After more than a 100 days at the helm of KwaZulu-Natal’s financial institution that mirrors the aspirations of ordinary folk, especially in rural areas, Dr Thulani Vilakazi, chief executive officer, is ready to take Ithala SOC Limited to the next level as a state bank.
He believes that as the pioneer in banking the unbanked and insuring the uninsured, Ithala SOC Limited has the right ingredients and is all set on the trajectory to become a state bank. For far too long, ordinary South Africans have been left out of the transformation agenda, with historically disadvantaged people, especially in rural areas, having to bear the brunt of exclusion from financial services, said Dr Vilakazi. He said banking systems needed to be conducive to serving the interests of everyday South Africans - a role that Ithala has long been fulfilling as a development finance institution.
The creation of a state bank would be in line with government’s strategy to transform the financial sector, and will empower communities and accelerate radical economic transformation, he added. Ithala SOC Limited – a 100% owned subsidiary of Ithala Development Finance Corporation, KwaZulu-Natal’s provincial development agency - has a six-decade legacy.
As an organisation which puts people before profit, Dr Vilakazi said a state bank would operate differently to commercial banks which invest millions of KZN taxpayer funds outside the province as opposed to investing in sustainable development locally first.
“Against the backdrop of the triple challenges of poverty, inequality and unemployment, a state bank could earn additional revenue for the state which could help spur economic development and release vulnerable members of society from the debt trap that so many people find themselves in,” he said. All due processes are being adhered to by Ithala to enable completion of the process of applying for a permanent banking licence.
When Dr Vilakazi assumed his position as CEO of Ithala in September this year, his mission was to develop business strategies and plans in line with short-term and long-term objectives; lead and motivate staff to advance employee engagement; develop a high performing managerial team; and, ultimately oversee all operations and business activities to ensure they produce the desired results.
He said while the strategy to ensure financial sustainability had paid dividends, the COVID-19 pandemic had posed some challenges and these were being swiftly mitigated. He attributed the current positive trajectory in business performance to the strict implementation of sustainable cost control; promoting revenue growth through marketing brand positioning and expanded distribution channels; and introducing operational efficiencies through system development. “The organisation affirms its ethos of customer-care and community partnership which sustain the Ithala brand, thus differentiating this financial institution from its competitors.”
Dr Vilakazi possesses in-depth expertise and experience in banking, financial services and stock exchange industries. He is considered an expert in SME financing, agribusiness, corporate, retail, credit, trade finance and public sector banking. He is a Doctoral level authority in Mergers and Acquisitions. He has also participated in several courses in executive development.
A rural lifestyle is not foreign to him - he commenced his primary education at Emfeni School, a farm school in Eston in the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands sugarcane fields. He matriculated at Isibukosezwe High School in Hammarsdale. After studying for degrees in education, he commenced employment as a lecturer in the Faculty of Education at the University of Zululand. He then joined the Valley Trust as divisional manager and was responsible for primary health care funding. Here he established over 50 community-based pre-schools.
Meanwhile, he continued post-graduate studies in the field of IT and financial services. He attained an MBA from Henley Management College/ Brunel University, London. He entered the banking field with ABSA and became the National Manager: New Enterprise Banking. He then joined Standard Bank Group where was seconded to Malawi for three years as Deputy Managing Director following the acquisition of Malawi’s second largest bank CBM now Stanbic Bank Malawi Ltd by Standard Bank Group. He played a major role in modernisation of the Malawi banking industry. He is a former non-executive director of the Malawian Stock Exchange.
Dr Thulani Vilakazi was chosen by the late Dr Leon Sullivan – the first African-American to chair General Motors USA as one of the Top 30 Best and Brightest Bankers in Africa and attended intensive training at Chase Bank New York now JP Morgan Chase, the third largest bank in the US and Mellon Bank in Philadelphia.
He gained experience in rental and leasing finance when he joined Rentworks as Deputy CEO and a Director on the Board which was then chaired by President Cyril Ramaphosa.
He spent a decade at Nedbank Group (Africa Division) and rose to the position of Head of Strategy, Marketing & Communications. In July 2018, he joined Guidepoint Advisors as a global advisor focused on financial, banking and corporate business services.
Dr Vilakazi, a father of two daughters and a son, is a member of the Institute of Directors Southern Africa. He is also a member of the Royal Family Trust of Abambo within Ilanga Traditional Council Authority at Emfeni Great Place which is involved in farming interests for community economic empowerment.
He believes educating and giving South Africans the necessary tools to manage their money, can help extricate them from poverty and unemployment. And who better to do that than he who has distinguished himself with academic credentials in both education and banking, with specific reference to small business financing. “By simplifying the conversation about wealth creation, we aim to offer our customers and potential customers a practical formula to accumulate wealth,” says Dr Vilakazi.
Ithala has a distribution network of 38 branches in KZN which provide convenient transacting facilities. A comprehensive portfolio of personal banking and insurance solutions is offered.