20 January 2022 | Story Lunga Luthuli | Photo Supplied
Merceline Mercia Geises, Chief Executive: Standard Bank Namibia.

Her father belonged to a "book club, used to order books and encyclopaedias, and would at times order special gifts for her mother". The daughter of a school principal, Mercia Geises, developed a love for reading at a young age. A trip to the Post Office "provided a connection to the rest of the world".

Growing up in Kalkfeld, a small village in central Namibia, Mercia, her father’s “most trusted child”, saw herself fulfilling messenger duties, sending money to siblings at boarding schools. When the youngest of seven children herself enrolled at a boarding school, the love relationship with the world outside and what it offers continued; more so with "heart-warming letters and a R2 note" from her father every now and then.

Mercia, an alumnus of the University of the Free State and current Chief Executive Officer of Standard Bank Namibia, says her runs to the Post Office and bank made her believe there must be a big world out there; one where Post Office deliveries are made, and money is printed. With dreams to see life outside her village, opportunity beckoned with studies at the UFS.

Carving her destiny 

In matric, with all her peers destined for varsities in South Africa, an aspiration she too had, Mercia found a career guide in a Life Skills classroom. She "scanned through it, jotted down details", and made her way to the Post Office only this time to "carve her own path ignoring everyone’s limited view of the world".

She got accepted at the UFS, an institution which became a home away from home getting mentored by among others Professor Johan Henning, Professor Voet du Plessis, Professor Elizabeth Snyman-Van Deventer, Professor Johan van Schalkwyk, and Professor Gerhard Fjik to complete her LLB Degree (cum laude) and LLM in Mercantile Law.

Her biggest dream, Mercia says, “I always wanted to work for Cliffe Dekker Hofmeyr Attorneys in Cape Town, but because I was sponsored for my studies by the Namibia Power Corporation I had to go back and work in Namibia.”

“I got an opportunity to work for one of the biggest law firms, M. Slabbert Attorneys and completed my articles, an opportunity I am forever grateful for,” she says.

After completing her articles, Mercia fell pregnant and the biggest motivation for applying for a corporate job was driven by the "need to deliver her baby at a private hospital and having a medical aid".

Seeing a job advert at Old Mutual Namibia in a local newspaper and knowing that she did not meet the requirements, Mercia was called for a junior role, leading her to discover corporate finance and asset management.

Working for Old Mutual for 12 years and obtaining an MBA from Stellenbosch University, Mercia credits the leadership for investing significantly in her growth and development.

Whilst at Old Mutual Investment Group in Namibia as the Chief Executive, Mercia saw a growth opportunity at Standard Bank, Namibia’s leading retail banking franchise and she took a “leap of faith”.

Holding high positions in corporates during her tenure Mercia believes ‘Old Mutual Namibia was the best incubation centre for many young women and the organisational culture was conducive to thrive.’

She says, “We were exposed to leadership that believed in increasing women roles in leadership and business strategy which meant that we were entrusted with big and bold mandates and were provided with necessary mentorship.”

Mercia believes that “working in an environment like this is extremely beneficial, but like all things in life, the other side of it is that it comes with sacrifices, some of which can be costly if one does not have the right support”.

The role of tertiary institutions 

“Tertiary institutions also play the biggest role in upliftment and how we think about things. It has surely taken me from rural Namibia to the world stage, whereas a young executive I could engage in complex issues in boardrooms across the world. I still find my engagements in executive development programmes with institutions of higher learning to be ones that provide me with the edge to lead effectively,” she says.

On challenges facing the banking industry in the continent, Mercia says, “Traditional banks are finding it hard to penetrate the unbanked population who leapfrogs the banking step and participates in the mainstream economy through mobile operators. Accelerating digital capabilities has become a top strategic priority for the banking sector, more so during the pandemic.” She says, “Regulatory authorities have a critical role to play in making this happen, as they are needed to continue to promote innovation while keeping their checks and balances.” 

In her leisure time, Mercia puts her focus on her three children, the youngest of which is two months old. She has an interest in agricultural technology and has a small piece of land where she experiments with various intensive farming concepts.

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