Dr Margaret Kubwalo-Chaika is one of Malawi’s leading women bankers. She has risen through the ranks to become Head of Personal and Business Banking for the Malawi Stock Exchange-listed Standard Bank. Over the years, Kubwalo-Chaika has remained loyal to her professional calling in an otherwise male dominated banking sector since joining in 1998. She is a role model for many young women aspiring to pursue a career in banking and is also a fierce advocate of women and girl empowerment. She is active with the bank’s initiative, #keepingthegirlchildinschool which the bank is implementing jointly with United Nations Children’s Fund (Unicef). Every Woman caught up with her.
Margaret Kubwalo-Chaika comes from Kameza Village in Traditional Authority Machinjiri, Blantyre. She is a mother, a wife, a Christian and an entrepreneur married to Colonel John Chaika of the Malawi Defence Force (MDF).
“Being a military spouse comes with its own special roles and responsibilities. As a Christian, I am a member of the Anglican Church and currently serve as treasurer at St Peter’s Parish. For all these multiple roles, I create space for each one of them and that’s what completes me,” she explains.
She grew up in Zimbabawe where her grandfather moved to as a boy and only returned to Malawi for university education.
“I had an interesting childhood, spending my younger years with my grandparents. My grandmother Margaret Kubwalo senior was a very strong and independent woman. I believe her character shaped me into what I am today. She stood up for what she believed in, was assertive and knew what she wanted in life.
“On the other hand, my late father Kelly Zidana (from Hauya Village in Ntcheu) believed in exposing me. He took us to holiday resorts in Zimbabwe and beyond to spend family time and once a year there would be a trip back to Malawi to connect with the family’s roots. My father valued education so much and encouraged us to go see the world at any opportunity,” she narrates.
Every holiday, Kubwalo-Chaika says her father would ask them to write a story about the holiday experience and occasionally challenged them to write 100 big English words to widen their English vocabulary.
“He believed in pushing us to the limits, encouraging us to realise our full potential. My mother Grace Zidana was the great disciplinarian; she ensured we went to Sunday school and was active in church. She gave me life skills needed to be a Christian woman and balance between being a professional and a mother,” she says.
Growing up, the banker fantasised about becoming a police officer, probably because they lived in the same neighborhood as a couple that was in the Police Force.
Says she: “When they dressed up in their police uniforms, I was inspired and wanted to be like them. As I grew up, I aspired to become a lawyer, but ended up studying Social Sciences at Chancellor College. I am very happy with what I am today.”
She studied at Chinhoyi High School up to O-levels, then completed her A-Levels at Vainona High School in Zimbabwe. She then went to Chancellor College where she obtained a Bachelor of Social Science degree.
In her quest to push the limits, she later obtained a postgraduate Diploma in Marketing with the Chartered Institute of Marketing and later a Masters Degree in Strategic Management from University of Derby. Her highest qualification is a phd in customer relationship management, conferred by the University of Bolton.
As Head of the division, Kubwalo-Chaika’s key roles include driving and shaping the personal and business banking (PBB) business.
“PBB is the largest component of the Standard Bank business in Malawi in terms of the command structure. We are responsible for customers at the Personal and Business banking level. This means we deal with individuals, their employers, Small and Medium Enterprises and large businesses at branch and back-office level. I must strive to create a balance between delivering the vision of PBB as a business unit, and also taking the army of the bank staff along with me
On this journey of delivering excellence for the business,” she says.
She adds that the division also drives the sales service and must work to ensure that they deal with any challenges standing in the way of achieving strategic profit objectives of the bank.
Her work also delves into financial risk management; from capital deployment in terms of investing in the growth of our branch network, its systems, channels (physical and digital) and credit and operational risks, among others.
She says her priorities are determined by family, work and relationship with God. Her mantra is “if it’s important, make time for it and get it done.”
“My typical day starts at 04:30 am with morning devotion prayer, followed by exercise, seeing off my youngest son to school and getting ready for work. I have a support system at home ensuring that when I am too busy with work at the bank, which requires travelling in and outside the country, my home is taken care of.
“During the day, I catch up with my husband and children and we spend a lot of time together in the evenings and during the weekends. The last few years have been a challenge on my social life as a lot of time was spent completing my phd studies,” she says.
There are many lessons that women can draw from her achievements as a banker and family woman. Her approach in life is that every time she is confronted with an obstacle, she prefers to use the energy from that adversity to drive herself forward.
“It is possible for any woman who is determined and committed to strike the balance as both a strong career and family woman. I am grateful to have a husband who is willing to support me and my ambitions. As for professional women, they need men who will support them through their goals, and they must not be the insecure kind,” she points out.
Says she: “Every woman has the right to be able to influence decisions whether quality of life, their marriage, and number of children they would like to have all which easily falls in place when you are backed by a good education. Not everyone is lucky to get an education, but women must strive to get educated and grab every education opportunity that may come their way.
She advises that women must desist from the ‘Pull her Down’ syndrome, which is still symptomatic of the Malawi society. She says that instead, women must embrace the notion that ‘Her success is my success too’.
Kubwalo-Chaika would like to be remembered as someone who touches lives in a positive way. She would like her career as a banker to touch the lives of boys and girls and to inspire them to be better than her. n