Standard Chartered Bank Zambia Plc says the closure of five of its branches in various areas of the country is as a result of the drastic reduction in the number of physical branch transactions stemming from the introduction of online and digital platforms.

And the Zambia Union for Financial and Allied Workers (ZUFIAW) says preliminary reports indicate that a total of 39 jobs could be lost as a result of the bank’s closure, with the number likely to reduce as the option of voluntary separation becomes available on the table.

Last Friday, StanChart head retail and marketing for Zambia and southern Africa DeepPal Singh announced the closure of five of its branches in a client notice, which subsequently went viral on social media.

“The bank wishes to inform its clients and members of the general public of the following changes to our branch network: Mongu branch will close; Kasama branch will close; Chililabombwe branch will close; Luanshya branch will close; Crossroads branch will merge with Kabulonga branch. These changes are effective from January 1, 2020,” the notice read.

But in an interview, StanChart corporate affairs manager Christine Matambo explained that around 80 per cent of the bank’s transactions were done digitally or online, hence the reduction in branch visitation by clients.

“The branches are still open, this is effective 1st of January as per notice and it’s not like we are leaving altogether. We will leave all our ATMs and pretty much those ATMs will be used to deposit cash and withdraw. But from our analytics, 80 per cent of all transactions are now happening online or digitally on the phone. So, our branch visitation has fallen and it’s only about 13 per cent of transactions actually being done in a physical branch. And I think now we are able to reach more clients even where we don’t have a physical presence. It’s through the mobile phone App, mainly through that to be honest, it’s actually extending our reach across Zambia,” Matambo said.

And while she could not confirm the number of affected jobs, Matambo said the bank remained committed to re-absorbing any employee affected by the closure.

“I cannot comment on that for now, but all I can say is you know, as banking evolves, so do jobs. Where there is a new capability, new jobs come and the aim of the bank is to re-absorb any employee or staff. But I think with the advent of digital, we obviously see new jobs to come, it’s like the mobile phone, we have got new jobs from the mobile phone. So, that is our official position,” said Matambo.

But ZUFIAW secretary general Chingati Msiska revealed that preliminary reports indicated that a total of 39 jobs could be lost as a result of the bank branch closures.

He, however, added that the number was likely to reduce as the option of voluntary separation became available on the table.

“Of course, our interest is just to know how many from our side, meaning the unionized members of staff that are going. But we just heard, according to the report that we have received so far, it’s just the total in terms of StanChart Zambian chapter, meaning in total maybe there are about 39 or so. But we don’t know exactly; those who are in management and the unionized, like I said, our interest, normally, is for those that are unionized so that we see if there could be any mitigating factors,” Msiska said in a separate interview in Lusaka.

He allayed fears that the bank was closing down its entire Zambian operation.

“No, it’s not closing down, they are just restructuring. What will happen, even the 39 I am talking about, may even go down. They will be able to place those that are coming from the closed (branches) to other stations where they are opening. So, that is just a number that has been shaken so far, but we have to make sure that they place them elsewhere. When they do that, that’s when we are going to get the final number on how many now are going to, either they will be recalled. It’s not a redundancy per se, but those that would opt to go, it’s first come, first serve for those who have worked more years and opt to go, I think will be considered in that process,” said Msiska.