Ecobank embraces digital transformation in Malawi through new technology initiatives

Ecobank embraces digital transformation in Malawi through new technology initiatives

Lusungu Mkandawire, Country Head of Information Security at Ecobank Transnational, discusses the impact new technology is having on banks in the age of...

As the first bank in Malawi to launch a mobile app, Ecobank is beginning to embrace technology in a bid to stay ahead of its rivals. With 80% of the population in Malawi unbanked, Ecobank remains determined to lead its competitors and set the trends in the industry. Lusungu Mkandawire, Country Head of Information Security, believes it’s vital that Ecobank continues to innovate and remains the first institution in the field to implement new software and react to change.

With innovation firmly in mind, Ecobank became the first bank in Malawi to launch a mobile app called ‘Ecobank Mobile Banking App’. The service is accessible on Android and iOS operating systems and is immediately available for download.

“We were the first bank to connect mobile wallets before every other bank in the country,” says Mkandawire. “We are also the first bank to have an Unstructured Supplementary Service Data (USSD) application that will support wallet to bank transaction. Our main strategy is to become more digital. With most of the other local banks still only brick and mortar, it’s really important for us to fully embrace digital technology.”

The USSD is a global system for mobile communication technology that is used to send messages between a mobile phone and an application programme in the network. Mkandawire affirms that through utilising such software, the app provides Ecobank’s customers with greater freedom for their transactions. “Ecobank Malawi is integrated with all the mobile money providers in Malawi,” says Mkandawire. “This enables our customers to seamlessly do transactions without time restrictions. Every bank in Malawi has a mobile banking strategy and is integrating with those who have their own mobile banking products.”

With mobile banking providing a wide range of different functions, Mkandawire points out how customers can significantly benefit from operating the app.

“Customers want self service where they are able to check their balance from home or pay bills from anywhere on the planet. Customers want an omnichannel service and this means connecting all these touch points to create a seamless, consistent and pleasant experience. This lets customers move from one touch point to another without feeling a disruption or disconnection.”

Importance of innovation

With companies launching new products at a quicker rate than ever before, it has meant that banks which delay their digital transformation strategies are trailing behind. Banks can develop their products at a reduced cost through utilising their product development and IT operations, or DevOps. Mkandawire is well aware of just how important it is to keep up with the latest trends.

“Speed and innovation are critical success factors in today’s digital world. Being able to innovate quickly and cheaply, test digital products and services in the market, refine them and release them on a regular basis has become a competitive advantage,” explains Mkandawire. “Ecobank has invested a lot in research and innovation to make sure that we are at par or better in the global banking sector as a whole.”

Having joined Ecobank in May 2018 to take control of Information Security, Mkandawire has previously worked as the Information Security Manager at Airtel Africa and as an IT Audit Supervisor at KPMG. Such experience in technology and security has allowed Mkandawire to build up significant knowledge in the field.

“I definitely combined IT and accounting in my previous roles. I feel it’s given me a good understanding of the requirements of both positions, especially during my time as an IT auditor.”

Remaining secure in the digital space

While digital transformation has seen companies experience tremendous growth, it has also caused the issue of cybersecurity to become increasingly prevalent. Although Mkandawire believes Ecobank is dealing with the issue in the right way, he maintains companies can never be too careful when it comes to security.
“I think Ecobank is handling it well. I believe we have a good setup for cybersecurity but you can never be 100% secure. You have to continuously improve. Facebook was recently hacked so you can never say anything is completely safe, especially in a banking environment like Ecobank.”

Previously, Ecobank utilized the ISO/IEC 27001 system which the company adopted across all their fields. Now, the company is embracing a wide range of different projects to ensure that it keeps cybercrime at a minimum. “In terms of cybersecurity, we have so many projects that are happening,” says Mkandawire. “We have internal information security awareness trainings campaigns and also have partners that help us too, such as McAfee who help us with advanced SIEM systems that monitors security threats and guide us on how to prevent, detect and recover from attacks. Most of our security standards and frameworks have been adopted by Microsoft, IBM and McAfee so we have lots of support.”

With digital enhancements being implemented on an ever-changing basis, Mkandawire considers it vital that Ecobank keeps up with the latest trends by ensuring its security functions operate at full capability. “We have recently upgraded our main firewall systems and have the latest checkpoint software. It’s so important to us that we’re as secure as possible.”

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Forming key partnerships

Since it was first established in 1985, Ecobank has gone from operating solely in West Africa to holding offices in 36 countries across the continent. In order to achieve and sustain that success, it has become increasingly important for companies to form key partnerships to accelerate their development. Ecobank has collaborated with Business Computers Services Malawi to provide them with IT servers and Mkandawire believes these strategic partnerships are vital to continued success.

“We’ve successfully developed products that pose a real benefit to our customers, clients and other businesses,” explains Mkandawire. “Strategic partnerships fuel your business growth which is why Ecobank works proactively to create and sustain them. Each partner takes a proactive interest in the others company and we work together to bring about our shared success.”

With the meteoric rise of financial technology in the banking sector in Africa, it is clear that the region’s future is heavily focused on technology-based products. As far as Ecobank and Mkandawire are concerned, the challenge is ensuring that the company embraces digital transformation head on.

“We want to ensure the investment improves our bottom line and profitable growth, this also applies to our business strategic partners. By entering into mutually beneficial partnerships, we have the opportunity to spur digital transformation at a level we couldn’t achieve on our own, differentiating ourselves through innovative products and business models that drive our competitive edge.”

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