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By Brian Sokutu

Senior Print Journalist

FNB’s ewallet boss a champion for the poor

On her source of inspiration and role model, Nqala praises her mother Nomawabo Mntambo for a good upbringing.

Daring to tread where others won’t, and ready to get her hands dirty are all part of a personal resolve to make a difference in the lives of the underprivileged.

This describes Zibu Nqala best as a champion of the poor through technology in banking and a torchbearer for women’s empowerment. In her role as First National Bank (FNB) chief executive of eWallet, Nqala takes charge of a subsegment of customers who earn up to R3 000 a month.

Growing up in the Eastern Cape’s small university town of Alice – home to the University of Fort Hare – where she attended Lovedale Primary, Nqala, who comes from a middle-class background, had an early exposure to the realities of low-income and previously disadvantaged families.

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“I lived on the university campus with my family,” says Nqala.

“Although we were proud of our school, the level of education and its heritage, it didn’t have running water, sports facilities or tarred roads.”

She says most of the children in the school came from very impoverished homes and would pitch up in the morning, not having eaten breakfast.

“A common thread among parents – despite their daily struggles – was a desire for a good education for their children and a better future,” she says.

“This is still the reality of many South Africans, particularly in the segment of customers we are dealing with in the entry wallet.

“I always draw from these lived experiences and context when we are crafting financial solutions that will make our customers lives easier.”

Various FNB roles

Nqala, who has been in the banking sector for two decades, has held various roles at FNB since graduating with a BCom computer science degree from the then University of Port Elizabeth – now Nelson Mandela University.

Her passion for technology led to a master’s degree in digital business through Wits Business School – equipping Nqala to better understand the impact of digital transformation and how it is shaping the running of business.

She maintains that technology advancement over the past two decades has “enabled closer reach and access to banking for customers, especially those that were previously unbanked or underserviced”.

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“However, it has also amplified the inequalities between the haves and have-nots. It is critical that we prioritise solutions that are inclusive and accessible to customers,” she says.

On her source of inspiration and role model, Nqala praises her mother Nomawabo Mntambo for a good upbringing.

“We continuously shared my mother, who was a teacher, with other students and friends over the years,” she says.

“She was very progressive and had a knack for having difficult conversations other parents struggled with. She led with her heart and was a big advocate for education and women’s independence.

“When times were tough and she struggled to make ends meet, she started a side hustle: baking and selling cakes.”

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Nqala’s journey ascending the corporate ladder has not been all smooth sailing. As a young black female in IT in the early 2000, my situation was no different to the experience of other black women,” she says.

“It was a white male-dominated environment. I was very good at what I did but continuously had to deal with being second-guessed and considered ‘a token employment equity appointment’.

“Thankfully, my skills, capability and sheer strong will helped me. Having leaders that believed in and supported me went a long way in giving me the confidence I needed.”

Childhood dream

While she may be a technology guru, Nqala’s childhood dream was to become “a musician and a talk show hostlike Oprah Winfrey”.

“I had a passion for people from a very young age and loved authentic, real engagements and conversations,” she says.

“I guess how that has materialised in my current role, is in me having the platform to bring customers’ experiences, their goals and the challenges they face into our business conversations.”

Having a deeper grasp of her customers to better understand the nuances that influence their financial behaviour and developing suitable solutions to assist them is Nqala’s primary objective.

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“We’ve established that we cannot paint all people with the same brush, because their needs are unique to them.

“In solving customer problems, we had to find innovative ways to really meet customers where they are – helping them in their journey to fulfil their aspirations,” she says.

Nqala is currently reading The Gifts of Imperfection: Let Go of Who You Think You’re Supposed to Be and Embrace Who You Are by Brene Brown.

– brians@citizen.co.za

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