Right attitude a winner
At the core of his values, the centre around which his life is built, is to leave every situation better than one finds it. This, Mario Poolman says, applies to both his professional and personal life.
However, Nedbank Namibia's head of customer strategy is quick to point out, “it shouldn't be misinterpreted to mean I won't ruffle the feathers at times”.
“Sometimes, it means being direct and having uncomfortable conversations, because not having those conversations would perhaps leave the situation the same, allowing it to stagnate. Being that true and authentic presence in a conversation delivers the most value.”
Another key value of his is to allow for flexibility and adaptability. “Nothing is cast in stone. I allow my mind to be changed if the evidence is compelling.”
In this cut-throat industry one needs to equally show compassion towards oneself, Poolman asserted. “You shouldn't be too hard on yourself.”
These are values he embodies daily. “That is my career. That is my life.”
A work-life balance is crucial, the all-rounder with a vast background in media and marketing admits.
“I am very family-orientated: I have two young sons and I am happily married. In my free time, I try to plough back into the quality of those relationships, because it's ultimately what life is about. No one lies on their death bed thinking about their accomplishments. They instead think about their loved ones and the memories they had made with them.”
Outside of work, he is “a massive nerd”, Poolman shared. “I am a self-taught programmer. So, my current hobby is using machine-learning tools to build predictive models.”
Although he is a proud recipient of a Masters in Business Administration (MBA) from the world-renowned Stellenbosch University, Poolman says “like everything in life, it depends” whether or not an academic background is crucial in the banking sector.
ROLE OF BANKS
“What banks are very good at – and you have to remember that's the role of banks in the bigger economy – is to efficiently move value around. Investments are money people don't need to spend right now, which is kept safe by banks.
“Banks then use this money to lend out to people who do have a need. In essence, money is never lazing around; banks act as an agent and take money that would otherwise not have been used and gives it to people to use and drive economic growth.”
In the same vein, he says, banks can circulate the value that people add.
According to him, this is possible with or without a tertiary qualification.
Traditionally people would join a bank after finishing high school and work their way up. However, some specialised financial, legal and compliance skills are, of course, required for specific roles, he concedes.
Poolman is of the view that ultimately attitude weighs heavier than skills as the latter is something that can be taught. “But you cannot teach someone to have the right attitude.”
He is particularly proud of two accomplishments, he shares.
“The first, with the help of my team members, I developed the Nedbank Namibia retail strategy and the implementation plan thereof. It was quite an enormous task. But these things don't happen in isolation. It was the result of intense collaboration.”
Another milestone – a first for the country – was launching the capacity to open a transactional account with a selfie, Poolman explains. Again, he emphasises, without strategic collaboration, this feat would not have been possible.
Nedbank Namibia recently scooped several prestigious diamond PMR Awards.
The fact that Nedbank Namibia won four of five awards in the banking section, specifically for both personal and business banking, demonstrates Nedbank's achievements, Poolman adds.
“As you know, the PMR Awards are a perception-based award. So it relates to what people in the market think about Nedbank. What it means to us in return is that people are acknowledging the initiatives we take. It is bearing fruits and customers are seeing a difference.”
It is an indicator that hard work does get rewarded, he believes. “We've done an immense amount of work in becoming a more customer-led organisation with a strong digital focus.”
Poolman believes that Nedbank Namibia has come a long way in its digital focused banking journey and is headed in the right direction.
“Great strides have been made. We are building a digital bank that runs parallel to the traditional bank.”
In the last quarter of 2020, Nedbank Namibia collaborated with the Today Group, the homegrown fintech company, which introduced PayToday, to implement its new service IdentityToday (IDToday). This is a digital identity management platform, which allows for the remote submission of the regulatory proof of identity documents that a prospective client needs to submit before a bank account may be opened for them.
Embedding IdentityToday in Nedbank's processes allows people to open transactional accounts and enter into an agreement with their mobile devices with a mere selfie. “It uses smart machine-learning algorithms in the back end to speed up the process that in the past would have been done by in-person verification,” says Poolman.
This initiative had been in the pipeline, however the advent of Covid-19, which brought about social and physical distancing, accelerated its roll-out. “In the past, you would have had to stand in front of someone and they would have to look at your face and your ID and rubber-stamp a copy of your ID to confirm your identity.”
Subsequently, IdentityToday has been extended beyond transactional accounts to include investments and financial planning services, Poolman affirmed.
According to Poolman, Nedbank is cognisant that the economy remains uncertain due to the prevailing pandemic. Therefore, the bank is meticulous in ensuring anyone they extend credit to is not likely to land in financial difficulty. “We take that responsibility very seriously.”
However, for those whose circumstances permit it, interest rates for home loans are particularly favourable.
Nedbank has a number of options available at present, he shares.
Among others, there is the revolving home loan option that acts as both a savings and a home loan account. They also have options available for clients who want to move to Nedbank from another bank as well as for those with existing homes.
“The best would be to get in touch with us.”