Zimbabwean banking industry: Shame, Shame, Shame!

Leonard Sengere Avatar
Central Bank, MPS 2022, Samora Machel Zimbabwe, Financial Services Zimbabwe, Stanbic Zimbabwe, Bank Branches

If you remember, the gallant RBZ announced that Zimbabwean banks were to start paying interest on savings accounts, effective 1 July.

The RBZ sounded proud of this development as we could tell from the tone of their address. That was surprising. Every single person to ever be associated with banking in Zimbabwe should have been ashamed.

Most agree that this move is unlikely to succeed in attracting deposits. That’s not the worst part to the story. If we examine the three-paragraph press statement we find ourselves face to face with some hideous truths about the this industry.

Banks forgot how to bank

Insert dog forgot how to dog meme in your mind

In a slightly-better-than-chaotic world, banks earn their bread from interest on loans advanced – interest income in bankspeak. Where do they get the money to loan out, you ask? Our deposits.

Yes, 5% interest for the depositer, then they loan out that money and get 20%. Not too shabby. Do note how important deposits are to them.

If that should be the main source of income for them, one is left wondering why Zimbabwean banks had to be arm-twisted to pay interest on deposits. The RBZ directed them to pay that interest last year but they couldn’t be bothered.

To be fair, they were probably too busy milking the population of their hard-earned Zimbabwe Dollars one transaction charge at a time but more on that later.

You’d be forgiven for thinking they would have been doing absolutely everything allowed by the law to attract deposits, interest on deposits being the bare minimum. You’d be wrong but forgiven.

Why banks are not in the banking business anymore

Failure and its consequences

Zimbabwean banks have failed in the business of banking before. Through ZAMCO in 2014, the government, using our tax dollars had to bail out these banks.

Thanks to a combination of risky lending practices and topsy-turvy economic conditions the banks were left saddled with Non-Performing Loans (NPLs). NPL ratios exceeded 20% against internationally acceptable 5%.

Put simply, the persons they loaned out to were failing to make their monthly repayments.

Remember, the money they loan out is not theirs. So, if the person they loan out to fails to pay it back they are left in the unenviable position of having to tell their depositors that the money is gone.

For an industry already dealing with probably the lowest depositor confidence ever recorded, that would have been catastrophic and so a bail out was arranged. The government took over the bad loans.

Side note: As Zimbabweans we should celebrate that this whole bank collapse-government bailout cycle has not been a more frequent visitor like it has been in other more developed countries. Bailouts tend to promote risky lending practices, banks cocooned in the knowledge that should they fail, the government will swoop in to save the day.

Since then, the Zimbabwean economy has never really stabilized for any meaningful period of time. Arbitrary fiscal and monetary policies continue to wreak havoc and so the topsy-turvy economic conditions remain.

This means the risk that loans will not be repaid remains high. The risk managers at these banks cannot in good conscience advise that they lend out as much as they would want to.

What’s at stake?

The banks cannot afford to be saddled with non performing loans which pose a serious risk factor on viability. This would lead to banks losing access to credit. Ultimately, the country’s credit rating would deteriorate leading to high borrowing costs if credit is even accessed.

It gets worse. There are so many businesses that could have been employing thousands that have not left the idea phase because of lack of capital. Seeing as small businesses are the largest employer in this country, the significance cannot be overstated.

The above partly explains why banks have not been in a hurry to jump back into the business of banking. However, the biggest reason is that they found a new income stream.

The new golden goose – service charges

The banks found themselves a window when the interest income door was shut. Why bother with the risk that you could lose the depositors’ money when you could just charge those depositors through the teeth for your services. Charge, they did.

It got so bad that the RBZ had to step in and restore a little bit of order but only after there was an outcry. The most egregious example being the flat withdrawal fee they were charging.

When the RBZ put a cap on the maximum daily withdrawal amount, the banks maintained the flat fee. This meant one could pay as much as 20% of the withdrawal amount as bank charges. I remember paying $5 in charges to withdraw $20.  

Although we went back to the percentage-based charging structure, they had tasted the forbidden fruit and had found it sweet. Since then, Zimbabwean banks have relied on fees and charges to stuff their coffers. These charges have contributed up to 90% of their income. Crazy times we’re living in.

Scrapping of charges

If I were a banker I would be ashamed of this situation where if one deposited money into their bank account and left it there for a year, they would come back to a shrunken balance.

The RBZ is trying to remedy this by removing charges on savings accounts but it’s too little too late. Only a generation that never experienced the above first hand would ever willingly deposit their moolah in a bank.

The scrapping of charges only serves to slice bank revenues. The golden goose has been injured. Banks are not interested in loaning out and now their preferred income stream has been disturbed. Some banks might be in trouble come this time next year. Let’s remember though that transaction charges are still very much a thing so it’s not too bad.

Shame, shame, shame

I remember how people would ridicule a person who kept cash under a mattress instead of banking it back when I was a kid.

