Absa has undergone a remarkable rebrand in recent years. When parent company Barclays PLC announced that it was divesting from Africa, it was an opportunity for Absa in South Africa and the former Barclays branded subsidiaries situated in 12 other African markets to create a new forward-looking Africa-focused banking group. At the same time Absa embarked on an ambitious journey to double its share of banking revenues in Africa to 12%. Particularly noteworthy is the leadership story behind Absa’s Retail and Business Banking division during the rebrand.

A recent Business Day Dialogues LIVE, in partnership with Unisa Graduate School of Business Leadership (UNISA SBL), and moderated by Joanne Joseph, focused on how Absa successfully managed to double its market share in Africa, the challenges it faced and the learnings to be found in this inspirational yet practical example of leadership in a uniquely African context.

Arrie Rautenbach, a UNISA SBL alumnus and the chief executive of Absa’s Retail and Business Banking South African division said Absa’s rebrand followed a very deliberate process which involved all the bank’s stakeholders including employees, board members and customers. Although Absa in SA had only been part of Barclays for a little more than a decade, Barclays branded operations in Africa had been part of the parent group for close to a century and had a deeply entrenched brand.

The Barclays divestment was an opportunity for the group to take control of its own destiny and become more connected to all its markets. In SA Absa was rebranded, followed by replacing the Barclays brand in other African market.

Absa coined the term “Aficanacity” to describe a uniquely African way of getting things done. The operating model was changed and a new set of values implemented.

Re-connecting with its markets was core to its rebrand strategy, revealed Rautenbach, adding the group is particularly proud of the diversity it has achieved in the process.

Absa is very cognisant that it has to be able to compete with new entrants to the banking industry. It’s differentiator, he said, is its ability to deliver a full complement of banking services.

Professor Peet Venter, professor of Strategy at UNISA SBL, said he was impressed by the “deliberateness” of Absa’s process. Where Absa was particularly courageous was in not seeing Barclays’ withdrawal as a negative but rather an opportunity to change, reset and become more African. “Rather than seeing the downside and threats they saw the opportunities which is something other businesses can learn from,” he said.

Acting academic director at UNISA SBL, Andile Nobatyi, agreed, adding that Absa’s journey was a “living case study”. He said he was impressed at how the bank included all its stakeholders in its journey, while not forgetting that it still needed to run with a transformation agenda. He was also impressed at how it approached its African operations seeing them within their own cultural context rather than as an extension of the South African operations.

To view the full event visit https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=crLqBgbn2J4