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Empowering Tomorrow: Absa’s Strategic Shift Amidst Economic Turbulence

Brand Finance
06 March 2024

Despite a year of geopolitical and economic turbulence, Absa bank has remained resilient in its dedication to driving customer value. The banking brand has repositioned its brand around the promise "your story matters," signaling a shift toward a more customer-centric business approach. The bank also launched the successful #MyBankDoesThat campaign in 2023 to highlight its unique offerings. As a regional player, Absa aims to outperform global banks by leveraging its local expertise, human-centered banking model, and seamless customer experiences. Read more about Absa's journey and its 2024 brand repositioning strategy in a new spotlight.

Sydney N Mbhele,
Group Chief Marketing and
Corporate Affairs Officer,

What challenges and opportunities has the South African banking industry/Absa experienced over the past 12 months?

The world has contended with geopolitical challenges and conflicts that are far more complex and nuanced in scale and scope than at any point in our history. The ramifications of this polycrisis for the global economy, and societies at large, are telling. The resultant headwinds, underpinned by economies navigating a post-pandemic world, have had major macroeconomic impacts, ultimately affecting the global and local operating environment.

Zooming into banking, the operating environment has been challenging. 2023 was characterised by considerable macroeconomic headwinds, including rising interest rates, elevated inflation, and unprecedented levels of power insecurity (load-shedding), and mounting unemployment.

What this has meant is a very real impact on debt instalments and cost of living, ultimately resulting in reduced affordability for customers across the board and pressure on consumer activity. Despite these pressures, Absa has remained steadfast in the execution of its strategic imperatives and driving real customer value.

How has the bank’s marketing strategy changed recently?

In 2024 and beyond, the overwhelming challenge for financial institutions will be to effectively navigate the immense complexity and market contradictions that are pervasive wherever we operate. For instance, while Absa has a major physical presence, we still cannot escape the geographic legacy that we find in Africa.

These challenges have ultimately forced Absa to innovate quite speedily and with this in mind, it is even more important that Absa is smart about illustrating the ‘real’ value we offer customers and is precise in articulating the benefits that sets us apart from the rest. This was the DNA of our bold new business and brand promise across all markets – “your story matters”, in which Absa has repositioned its brand to the market, signalling a deliberate shift to be a more customer centric business.

Against this background, the evolution of our brand allows us to align stronger behind the strategy and unite the organisation behind a single purpose, while also putting Absa on solid footing in key battlegrounds in the market. We undertook the brand repositioning to acknowledge the changing life cycle of our customers and we want to reassure them that we are there for them and we will meet them at every stage of their lives because their story matters.

What was Absa’s most successful brand campaign in 2023?

The #MyBankDoesThat campaign. It essentially showcased Absa’s best kept secrets to the market. As compelling as our offerings are, Absa has, from time to-time been a little too humble. Our research and all the data pointed to the fact that key offerings and best-in-class features offered by Absa were not well known in the market and we needed to rapidly change this. In our view, unearthing these key commercial selling points was (and remains) intrinsic to our aspirations of outperforming the market and becoming the gold standard of banking, wherever we operate. So, we developed the #MyBankDoesThat campaign with this in mind, and it’s been a major success - not just with customers, but a source of pride for our colleagues as well. Absa is now becoming more vocal about what makes us a winning brand.

How can local/regional players outperform global banks in brand strength? Can regional players disrupt the local incumbents?

The short answer is a resounding yes – regional players can absolutely compete on the global stage. In an increasingly interconnected world, customers demand the best-in-class, all the time. The world is a diverse place, and customers are not homogenous beings – their needs are incredibly varied, and servicing a multitude of customers smartly is the key in my view.

From an Absa perspective, we are a full service bank, meaning that we cater for customers from all walks of life – from clients who only interact with us digitally, to those who prefer the reassurance of talking to one of our colleagues in branch. To further differentiate, we have now injected a seamless experience, underpinned by strong empathy, into our offering.

Our new brand promise is a declaration of our intent that our customers are much more than mere account numbers, they matter to us and so do the stories behind the individuals. Gaining this context will allow Absa to serve them in a more meaningful manner. In my view, human centred banking is the key to outperformance, and is a vital ingredient for banks like Absa to ‘hold their own’ on the global arena.

What elements do you think build a strong banking brand?

Making meaningful connections that resonates with customers is the heart and soul of building a strong brand. Moreover, it is absolutely imperative that a brand’s promise, delivery and customer experience all intersect and are congruent.

Simply stated, a great and empathetic brand promise, without commensurate levels of customer experience would be pointless. The building of a solid brand is not a marketing exercise of function either – it should be a company-wide affirmation of the inherent promise that is being made to the market. From an Absa point, our journey to a more human-centred approach to banking entailed taking the entire company towards this renewed vision. And we have worked hard to take our colleagues, particularly our frontline on this journey. This journey is an ongoing conversation with our customers about their experiences and their needs.

How are you repositioning Absa’s brand in 2024?

Absa aims to challenge the perception of banks being self-serving by offering solutions and services that respond to the real situations customers are facing in their stories every day. Last year we updated our internal corporate purpose to ‘Empowering Africa’s tomorrow, together one story at a time’ and it was important for us that our brand reflect this internal shift and that we show up as the type of organisation we want to be.

2024 promises to be a landmark year and builds on the positive steps we have taken last year. The reimagining of the brand follows a detailed review of customer insights, feedback and research. Our research pointed to the fact that customers wanted to experience more human-centred empathy, and to have seamless experiences in every transaction, and in the moments that matter. What this meant is that we had adapt to the changing needs and preferences of our customers, so that we can provide personalised and relevant banking experiences to support their life stage, goals, and preferences.

To this end, storytelling and meaningful connections are the name of the game in 2024. We are infusing a bit more humanity into the Absa ecosystem that already sees the very best digital offerings that banking has to offer, coexisting with an extensive physical network. As a global bank with a presence in 12 pan African countries and five representative offices in strategic markets, Absa understands that customer needs vary widely.

Absa is making a step-change throughout the organisation; one that will involve enhancing the value of our products, improving our levels of customer service, and vastly improving our capacity to deliver banking solutions that will be timely and relevant to our customers throughout their lives. In doing this we hope to become an inseparable, integrated and seamless part of their lives.

About the Author

Brand Finance is the world’s leading independent brand valuation and strategy consultancy. Headquartered in the City of London, we are present in over 20 countries.

For almost 30 years we have helped companies and organisations of all types to connect their brands to the bottom line.