The opposite is now true. The only money that remains in a bank account is money that was received in electronic form and is yet to be withdrawn.

If the cash supply would allow there would not be a single electronic transfer in Zimbabwe. We would invest in personal armored vehicles and deal strictly in cash instead. The banking industry drove us to this.

The banks know this and so won’t bother trying to entice us to deposit our monies. That’s why they needed a Statutory Instrument to force them to pay interest on deposits.

They know it’s pointless, it won’t increase deposits but will only reduce profits as it is one expense they had forgotten about. Banks have as good as given up on banking.

It’s frustrating because the economy needs them to loan out to the small businesses which are the biggest employer in this country. If our economy is to rebound we need small businesses and the small businesses need loans.

You could call bank leaders shortsighted for not addressing this situation. Truth be told, there is probably nothing they can do to regain this generation’s trust. They might as well make a killing while they can and charge us till kingdom comes.

They can laugh about it on some golf course in ten years’ time. Long after the banking industry has long been dead and forgotten about – #deathbycrypto.


What’s your take?

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  1. Langa

    In_strike joined the conversation.

  2. Adsf@gmail.com

    The regulator should simply force w reduction in Bank charges that we will knew from the start of this debacle… Also no second zamco….why should we pay for it…and let’s not get into the ecocash issues…the regulator squarely to blame…. easiest would be to scrap bankl charges totally….then it would be cheaper to hold in the account barring rate changes

    1. Leonard Sengere

      I love how you can’t bear another Zamco. The official word is that Zamco has paid back the taxpayers the $1.3 billion it got to take over the banks’ bad loans. They say they have recovered most of the bad loans. So, in short, they say Zamco has been wildly successful.

      Zamco will disband in 2025 but don’t be surprised if it rears its head again in the future.

  3. Mkanya

    The core of the bank’s income should be interest income. A deposit left for a while should actually increase due to interest on the savings but albeit its actually the opposite. No one really make cash deposits these days. The mandatory 20% liquidation of domestic FCA receipts has increased hard cash transactions. Liquidation takes place at the unrealistic auction rate which results in an exchange rate loss for the provider of goods and services. RBZ stop ripping the citizenry apart. You are a toothless bulldog big not the major role player in this mess. Why is the black market rate depreciating on a daily basis. The black market has more than doubled the auction rate. This system is not working. Does KYC apply on transactions undertaken by illegal foreign currency traders. The payments are processed through the financial system. Is there abuse of power or it’s the cartels who are operating the financial system.

    1. Leonard Sengere

      Don’t get me started on the auction system and the 20% mandatory liquidation. Talk about shooting the economy in the foot. They wonder why we won’t deposit their money when we see businesses being forced to take losses on 20% of their money sold at a ridiculous official rate.
      Someone somewhere is making a killing from this ridiculousness and until they are full, the madness will remain.

  4. Masvingo Zimuto

    The biggest problem is we have seen it and accepted that it’s not a good practice but nothing is being done

    1. Leonard Sengere

      The government is now acting all urgent in trying to rectify the madness. For a while, they were content with the increased tax revenue from the higher profits banks were posting. The RBZ got to brag about the health of the banks under its supervision. The Consumer Council of Zimbabwe, I have no idea where they were while we were being robbed.

  5. Lenox Daniel

    Thebpeoblemcould be solved partly if Zim banks were allowed to trade as institutional traders in the word stock markets and forex markets. But how would they compete against other big giants at institutional level?

    1. Leonard Sengere

      To be honest, I don’t trust that Zimbabwean banks will succeed. Their risk aversion is borne out of incompetence. The reports say we had to bail them out because they were not properly assessing loan requests, often just basing decisions on balance sheets and not even visiting the applicants’ sites and also making ridiculous changes to business plans of loan seekers. All this contributed to the huge NPLs. So do I think they can compete on the world stock and forex markets? No.

  6. Abu Matiza

    We seem to be stuck. Citizens will always lose. RBZ needs to up its game.

    1. Leonard Sengere

      As long as political considerations influence business and economics decisions, we will never have effective institutions. Mangudya and pals have to balance their jobs with the political ramifications and so will never serve the nation as they should.

  7. JB

    You wont believe what I twitted this morning. Check the tweet.

    @ReserveBankZIM @stewardbank @CBZHoldings @BancabcZW @ZimTreasury @EdgarsZW
    It is disappointing that banks are only offering huge bank charges and nothing better. Is this what banks can only do? Thank you @EdgarsZW for contributing meaningfully through your loan scheme.

    1. Leonard Sengere

      It’s crazy that we as citizens, have been complaining about this for a long time and yet those employed to monitor such things have been silent.

  8. CryptoGeneral

    DeFi (Decentralised Finance) fixes this. You truly own your finances without all these exorbitant fees. cryptocurrencies fixes this and its no longer a matter of if its now a matter of when. Let them enjoy garnishing their customers while it lasts, its all going to be history. Crypto gives power back to the people and its coming is inevitable.