some of the mistakes that you made?

For instance, the ones that you talk about that made you and Nigel part ways?

Do you remember what these mistakes were all about?

LM: I cannot remember. I think some of them really were just you know you see when you are a banker, you have to follow all sorts of rules and procedures, and that is absolutely important because you are protecting depositors’ funds.

Ultimately, because you are a regulated institution, you need to make sure that you are crossing the Ts all the time.

I would say that the mistakes I made were mistakes of youth.

All of us make those mistakes and I think I am better for it, because I knew what I should and should not do in a particular instance.

Also because I had a fierce determination then of correcting what I had done wrong.

I think what I probably lacked in experience, I overcompensated in study, because I wanted to make sure that I kind of bulked up, and become a better banker at it.

If I had not had those as early experiences, I do not think that I would have been the person that I am today, and I think that those mistakes absolutely made me.

TN: So TN Asset Management, Kingdom, and then NMB. Then you find yourself in Investec and Coronation too? Talk to me about that experience?

LM: When I was in the UK, I first went in under a British scholarship that is called Chevening.

So I had a bit of the fortune of being relocated to the UK by the Chevening scholarship.

I went to Manchester, and actually spent about 11 years of my life in Manchester.

Incredible time in my life. Of course, I am a consummate Manchester United Football Club supporter

TN: Hahahaha!

LM: It goes without saying.

TN: You are talking to an Arsenal Football Club fan, so you might just be kicked out of this thing.

LM: I am so sorry, commiserations to you, perennial under achievers hahaha.

So yes, I lived in Manchester for about 11 years.

As part of that process, I did my Masters in Development Finance.

While I was doing that, I realised I wanted to have experience in banking in the UK.

I was invited again to be a part of a unit that was called Coronation Financial in the UK. I spent a couple of years there.

TN: So this is Coronation UK? Is this the arm of the South African one?

LM: No, there is no connection. So I spent a bit of time doing investment banking and also really looking at some of the investment opportunities that existed, particularly in Sub-Saharan Africa and also in Europe.

That was really an incredible experience for me in that I had the opportunity of looking at what was happening in the UK market, but still using my experience in the UK.

Of course, I did a couple of stints with Barclaycard as well, because I wanted that retail banking experience.

I managed the cards department for a few years and went to Ulster Bank in Ireland as well.

All these things here were just really little attachments because what I wanted to do was to get as much experience as I could in the banking sector.

I must say my experience in the UK taught me a lot, in exposure, in how to do things differently, and in just how we can assist a banking sector to become stable and also to transcend all sorts of financial crises that were happening at the time.

TN: So when did you become comfortable with banking and not being a lawyer?

LM: I would say when I was at NMB. Back then, I knew exactly that I wanted to make the transition.

TN: Fascinating isn’t it?

LM: I can tell you why. I think most of us are very impressionable. I was young, I was impressionable.

Remember at the time Trevor, that is when we had banking which was really fashionable, and there were all these flashy treasurers, who were walking around with all sorts of cars that we never heard of.

Look, I was coming from Zamchiya Costa, which back then was my first job.

I used to walk to Rotten Row (Magistrates’ Courts) with my clients driving the car, I did not have a car then, but I was the one who was representing some of my clients at Rotten Row.

So you know it pained me a lot that the lawyer is the one walking to Rotten Row courts.

I remember this fondly, when one of my clients asked me how I was going to get there and whether they could give me a ride.

I said ‘no’ they should not worry, I would get there myself.

Of course, we had a little bit of an allowance to get Rixi Taxis then.

TN: Yes.

LM: But I had to pocket it because I wanted to use the money for something else, and I walked from Zamchiya Costa, which is the Old Reserve Bank building right down to Rotten Row because I wanted to save a little bit more of the money.

I would get there sweaty by the way, hahahaha.

TN: But with the money in the pocket?

LM: With the money in the pocket.

However, that is when I realised that I wanted to do something else.

When I got into NMB, I realised I wanted to make the transition.

I was young, I was aggressive. I did not want to make my money when I was old and grey, I wanted to make sure that I was part of whatever I was seeing.

As I have been saying, we were young, we were impressionable and we also saw that banks were doing so well.

I just wanted to add, Trevor, that during that period, probably one of our most proud moments in as far as I am concerned was the indigenisation, because at the time, we had a lot of indigenous banks that did so well.

William Nyemba with Trust Bank, we had Julius Makoni, James Mushore at NMBZ.

We had all sorts of units that were coming up, indigenous banks that were coming up all at the same time, and made us proud.

I think that era as far as indigenisation in this country, is probably one of our golden eras because we also had the Shingi Mutasa’s with us at Zimnat then, now an incredible conglomerate, and I believe that was the genesis of something that was really special.

We had about 10 banks or so failing.

Starting with Roger Boka bank yeah right up to the failure of Trust Bank, which was probably what we called then “too big to fail” because Trust Bank was incredibly huge, it was very impressive, and also had grown far too quickly with Royal Bank as well at the same time, we had Genesis Bank as well.

We had quite a number of banks that had come up and some of them owner-managed.

So what I was analysing was the circumstances under which they failed, and also the circumstance of ownership that makes banks profitable.

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