It is a new redesign: coronavirus has enabled companies to pilot and test business models towards optimization of costs. The learning was live in all absolute forms during this pandemic, exposing inefficiencies, non-leverageable assets and redundant resources. As offices begin to reopen, new playbooks are emerging.
Case in point: Access Bank Nigeria Plc is cutting a huge percentage of its workforce. That has been my fear since early March when I warmed our community to prepare because an experiment was going on in Nigeria, and by the time the results are out, CEOs will adopt new models at scale. Why do you need a branch when Nigerians have demonstrated they can do banking without a physical location? Why do you need physical guards when the bulk of the money is electronic? Why do you need drivers when Zoom can take you anywhere? For the fact that people did not break without many departments, banks and companies have data points to redesign their businesses.
Access Bank Plc CEO, Herbert Wigwe, my Businessperson of the Year 2018, would now struggle to win a major election in Nigeria. Of course that may not be his priorities. He has fired at scale, drawing the first blood in a labour ring battle we expect to be brutal. By the time, the process is over, the Nigerian banking workforce will shrink by at least 40%. Access Bank is looking at cutting WITHIN 75% of its workforce! Those remaining will see reduced salaries.(Update – the video does not mean all the noted 75% could be cut. Access could cut 1% or 74.99% but no one knows. So, I have updated that Access will cut within 75% of its workforce after watching the video again)
“We probably don’t need as many security men as usual, even as we are not going to have all our branches open between now and December. We certainly don’t need all the security men; we don’t need the tea girls; we don’t need all the cleaners; we don’t need all the tellers etc, etc.
“That number of staff which represents 75 per cent of our staff strength is the one we need to speak to their employers, to rationalize, to basically sustain a lean but actually customer-service oriented institution.”
Yet, nothing is new here if you have been following what has been happening in South Africa for quarters. In short, every quarter, there has been mass sacks in the banking sector as the industry automates and digitizes. Covid-19 simply accelerated what I have expected to take four years to happen in 6 months. As many have written, Nigeria must plan for the future of work because we can be in a nation of depression-level unemployment.
Question: Prof, thanks for sharing, indeed capitalism is about make or break. Some are made, others broken. But I have to then ask, if institutions like banks share Wigwe’s mindset ‘we need to protect our institution, even if people get hurt’ (paraphrasing), what about the other side of the coin? Should banks be shielded from technology themselves, even as they use tech to protect themselves and hurt others? What about unleashing the East African mobile money revolution in Nigeria? What about micro-insurance, micro-mortgages, which allow people that earn daily, to save daily and break free of unaffordable interest rates, set by the Central Bank?
Prof, is there no other side to the coin? What then is the hope of the ordinary Nigerian, in this winner takes all economy?
Will the Wigwe philosophy not lead to greater inequality, greater instability and ultimately, chaos?
Please, lend us your wisdom…
My Response: Today is Labour Day. The world does not have a Capital Day because everyday is a Capital Day. In 1979, GM employed close to one million to serve less than 500k customers. In 2020, Facebook uses about 50k to serve more than 2.5 billion customers. A big branch in Nigeria in 1990 might have required dozens of workers. Today, 7 staff can do with machines around. What is happening is not Wigwe’s fault – the problem is the leadership in Nigeria.
Starbucks could not find people to hire in U.S. because everyone had a job, it then offered free university scholarship to attract workers. No one noticed that American banks were closing or shrinking in workforce because other sectors were expanding as tech was opening new domains. If the Nigerian real estate, agriculture, transportation etc are growing, all the people in banking would not be enough for them.
Nigeria has 200 million for an economy of $500b; America has 320 million for one close to $20 trillion! Despite all, the bank CEO is a victim because Nigeria kills banks also! So, those men (usually) are aware of the strike rate.