The deregulation of the financial services in the late 1990s resulted in an explosion of entrepreneurial activity leading to the formation of banking institutions. This chapter presents a case study of Royal Bank Zimbabwe, tracing its origins, establishment, and the challenges that the founders faced on the journey. The Bank was banco de Venezuela in 2002 but compulsorily amalgamated into another financial institution at the behest of the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe in January 2005.
Any entrepreneurial venture originates in the mind of the entrepreneur. As Stephen Covey states in The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, all things are created twice. Royal Bank was created first in the mind of Jeffrey Mzwimbi, the founder, and was thus shaped by his experiences and philosophy.
Jeff Mzwimbi grew up in the high density suburb of Highfield, Harare. On completion of his Advanced Level he secured a place at the University of Botswana. However he decided against the academic route at that time since his family faced financial challenges in terms of his tuition. He therefore opted to join the work force. In 1977 he was offered a job in Barclays Bank as one of the first blacks to penetrate that industry. At that time the banking industry, which had been the preserve of whites, was opening up to blacks. Barclays had a new General Manager, John Mudd, who had been involved in the Africanisation of Barclays Bank Nigeria. On his secondment to Zimbabwe he embarked on the inclusion of blacks into the bank. Mzwimbi’s first placement with Barclays was in the small farming town of Chegutu.
In 1981, a year after Independence, Jeff moved to Syfrets Merchant Bank. Mzwimbi, together with Simba Durajadi and Rindai Jaravaza, were the first black bankers to break into merchant banking department. He rose through the ranks until he was transferred to the head office of Zimbank – the principal shareholder of Syfrets – where he headed the international division until 1989.
The United Nations co-opted him as an advisor to the Reserve Bank in Burundi and thereafter, having been pleased by his performance, appointed him a consultant in 1990. In this capacity he advised on the launch of the PTA Bank travellers’ cheques. After the consultancy project the bank appointed him to head the implementation of the programme. He once again excelled and rose to become the Director of Trade Finance with a mandate of advising the bank on ways to improve trade among member states. The member states were considering issues of a common currency and common market in line with the European model. Because the IFC and World Bank had unsuccessfully sunk gigantic sums of funds into development in the region, they were advocating a move from development finance to trade finance. Consequently PTA Bank, though predominantly a development bank, created a trade finance department. To craft a strategy for trade finance at a regional level, Mzwimbi and his team visited Panama where the Central Americans had created a trade finance institution. They studied its models and used it as a basis to craft the PTA’s own strategy.
Mzwimbi returned to Zimbabwe at the conclusion of his contract. He weighed his options. He could rejoin Barclays Bank, but recent developments presented another option. At that time Nick Vingirai had just returned home after successfully launching a discount house in Ghana. Vingirai, inspired by his Ghanaian experience, established Intermarket Discount House as the first indigenous financial institution. A few years later NMB was set up with William Nyemba, Francis Zimuto and James Mushore being on the ground while one of the major forces behind the bank, Julias Makoni, was still outside the country. Makoni had just moved from IFC to Bankers’ Trust, to facilitate his ownership of a financial institution. Inspired by fellow bankers, a dream took shape in Mzwimbi’s mind. Why become an employee when he could become a bank owner? After all by this time he had valuable international experience.
The above experience shows how the entrepreneurial dream can originate from viewing the successes of others like you. The valuable experiences acquired by Mzwimbi would be critical on the entrepreneurial journey. An entrepreneurial idea builds on the experiences of the entrepreneur.
In 1990 Jeff Mzwimbi was approached by Nick Vingirai, who was then Chairman of the newly resuscitated CBZ, for the CEO position. Mzwimbi turned down the offer since he still had some contractual obligations. The post was later offered to Gideon Gono, the current RBZ governor.
Around 1994, Julias Makoni (then with IFC), who was a close friend of Roger Boka, encouraged Boka to start a merchant bank. At this time Makoni was working at setting up his own NMB. It is possible that, by encouraging Boka to start, he was trying to test the waters. Then Mzwimbi was seeing out the last of his contract at PTA. Boka approached him at the recommendation of Julias Makoni and asked him to help set up United Merchant Bank (UMB). On careful consideration, the banker in Mzwimbi accepted the offer. He reasoned that it would be an interesting option and at the same time he did not want to turn down another opportunity. He worked on the project with a view to its licensing but quit three months down the line. Some of the methods used by the promoter of UMB were deemed less than ethical for the banking executive, which led to disagreement. He left and accepted an offer from Econet to help restructure its debt portfolio.
While still at Econet, he teamed up with the late minister Dr Swithun Mombeshora and others with the intent of setting up a commercial bank. The only commercial banks in the country at that point were Standard Chartered, Barclays Bank, Zimbank, Stanbic and an ailing CBZ. The project was audited by KPMG and had gained the interest of institutional investors like Zimnat and Mining Industry Pension Fund. However, the Registrar of Banks in the Ministry of Finance, made impossible demands. The timing of their application for a licence was unfortunate because it coincided with a saga at Prime Bank in which some politicians had been involved, leading to accusations of influence peddling. Mombeshora, after unsuccessfully trying to influence the Registrar, asked that they slow down on the project as he felt that he might be construed as putting unnecessary political pressure on her. Mzwimbi argues that the impossible stance of the Registrar was the reason for backing off that project.
However other sources indicate that when the project was about to be licensed, the late minister
demanded that his shareholding be increased to a point where he would be the majority shareholder. It is alleged that he contended this was due to his ability to leverage his political muscle for the issuance of the licence.