African Bank’s new CFO, Anbann Chetti, explains how he changed the bank’s finance operating blueprint using three pillars of success, and most importantly, transparency with his team.
“I want our finance operations to function like a well-executed relay race – seamless hand-offs between processes to accelerate performance.” Those are the words of Anbann Chetti, newly appointed chief financial officer of African Bank. He aims to transform finance operations to enable business growth by eliminating inefficiencies and disconnects between different processes.
After 23 years scaling the ladders of financial services, Anbann joined African Bank in August 2023 from his previous role as divisional executive in financial management and CFO of the retail division. He now draws on his rich expertise spanning investment banking, global markets, corporate banking, wealth management, insurance and asset management to shape his leadership approach.
Just months into his CFO role at African Bank, he is focused on ensuring information, insights and output flow reliably across his department’s varied responsibilities – spanning management and statutory reporting, planning and analysis, financial control and so much more.
“On my second day in the office, I gathered my entire finance team together, as I had to attend a board meeting on day one” says Anbann regarding his initial moves to ignite change. He was conscious that fresh leaders can create uncertainty despite best intentions. “Even small tweaks to a team make people anxious about what will change,” he explains.
His first priority was being transparent to communicate action plans for finance and soliciting input. “This secured staff alignment early and settled nerves, allowing momentum,” he says.
Anbann refined African Bank’s finance operating blueprint, detailing individual responsibilities throughout the department. He sees the operating structure as the “framework” in which a company functions.
“Like in a relay race, if the runners don’t know who is behind and in front of them, the race slows down,” he says.
“We needed clarity so each person understands responsibilities and hand-off points to others in streamlining collective financial operations,” he continues. Anbann terms this the target operating model – a cornerstone laying out roles to avoid overlaps or gaps. With a robust operating architecture and foundation now in place, he believes African Bank’s finance function start to smoothly accelerate processes and elevate delivery.
Anbann’s ambition in the coming years is cementing the right financial systems and team to unlock commercial growth, by being indispensable strategic allies to heads of business units. “Finance needs to be the catalysis to change,” he says.
Three pillars to success
Anbann has carved out three core pillars to drive African Bank’s next growth chapter, with finance playing an enabling role. “First, we are fundamentally putting customers in the front and centre by designing offerings that meet their real needs,” he explains. “Many products have historically been built around what makes profit for the bank – we are flipping that.”
To provide the best experience for customers, Anbann decided to live and breathe African Bank when he joined as CFO. He moved all his personal finances to African Bank. “When our mobile app had availability issues I felt the implications directly and I could escalate to IT to prioritise to ensure minimal client impact to ensure clients have a better App experience,” he illustrates regarding the benefit.
Simplicity is another key principle, especially relating to clients’ banking experiences and journeys. “Simplicity enables us to gain operational efficiency while delivering intuitive user experiences across channels to satisfy modern clients,” he says. Anbann believes that simplicity in African Bank’s processes, systems, product designs and customer interactions is critical to both costs and growth. “We want to ensure that clients easily understand our financial offerings through simple, accessible designs,” he states.
Lastly, he wants to drive a fundamental mindset shift in the industry. “Our philosophy is we want to give our customers excellent experiences that make us a partner in their financial lives, versus the traditional view that clients must come to banks seeking their products,” he explains.
Thought leadership for future fitness
Anbann’s sights are firmly set on accelerating the bank’s growth trajectory to deliver its vision as a fully-fledged financial services player and we aim to listed on the JSE in future. “Last year 90% of our balance sheet comprised unsecured lending and we have progressively diversified our balance sheet, with now about a third being in secured lending through concerted drives our growing our business banking division,” he highlights.
He plans to continue pursuing strategic expansion in additional areas of secured finance aligned to African Bank’s identity. “We want to fulfil our founding mission from the 1970s of positively serving our customers – a bank for the people, by the people, serving the people – but modernised to meet contemporary needs,” he says.
“My ultimate goal is cementing our position as the reliable financial partner walking alongside ordinary South Africans through their financial lives, founded on trust and understanding their real needs,” he says. “We want to become that first card pulled out when customers make purchases.”
When considering advice for up-and-coming CFOs on success, Anbann advocates the proactivity to understand emerging developments as a leadership trait.
“Be forward-looking to anticipate what’s ahead that will impact sector and bank strategies so we can prepare to leverage or counter effectively early,” he says. Anbann actively researches international banking innovations, fintech disruptions and macro shifts scanning for opportunities or threats.
He draws back to his sporting analogy:
“Like running a relay, if you know and understand the recent terrain behind and currently underfoot, you can better predict what’s up ahead. That informs how to maximise chances racing towards the future.”
“The days of CFOs being chiefly bookkeepers are obsolete – we need to be visionaries also charting where future value looks set to materialise,” Anbann declares in closing. He firmly believes finance leaders today must be attuned to coming innovations capable of unlocking or compromising opportunities.