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Zimbabwe recruits top bankers to turnaround CBZ

Marc Holtzman, the Chairman of CBZ Holdings

Zimbabwe is turning to citizens who have gained experience at some of the world’s largest financial institutions to help turn around its biggest bank.

CBZ Holdings Ltd. Chairman Marc Holtzman, a 30-year veteran who has worked at Barclays Plc, ABN Amro Bank NV and Kazakhstan’s biggest private bank, has assembled a management team that cut its teeth at lenders ranging from New York-based Goldman Sachs Group Inc. and Russia’s Renaissance Capital Ltd. to British American Tobacco Plc and auditing firm Deloitte. All but one are Zimbabweans.

CBZ is “an exciting turnaround possibility,” Holtzman said by phone, adding that he never thought of doing business in the southern African country before his appointment in September. A new nine-member board will be announced once the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has approved the appointments, he said.

The Harare-based bank is seeking to reignite foreign interest in its shares, and in the country. Zimbabwe’s economy has imploded under the weight of rampant inflation, crippling currency and power shortages and a drought that has left half the population starving. President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s assurance that “Zimbabwe is open for business” since the ouster of Robert Mugabe in 2017, is yet to convince international investors.

The international community “isn’t doing enough to support the president and his reforms,” Holtzman said.

While the new management team focuses on revamping CBZ’s main banking operations by bolstering its digital offerings, Holtzman said he will be fighting another battle: convincing the U.S. Office of Foreign Assets Control to reduce a $385 million fine. The penalty, initially $3.8 billion, was imposed on the lender in 2017 for processing 15,127 transactions on behalf of ZB Bank Ltd., which was then under sanctions.

Prior to my coming, there was nothing really being done to address the OFAC issues,” he said. CBZ has hired Dentons, the world’s largest law firm, to deal with OFAC. “I’m in constant communication with the three-person team looking into the issue.”

Holtzman has jointly overseen the restructuring with CBZ Chief Executive Officer Blessing Mudavanhu. The lender in January fired six executives after cutting more than 100 jobs in 2019, and while unpopular, the president has assured the chairman there will be no interference in the lender’s operations from the government, the bank’s second-biggest shareholder.

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