The man running Africa’s largest bank

Standard Bank CEO Simphiwe “Sim” Tshabalala oversees a pan-African banking empire with R3.1 trillion in assets and over 18.8 million clients. 

Appointed CEO in 2013, Tshabalala was born in Hlabisa in rural KwaZulu-Natal and grew up in Soweto before matriculating from Sacred Heart College in Johannesburg. 

It was not obvious that, after school, he would rise to become one of the world’s premier bankers and financiers. 

Tshabalala attended Rhodes University, obtaining a Bachelor of Arts in 1988 and a Bachelor of Laws in 1990. 

He pursued the study of law further in the United States after doing his articles at Bowman Gilfillan, gaining a Master of Laws from Notre Dame, which he was awarded summa cum laude in 1993. 

Upon his return to South Africa, Tshabalala pursued a legal career and was admitted as an attorney of the High Court of South Africa in 1994. 

However, his stint in practising law was short-lived, and he joined Real Africa Durolink Investment Bank later that year and worked in its structured finance division until 2000. 

While working at Durolink, Tshabalala continued his studies part-time and completed the Higher Diploma in Taxation Law from Wits in 1996. 

His banking career took off after joining the Project Finance Division of Standard Corporate and Merchant Bank in 2000. Tshabala joined as head of structured finance and quickly became Managing Director of Stanbic Africa in 2001. 

Stanbic Africa is the name Standard Bank uses for its operations in some parts of Africa to avoid confusion with UK-based lender Standard Chartered. 

Tshabalala’s meteoric rise within Standard Bank continued. In 2006, he became CEO of Personal and Business Banking for the group’s South African operations and completed Harvard’s Advanced Management Programme in the same year. 

Within two years, Tshabalala was appointed CEO of Standard Bank South Africa, the group’s most significant operating unit, and one of three Deputy CEOs of Standard Bank Group. 

In 2012, he took on additional responsibility for Corporate and Investment Banking (CIB) in South Africa. 

After just one year, Tshabalala was promoted to joint CEO of the Standard Bank Group, taking on responsibility for the bank’s operations across the continent. 

He served alongside Ben Kruger as co-CEO until 2017, when he became the sole CEO of the company.

Standard Bank CEO Sim Tshabalala

Tshabalala has overseen the bank’s tremendous growth in Africa and has positioned it as the premier financial institution on the continent. 

This expansion has begun bearing fruit, with the bank’s African operations driving its growth in its most recent full-year financial results.

While African regions constitute 27% of Standard Bank’s net asset value, they contributed 42% to its headline earnings. 

This is significant given that just a decade ago, African regions accounted for just 12% of headline earnings and were considered relatively immaterial within the broader group. 

Where other South African banks have struggled in parts of the continent with their expansion not contributing meaningfully to shareholder profits, Standard Bank has avoided this pitfall. 

It currently has a presence in 20 sub-Saharan countries and has amassed a significant share of the banking market across the region, as shown in the graph below. 

In its most recent financial year, its return on equity in Africa surpassed its return on equity deployed in South Africa, offsetting the higher cost of capital outside of its home market. 

One advantage of the group’s African dominance is its Global Markets division, which bridges the gap between African businesses and international markets. 

Through this business unit, the group assists clients in trading foreign currencies, commodities, fixed-income securities and equities, providing a valuable source of income diversification. 

Tshabalala has also overseen the bank’s digitisation. It was the first bank in Africa to shift its operations to Amazon Web Services. 

He also serves on the Institute of International Finance board, where he is vice-chairman and treasurer. 

He is a Fellow of the Institute of Bankers of South Africa and an Honorary Professor at the Stellenbosch University Business School