Stephen Cranston Associate editor
Basani Maluleke. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA
Basani Maluleke. Picture: FREDDY MAVUNDA

At the age of just 40, Basani Maluleke has trained as an accountant, worked as a lawyer and tried her hand at investment banking, private banking and private equity. Somewhere along the line she found time to study for an MBA at the Kellogg School in Chicago and for the first part of the chartered financial analysts qualification.

In March next year she starts the next chapter in her life, when she takes over from Brian Riley as CEO of African Bank. Maluleke says her family acquired a work ethic from her father, Judge George Maluleke, who died in August. As children they were often expected to work as cashiers and pack bags. "He was the centre of our lives and brought strength and joy."

As a student, Maluleke’s vac work included time spent working on an audit for BMW. "I knew that if I didn’t enjoy auditing such an interesting company in such a fun sector, I would never enjoy auditing."

She didn’t enjoy her spell at lawyers Edward Nathan Sonnenbergs much more, but the combined experience made her well suited to corporate finance, which involves large dollops of law and accounting.

Maluleke believes her strength is to thrive in complex environments.

She was with the FirstRand Group for 12 years, later working as head of FNB Private Clients. She had a short spell in private equity as co-founder of African Century Ventures.

Of banking, she says: "We need to develop affordable, appropriate products. African Bank was a lending business, but we are now rolling out our transactional bank."

She says the bank needs to diversify its funding. It has the most expensive funding base in the banking sector, put in place when the "good" African Bank was coming out of curatorship. Some of this finance was as much as 400 basis points more expensive than typical bank finance. This makes it hard for African Bank to offer a competitive product in vehicle finance or home loans, or even business banking.

But its suite of deposit products gives better yields than its peers. Maluleke hopes this will attract a new, more affluent customer to the bank.

Maluleke describes herself as a collaborative manager, though she admits she has been hands-on during the bank’s recovery process. She is at present head of operations, which includes the unlikely trio of sales, marketing and collections.

Maluleke says there is pressure on her as the first black woman chosen to head an SA bank, but she believes it gives hope to other women and shows that there is transformation, however slow.

She says she admires Capitec for its focus and singlemindedness, but still considers FirstRand to be the most impressive bank, with high levels of innovation.

Bankers are not popular, maybe even less popular than the legal or accounting professions, where Maluleke could have ended up. She accepts that transactional margins are high, and this will help determine where African Bank sets its fees. But she says that African Bank will come to profit surprisingly quickly.

cranstons@fm.co.za

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