Ecobank champions talent progressiveness

In an exclusive interview, Yves Mayilamene – Group Executive of Human Resources – and Gwendoline Abunaw – Ecobank Cameroon’s first female Managing Director – talk to us about the current employee experience, diversity and leadership development at Ecobank.

This year started on a positive note for Ecobank, accented by  a focused strategy, and commitment for the continent to forge on though the pandemic is still present.

Yves Mayilamene, Group Executive, Human Resources at Ecobank Transnational Incorporated, says 2021 has been about ensuring that the bank’s strategic objectives are achieved while also making sure that its employees remain safe. This was made possible by Ecobank’s investment in technology and ease of responding to the Covid-19 pandemic with a dedicated Covid-19 Task Force, which enabled it to effectively activate its business continuity plan.

Yves Mayilamene, Group Executive of Human Resources, Ecobank
Yves Mayilamene, Group Executive, Human Resources at Ecobank. (Photo: Ecobank)

This sentiment is echoed by Gwendoline Abunaw, Managing Director of Ecobank Cameroon, who says “We cannot allow the pandemic to stop us from doing what we have to do.” This is evident in the way the bank has adjusted its operations and put measures in place to ensure the safety of its customers and staff while still running the business in the best possible way as Ecobank’s presence is critical to the day-to-day lives of millions of customers it has a privilege of serving. 

Gwendoline Abunaw, Managing Director, Ecobank Cameroon
Gwendoline Abunaw, Managing Director of Ecobank Cameroon. (Photo: Ecobank)

As a result, Ecobank has been able to put its learnings from 2020 into practice and make a successful start to the year. 

Remaining vigilant 

Gone are the days where people had to commute to the office every morning, hold face-to-face meetings with clients and huddled at the coffee machine or water dispenser with colleagues on Friday afternoons, excited about the weekend ahead. The new normal for “Ecobankers” is a combination of working from home and working from the office. 

Mayilamene explains that 60% of Ecobank’s 14,000 employees across the 35+ countries it has a presence in are working safely and effectively from home. The other 40% who may need to be physically present in branches or offices do so on a rotational basis and with the necessary safety measures in place.

He says: “The rotational working style has proven to be effective in ensuring that offices and branches do not become hotspots for infection while protecting staff and enabling them to serve our customers.”

Thanks to its investment in technology, Ecobank has been able to provide customers with 24/7 access to the financial services they need whenever they may need them. To help staff manage the increase in demand for support, artificial intelligence (which they continuously improve) has enabled the Bank to support customers using its digital platforms from the comfort and safety of their homes.

This also played a part in showing employees that their safety and wellbeing are a priority as it made their workload more manageable and reduced the need for them to go into branches.

Bearing in mind the effect of the pandemic on the mental health and well­being of individuals, Ecobank is supporting its staff by encouraging them to talk to mental health experts under its health care cover.

Ecobank has also chosen the theme for its 2021 Ecobank Day (its annual flagship CSR event), and it will be mental health, cognisant of the ever-increasing cases of mental problems across the continent now heightened by Covid-19. This explains why 2021 has started off on such an optimistic note – people are no longer viewing the pandemic as overwhelming and insurmountable but, have instead accepted that it is something that they have to adapt to.

Commitment to equality

Mayilamene states that 46% of Ecobankers are women and while he correctly points out that this is above average in many organisations, more can be done, especially considering that women only make up 31% of management positions in the bank. The bank’s goal is to achieve 50/50 gender equality in management and leadership roles by 2030, which is in line with the UN’s 2020 agenda target. 

Abunaw, who has shattered the glass ceiling and is occupying one of the most senior roles within the bank, says that in Africa cultural values are such that women have been assigned certain roles in the workplace. 

The problem with this, she says, is that women have come to believe that they only belong in those roles. She has therefore made it her mission to make women believe that they can do whatever they put their minds to and to demonstrate that they should only be defined by their potential to perform.

Ecobank has launched multiple initiatives aimed at empowering and developing its female talent. PAWA – Paragon Women Association of Ecobank Cameroon – is one such initiative. It was important to Abunaw that women know that it is possible for them to achieve what they once thought was unachievable. The objective of the association is to empower women with the skills they need to succeed in their career paths. 

Another is the Ecobank Women’s Programme which is a core part of the bank’s talent management framework. It provides internal networking and learning opportunities between different levels of female staff which Mayilamene explains, enables them to inspire and challenge one another.

Of course, diversity and inclusion goes beyond gender. It is about ensuring that everyone, regardless of gender, age and ethnicity, is given opportunities to develop and excel. This is done by identifying and recognising high-achieving staff and rewarding them for their good work. The identified employees are then invited to participate in the strategic sessions that define the vision of the bank each year.

The rationale behind this is that when success is clearly defined and people can see and feel the benefits associated with it, everyone strives to exceed expectations and work towards excellence and be rewarded accordingly, no matter their race or gender.

Developing Africa’s leaders

In 2020, Ecobank delivered 1,800 training programmes that reached 100% of their staff from those in entry level roles through to the executives. The training is administered by the bank’s corporate Academy and in-house experts as well as by external bodies such as universities. The training programmes covered areas such as customer experience, risk management, compliance, cybersecurity governance, branch management and leadership development. 

Based on their performance and talent management process, management are able to easily identify employees who are normal performers and those who are high-potential performers. The latter are targeted specifically for leadership development and there are three different layers of people when it comes to this.

Departmental heads need to be developed to continue adjusting to changes in the world, managers need development to be prepared to become the heads of department should anything happen to the incumbent, and finally the high potentials can start to be developed early on in their careers, Abunaw explains.

The bank’s approach to learning and development is continuous and anchored in its philosophy of “aspire, strive and achieve”. The bank is working to make learning easier, faster, higher quality and more effective by merging traditional learning with technology. Its people are its greatest asset, acknowledges Mayilamene, and as a result, their learning and development is a key area of focus – one which they are willing to invest heavily into.

Looking ahead

Going forward, the banking landscape will continue to change just as it has done over the last 10 years, from “bricks to clicks” as Mayilamene puts it. 

Ecobank has prepared itself for a digital future by launching the Ecobank Mobile App, Ecobank Online, Omni Lite and Omni Plus, for example, and as a result, regards itself as being at the forefront of banking innovation. Ecobank wants to be the bank that Africans trust and have a positive relationship with, and based on the conversations with Abunaw and Mayilamene, it is well on its way to achieving this.