Kapumpe Chola:
I Did It My Way

I have been writing Tabletalk articles for over two years, during which time I have interviewed CEOs and leaders across various industries and organisations that drive Zambia’s economy. I consider it a real privilege to capture the essence of these conversations and distil them in these articles.

In this edition of Tabletalk, I interviewed Kapumpe Chola, the new Chief Executive Officer of First National Bank, Zambia (FNB) and the first woman to fill that role. We met at Latitude 15 Degrees, a boutique hotel that blends hospitality, art, culture, and productivity, attracting leisure guests, business travellers, and diplomats alike. 

Our conversation began with a chat about her childhood and the influences that have shaped her. Born and raised in Kitwe, Kapumpe identifies as ‘kopala’, a colloquial name for Copperbelt natives. As a middle child, she describes her upbringing as ‘conventional’, adding that her parents exemplified hard work, a trait Kapumpe models effortlessly. 

Her earliest memories of her parents’ work ethic include rousing at 4 am to study alongside her father, who attained a Psychology degree in his adulthood. Kapumpe followed closely in his footsteps, obtaining degrees in Psychology and Public Administration at the University of Zambia. You may ponder how a Psychologist finds themselves at the helm of a financial institution; Kapumpe sheds light on her journey: 

I am not one to conform and long decided to live life without dwelling on regrets.

-Kapumpe Chola,
FNB Zambia, CEO.

“Like most young people, I entered university without a definitive career path. I was counselled to enter the medical field as I was proficient in the sciences at high school. During that time I realised it didn’t resonate with me”. A brief exploration of economics yielded a similar lack of enthusiasm. Reflecting on fond memories of her 4 am sessions with her father and the curiosity with which she pored over his expansive library, she eventually discovered her true vocation. This trajectory would ultimately land her the role today. 

Kapumpe’s banking career began 27 years ago as a graduate trainee with Barclays Bank, now ABSA. As she rose through the ranks, she quickly realised her experience required bolstering academically, and she attained an MBA in Finance from Nottingham Business School with the aid of a Chevening Scholarship sponsored by the UK Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office. Combined with her work ethic, the MBA gave Kapumpe the credibility and foundation to propel her to the pinnacle of her career.

Kapumpe has worked across eight African countries, and had two stints in Botswana, most recently with Rand Merchant Bank, which shares a parent company with FNB – First Rand. This exposure to different markets was vital in preparing Kapumpe for leadership, as she shares: “Understanding the people, the culture, and the markets assisted me greatly. It was about building the network and making the network work for you. I believe I am a relationship manager above all, a skill I believe will be invaluable throughout my tenure.” 

In FNB, Kapumpe inherits a bank that is perhaps at its strongest across all segments. Fresh from a brand refresh, the bank is cementing its lead as a digital-first, customer-centric organisation. Kapumpe shares that her priority for the bank is exponential growth in both the balance sheet and profitability and investment in people and communities. Behind her is a team that she describes as “young, innovative, and dynamic” that will help FNB’s collective success.

As I have only ever been an FNB customer, Kapumpe didn’t need to convince me about the bank’s value proposition. FNB has changed the game for its customers, coining the term #TheChangeables# with innovations such as easy digital transactions, a dynamic mobile app, and over 20 branches country-wide and more than 2000 CashPlus agents for convenient accessibility. FNB ensures customers receive more than a product; they receive an experience, too. By continually investing in their platforms and teams, they ensure that the customer remains at the centre of their operations. 

In addition to retail and commercial banking, FNB has built a formidable Corporate and Investment Banking (CIB) division which Kapumpe facilitated the establishment of, nine years ago. If you have capital investments to make in Zambia, FNB prides itself on being experts across all key sectors of the economy. They leverage their large group presence with operations in South Africa and eight other African countries, including offices in the UK and the US and bring this global footprint to the relationship. This intricacy of bespoke solutions is why their CIB team is referred to as ‘The Solutionists’.

In 2023, the bank launched the FNB Foundation to support communities in areas aligned to the UN Sustainable Development Goals. The FNB Foundation is focused on early childhood education, climate and clean energy, health, water, and sanitation, among other prevalent challenges in Zambia. The foundation also supports employee volunteerism by match funding any resources raised by staff towards supporting community initiatives. 

In addition, FNB contributes to Zambia by employing a team of over 700 staff and developing innovative solutions to drive SME growth, the backbone of the Zambian economy. Furthermore, through its CashPlus agents stationed throughout the country, FNB is actively improving its footprint and expanding financial inclusion. These agents operate as small businesses, earning operators a commission that sustains numerous homes and livelihoods nationwide. FNB is also the second largest lender to agriculture, a critical sector given the impending drought this year. 

Every guest answers a question about their leadership principles and frameworks, and I could write a book with their answers over the years. Despite my minimal experience in a leadership position, I have come to appreciate the challenges a leader is bound to face. Kapumpe summarises my sentiments with a single response, Through this philosophy, Kapumpe espouses First Rand’s principles of courage, valuing differences, diversity, and always doing the right thing.

“Consider different opinions but be decisive. When leading a team, indecision causes disruption. So, use the information you have and then own the decision.”

-Kapumpe Chola,
FNB Zambia, CEO

Outside work, Kapumpe enjoys the outdoors and is a keen traveller and loves family road trips. She enjoys exploring Zambia and is an advocate for local tourism. She has also traversed many parts of Africa including Ethiopia and Seychelles and beyond the African shores to places like Hong Kong, Singapore, and Shanghai. I was particularly surprised to learn about Kapumpe’s love for all sports, and that she played for the Barclay’s womens’ football team back in the day. Sadly, she also keenly follows Formula 1 and is a Lewis Hamilton fan, the seven-time Champion who has fallen on hard times. She is also an avid reader and enjoys both fiction and non-fiction books. Her most recent read is Fearless Leadership by Loretta Molandro. 

To sum up an insightful chat, I asked Kapumpe what she would title her autobiography and why. Her response perfectly ends this article, “I Did it My Way”. My younger and older self have decided how they will spend their time, who I spend it with, what I will not do, and where my focus will be. I have been on that journey for a while and have truly done it my way.”

  • Kopala to the World: Born and raised in Kitwe, Kapumpe is an alumnus of one of Zambia’s most renowned educational institutions, Mpelembe Secondary School.
  • Wanderlust: A keen traveller, her itinerary ranges from the Dordogne area in the south of France, driving from Gaborone to Cape Town, from southern Malawi to Livingstonia Mission, and from Douala to Limbe in Cameroun. She has made road trips to eight of Zambia’s provinces, visiting national parks and water bodies and is looking forward to her next adventure in western Zambia. 
  • Jack of all Trades: Kapumpe’s background in Psychology and Public Administration and then Finance has enabled her to navigate her career with ease, bringing a unique perspective to each role she undertakes.
  • For the People: Kapumpe sees herself as a relationship builder first and foremost. Her emphasis on building and maintaining relationships underscores her commitment to cultivating strong connections and fostering mutually beneficial partnerships.

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