LIfe at Absa | Written by Maria Ramos

07 November 2017

When it comes to championing the notion of Shared Growth there is a simple litmus test to follow: consider your legacy.


  • Shared Growth means having a positive impact on society while still delivering shareholder value. And knowing that the two are not mutually exclusive.
  • Shared Growth is about more than just giving back, it is about evolving.
  • Shared Growth is about challenging ourselves to do much more. It is about pausing to ask if what we do advances society.

Barclays Africa operates in 10 African countries and has two representative offices in Namibia and Nigeria. We have 12.3 million customers. We have 1 207 branches, 10 013 ATMs and 41 241 employees. And there are countless more impressive statistics I can include, but this is not what we want to be remembered for. We want to be remembered for taking advantage of our position as a leading pan-African financial services institution to contribute to the success of Africa and her people. That’s a meaningful legacy and one which we are pursuing through our Shared Growth philosophy, which is embedded into our business strategy.

Given the depth of the challenges facing the world today, and how fast and profoundly the world is changing, there is very little – if any – space to address these needs through the corporate social investment (CSI) channels of old. Don’t get me wrong, there are many very important CSI projects and Barclays Africa has, and will continue, to do our bit in this space alongside our excellent CSI partners and initiatives. But Shared Growth is about more than just giving back, it is about placing the prosperity of the communities we serve at the centre of everything we do. It is about deploying our financial and other resources and the talents of our people. It is about challenging ourselves to do much more than just providing funding for others to serve communities.

We have taken time to carefully consider the needs of our communities and the direction in which the world is moving, and weighed this up against our capacity as a business. We have made careful choices about how we go about contributing to the development of our continent. I do not for a moment presume to claim that we have all the answers to the challenges of our continent, or even just South Africa, but we take our responsibility in this regard very seriously. Following this careful consideration, we took a decision to reorientate the way we think about the growth of our business and create a stronger alignment with our own organisational values.

One of these is the value of stewardship, the commitment to leave things better than we found them. Shared Growth is an epitome of this value and it behoves us to place the prosperity of our customers, clients and communities at the centre of everything we do.

We decided to participate meaningfully and contribute in three distinct areas:

  1. Education and skills training across our markets.
  2. Enterprise development.
  3. Financial inclusion.

Education and skills training are vital for the development of a competitive and highly skilled workforce that will help Africa to be globally competitive and to grow its economy. In each of the markets we are in, we are deeply committed and have begun working with corporate partners, governments and development organisations in order to help our young people obtain opportunities for excellent education. This ranges from basic education to work readiness and post- school qualifications through scholarships.

Enterprise development assists in the sustainability of small- and medium-sized (SME) enterprises and drives the creation of employment opportunities. It is from sustainable SME growth that the young people we assist with our education and skills training commitments may find employment in order to grow their income and support their families.

Financial inclusion is a vital component of broad economic inclusion across the African continent. Without the ability to access appropriate financial services that are competitively priced and convenient it is difficult for millions across Africa to meaningfully participate in economic activity. It is for this reason that we are committed to educating consumers, using our physical infrastructure and creating technological solutions that help to overcome barriers to financial inclusion.

When we think about new products, we now ask if this was a product we developed first or was it created in response to a customer need. There is a big difference. We stop to ask ourselves, “Do our customers even need or want this innovation?” Sometimes the answer is no, and then we need to consider who we are doing this for, and why.

It is not an easy journey and we are learning and growing as we go along. But we have started down this road and I hope that we are energising our own colleagues and infusing the business with a different way of thinking and acting. I for one want people to feel they are part of something bigger and more meaningful, rather than something that just has a nice label on it.

We are investing R1.4 billion over the next three years in education and skills training across our continent. Through our banking divisions and through our clients and partners we raised R1.3 billion for SME financing during the 2016 financial year alone. And we enable convenient access to financial services, value-added products and services with about half a million consumers online digitally. By the end of this year we aim to have given some 350 000 people access to various forms of accredited training and injected R237 million into education. This includes university and secondary school funding, as well as bursaries.

When you are pouring in this level of investment it is tempting to just sit back, let the money flow and say, “we’ve done our job.” But Shared Growth asks us to dig deeper and to interrogate the impact of this investment. We constantly need to be asking who should be helping us with this and who we should be partnering with, and how we should be measuring ourselves. This reflects the culture change across our organisation.

For those who brush Shared Growth – or shared value as it is called by the likes of Michael Porter and Mark Kramer – aside as a PR exercise, or pure marketing and branding, I cannot disagree more. For instance, by using our bancassurance model we have been able to assist customers who otherwise could not access credit to do so in a way that helps them manage the risks of having credit products. We are also investing in fintech start-ups whose products are responsive to conditions and the needs of previously excluded customers across the continent.

Our value of stewardship, our desire to leave our communities better than we found them, is the lifeblood of the way we are doing business now, and in the future. This is our ethos.

Article first published in the Investment Management publication, Gradient. Gradient provides views and opinion pieces, both internal and independent, on topical issues in the financial arena and economy. For more information, please call us on +27 (0) 860 111 456, email or contact your financial adviser.

Disclaimer: The advice contained on this blog is for general purposes only and does not take into account individual circumstances, objectives or financial needs. Accordingly, readers are advised to seek appropriate advice from licensed professionals prior to making any investment, or taking up a financial product or service.