There’s not a lot Kee Chong Li Kwong Wing – or KC, as he is widely known – hasn’t seen. A main player in business, banking and politics in Mauritius since the early 70s, he worked his way through the public sector in several senior positions including Advisor to the Minister of Finance, and Chairman of the Stock Exchange Commission.

KC branched out in 1992 when he established his own financial advisory firm, Mauritius International Trust Corporation, later serving as a consultant to the United Nations Economic Commission for Africa and the UN Industrial Development Organization.

Now Chairman of State Bank of Mauritius (SBM) Holdings, KC is responsible for the second-largest banking group in Mauritius with a Tier 1 capital of MUR18,598 million. Over the past four decades, SBM has established itself as a regional powerhouse, promoting financial inclusion and mirroring the government’s strategy to position Mauritius as a financial hub for Africa.

“I joined SBM at a turbulent time – during a government crackdown on a financial conglomerate. Our bank suffered an unprecedented credit impairment due to that financial crash. My track record in public finance and the business world meant I was the right person in the right place,” recalls KC.

“We also experienced setbacks in our cross-border exposures and our IT modernisation plan. These challenges tested our resolve, but we managed to bring SBM to the level of a modern digital regional bank.”

The first order of business was creating a more transparent working environment for staff, where meritocracy and good governance reigned. “We also embarked on a regional expansion strategy: increasing the number of branches in Madagascar; starting our foray into Africa by acquiring a local bank in Kenya; and becoming the first foreign bank to receive a wholly owned subsidiary (WOS) licence in India.

Digitalising banking

“More importantly, we started our bank digitalisation process with the introduction of services including our mobile banking app, mobile point-of-sale machines, online loan application, signature pad, and e-statement initiatives. Our clientele is becoming increasingly sophisticated and demanding, so we must satisfy their changing needs,” says KC.

“Our mobile banking service provides dozens of features that can be accessed from the palm of your hand, including inter-bank transfers, mobile top-ups, bill payments, submit-and-track requests, and emails – all through a secure interface. We have become more accessible and have made our services more convenient.”

With the principles of diversification and modernisation at its core, SBM’s mission is to remain the first mover in the market. “On the non-banking side, we have been instrumental in raising US$165 million for the Afreximbank, as the first African bank to issue a Depositary Receipt on an African Exchange, the Stock Exchange of Mauritius,” explains KC.

“We have introduced products and services such as SBM factoring, the Africa Infrastructure and Industrialisation Fund, and the SBM Mauritius Infrastructure Development Company. We were also the first financial institution to obtain an investment banking licence in Mauritius.”

The banking and financial services industry is rife with intense competition and continual disruption, particularly technological disruptions from non-bank entities. KC says SBM’s efforts to stay ahead of its peers are never-ending. “Internet banking is becoming outdated, as will be the case with mobile banking in due course. We are moving away from the brick and mortar business model towards a future in digital and virtual banking,” he says.

“We are working alongside ConsenSys on blockchain technology, and SALT on cryptocurrency asset-backed lending. These projects are the building blocks of a new, innovative financial economy and we have a research and development department and a training academy working towards that future.”

A mission to empower employees

KC thrives on personal and people development, favouring an open-door policy and the disruption of a top-down approach. “What inspires me is my mission to empower the people in my organisation to tap into new markets, enter new lines of business and leave a bold legacy for the next generation. True leadership leads to real transformation.”

In line with its vision to be the leading and most trusted financial services provider in Mauritius and beyond, SBM has ambitious plans to double its revenue by 2020 while maintaining returns above its cost of equity.

“We will achieve this by gaining market share in our domestic business, building our international business and selectively entering non-banking financial services. SBM has invested heavily in IT, and we intend to do likewise in human resources and expand our footprint: these are our short-term goals.

On the other hand, our recent acquisitions in Kenya and the conversion of our India branch operations to WOS are long-term investments for building regional capacity and covering the crucial Asia–Africa corridor.”