Swings and roundabouts for jobs in banks

In recent months, banks such as Standard and Absa have announced retrenchments, citing the weak economy and redirecting resources towards digitalisation. (Reuters)

In recent months, banks such as Standard and Absa have announced retrenchments, citing the weak economy and redirecting resources towards digitalisation. (Reuters)

Ongoing retrenchments in the banking sector led the South African Society of Bank Officials (Sasbo) to threaten a countrywide strike last month. But the overall picture may not be as gloomy as it seems.

Although one independent evaluation shows that some banks have been shedding jobs, other banks are hiring.

In recent months, banks such as Standard and Absa have announced retrenchments, citing the weak economy and redirecting resources towards digitalisation.

Sasbo, which claimed that more than 40 000 members would participate in the strike, said it would mean there would be no cash in ATMs.

“The whole aim of the strike is to call for the stoppage of retrenchments and job losses,” Sasbo secretary general Joe Kokela said in an interview with eNCA.

The day before the intended strike on September 27, the labour court in Braamfontein ruled the strike unlawful.

But Stuart Theobald, chairperson at research and consulting firm Intellidex, said the numbers show that overall the sector is simultaneously hiring workers, while retrenching others.

He said that this year Standard Bank had cut 2 097 of its 46 168 of employees, Nedbank had shed 937 people, leaving it with 30 335 workers, and Absa pruned its headcount by 1 688 to 39 629. The total staff reduction at the three banks was 4 722, according to Theobald.

At the same time, other banks were hiring.
FirstRand increased its employees by 2 496 to a headcount of 48 780 and Capitec by 441 to 13 774. It is set to add 600 employees in the next six months. Theobald said the new jobs created totalled 2 937, meaning there was an overall loss at the major banks of 1 785.

“I think it’s safe to say it’s not universally the case that banks are retrenching. Some banks are hiring and its not clear what the net effect is going to be,” he said.

“I think the commentary has been very focused on those banks that have entered into formal retrenchments process with their staff and unions. And that gets headlines and what does not get noticed is banks that are hiring people.”

Theobald said that, despite the weak economy, new banks have entered the market with competitive fees and interest rates, include TymeBank and Bank Zero, which are expanding the sector and making it more competitive.

“The future of the banking industry is going to involve fewer branches and more digital engagements with clients — it’s also going to involve lower cost because it’s becoming more competitive, particularly in the retail account market,” he said.

During the past 20 years banks have employed more people than in any major economic sector except for the government. “Banks have been the source of employment growth in the private sector,” he said.

TymeBank, which launched early this year as a digital bank, said it has created about 700 jobs for ambassadors, who are the bank’s primary human interface.

Chief executive Tauriq Keraan said TymeBank is committed to offering customers a cost-effective bank proposition and a seamless customer experience. “To achieve this, the bank has been built in such a way that it allows for most of its processes to be digital and [they] are thus not managed by people,” he said.

Charl Nel, head of communications at Capitec Bank, said: “Any business can only create new positions if it grows. We should not fear the artificial intelligence revolution that is awaiting all industries.”

He said Capitec’s view is that the need for people in the banking sector will increase but “the tasks they do will change substantially”.

Tshegofatso Mathe is an Adamela Trust business reporter at the M&G

Tshegofatso Mathe

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