Access Interview: Julius Ruwaichi, CEO of Access Microfinance Bank Tanzania Limited
By Ivana Mitrovic
Julius Ruwaichi, CEO of AccessBank Tanzania has joined the company in 2016 as Chief Financial Officer. Prior to joining our team, he developed different roles within financial departments of Standard Charter Bank Tanzania and NBC Bank, and worked as an auditor at PwC Tanzania. He holds MBA from East & Southern Africa Management Institute (ESAMI), a B.Sc. in Applied Accounting (Oxford Brooks University tgt w/ACCA), B.Sc. in Engineering from University of Dar es Salaam. Julius is a qualified accountant, member of the Association of Chartered Certified Accountants (FCCA) and he speaks Swahili, English and French.
I feel proud to be part of the business journey and history of this bank, considering that I have managed to evidence its versatile development trajectory.
Julius, let us first introduce AccessBank Tanzania, the institution you are since recently heading as CEO: for how long have you been in the market, what is your business focus and what would be the most significant business indicators you can share with us?
AccessBank Tanzania Ltd is a financial institution, which commenced its operation in Tanzania in 2007 and since then provides lending and other commercial banking services to micro, small and medium-sized enterprises. The bank is well established across different geographical locations of the country with branches in the top-three cities of Tanzania, as well as in the other three upcountry markets. We are well known as a reliable bank for micro clients (in trading, manufacturing, services, transportation, agricultural activities) and for growing SMEs. In the space of Microfinance banking activities, we rank among the top five banks in terms of balance sheet size. I feel proud to be part of the business journey and history of this bank, considering that I have managed to evidence its versatile development trajectory.
How would you describe the digitalisation process in AccessBank Tanzania? Are there some interesting ongoing projects you can mention?
AccessBank Tanzania was among the first AccessHolding network banks in Africa to take the lead in digitalisation: we were the first to start with ATM and Mobile Money, but also served as a pilot institution for the proof of concept of the mobile Wallet. Thanks to those projects we managed to build a capable technology team of highly motivated professionals, who are now also supporting other network banks in developing their robust IT foundations. We are very proud that, as a result of all of our endeavours in the past, our digital RAHISI account product is well positioned in the market and over 75% of our clients’ transactions are done outside the branches.
At this moment, we are focused on various digital projects at different stages of execution: Merchant Digital Loans, KYC Verification and Registration with National Identity Authority for new account opening, Straight Through Processing (STP) incoming transfers through Government Electronic Payment Gateway (GEPG), to name only a few of the most important ones. All these came after the successful rollout of our proprietary developed “Credit Scoring engine”.
In AccessBank we are proud of our teamwork spirit and highly skilled staff, and we are lucky to have a good cooperation with the holding and other network banks, which has made all these achievements possible.
You have taken chief executive responsibility for the Bank in times of great uncertainty, in the middle of the global COVID-19 pandemic that influences the global economy and changes the way we work irreversibly. Please share with us your biggest challenges and your most valuable lessons from that period.
Tanzania as a country did not implement extreme COVID-19 response measures as guided by the World Health Organisation. We implemented internal business continuity and health safety measures in our bank – which we believed were the best way to safeguard our workforce and clients in our premises – but they remained exposed outside of our premises.
We truly realised the benefit of having a well-coordinated Business Continuity Task Force, made up of multi-disciplined professionals, who maintain a sense of urgency, coordination and are flexible and easy to reach. We also experienced the benefit and power of having a high-quality communication (accuracy, timeliness and reaching the right audience). That made us effective in handling infections whenever identified and, as a bank, we have very few confirmed cases as we were able to react timely and guide others well.
By the look of the matter, COVID-19 is shaping the world into a new normal, as it is here to stay for a while. Most of the sectors including banking industry players are influenced by the need to adjust their business models and gain flexibility by adopting the new way of business life. I am privileged to have taken over the leadership of the bank, while the pandemic was just coming out of the peak in Tanzania, to assure our determination to become more innovative and offer value propositions that will facilitate consumers to manage the new way of life. It is evident in this context that services offered via digital channels are gaining customers’ increasing appreciation and utilisation.
In this digital era, I strongly believe “we need to become a change-ready organization.” The rate of change and evolution in businesses and technology is going to accelerate, so we must continue to build a culture and communication structure that is ready, willing and able to adapt to any change.