Absa says about 827 jobs are potentially at risk in its restructuring exercise and roll-out of a new strategy. Photo: Supplied
JOHANNESBURG – Absa Group is restructuring its South African retail and business banking unit within months of reducing the division’s management team and rolling out a new strategy.

Finance labour union Sasbo was notified to begin consulting staff last week on the potential impact of the move, union representative Philip Landman said on Wednesday.

About 15 retail-banking executives exited their positions at the Johannesburg-based lender in June, after a similar process was followed to flatten the unit’s top structure.

Discussions between Sasbo, Absa and employees are still in their early stages, with 827 jobs potentially at risk, Landman cited a written notice from the company as saying, adding that 340 people might be employed through the process. “At this point, we are trying to figure out if what the bank is saying has merit, and prove that the restructuring is actually unnecessary.”

Absa said in emailed comments: “It is only once the realignment is complete that the total number of people who have either been appointed to new roles or have left the organisation will be known with certainty.” The changes would result in “both new opportunities and redundancies across the business” it said, adding that the steps are not a “retrenchment exercise, but a realignment effort aimed at enabling our new strategy”.

The shake-up comes as South African lenders contend with slow economic growth and a consumer base battered by tax hikes and rising fuel and utility expenses. A stubborn unemployment rate of about 27percent and declining business confidence is also curbing demand for loans, forcing banks to bring their costs down.

Retail and business banking accounts for more than half of Absa’s profit and is at the centre of a group-wide push to grow revenue faster than its competitors after the lender’s former UK-based parent, Barclays, sold down its controlling stake to below 15percent.

The division’s chief executive officer, Arrie Rautenbach, who was appointed about a year ago, is focusing on boosting mortgage lending, lowering costs and expanding the number of products sold to its clients.