Unlocking the potential for women-headed businesses – meet Simone Cooper, Head of Business Clients at Standard Bank South Africa

Unlocking the potential for women-headed businesses - meet Simone Cooper, Head of Business Clients at Standard Bank South Africa

Written by Staff Writer

Sep 28, 2021

By Fiona Wakelin 


How do you see your role at Standard Bank? 

As Head of Business Clients at Standard Bank South Africa, I see my role as being  incredibly important to not only serve as a leader to the Business Clients team by  providing strategic direction and leading the team to achieve our goals, but also to serve  as a leader in building our nation by supporting businesses in South Africa through  Standard Bank’s vision. I am responsible for uniting our team behind our purpose “Africa  is our home, we drive her growth” and ensuring that we strive to be more than just a  bank to our clients- we have the power to change lives through the work we do.  


What excites you about what you do? What is your “why”? 

Each day in my role is never the same as another, which keeps it exciting. I really enjoy  engaging with businesses and understanding how they have achieved and grown as they  have. Business owners and entrepreneurs have achieved so much in an extremely  challenging environment and I am always fascinated by their stories.  

My job also allows me the opportunity to tackle complex problems with colleagues as  well as keep up to date with a dynamic financial services environment, which keeps  things stimulating and exciting. 

In line with our Group purpose to grow Africa, I truly believe that the work we do to  support businesses and help them grow results in economic growth and positive social  outcomes.  


How is Standard Bank unlocking the potential for women-headed businesses? Please unpack the Bank’s gender agenda. 

Our aspiration as Standard Bank Business Clients South Africa is to partner our clients for  growth; that couldn’t be truer for women owned businesses. We recognise the importance of helping female entrepreneurs to start, manage and grow their businesses.  

Our Enterprise Development department has been hard at work providing opportunities  to women-owned businesses; our Femtrepreneur Programme for example, is focused on  reaching black woman-owned businesses and imparting financial literacy to female  entrepreneurs, plus awarding the top 3 with R450 000’s worth of prizes to support these  businesses. There are also plans underway to reach women entrepreneurs and support  them with registering their business, opening a bank account, and preparing funding  applications in addition to providing other types of support. 

I’m proud to say that we’re helping women-owned businesses with skills development  and funding that give them the boost they need to grow and find success. We  have so many success stories that speak to our mission to become a leading partner for  

businesses deeply invested in the growth of our clients; and especially our female clients  helping them become active participants in and contributors to the economy, creating  employment and uplifting the communities they operate within – paving the way for  other female entrepreneurs.  


The impact of the pandemic on small businesses has been profound. Are there Standard Bank products tailored to help small businesses pivot to digi-first? 

Enabling a digital sales channel isn’t only safer from a Covid-19 prevention perspective  but it offers the business the possibility of scale compared to a brick and mortar store.  Our SimplyBlu e-commerce solution allows businesses to set up an online store within  just 48 hours so they can sell to customers anywhere 24/7. We also have a limited offer  of free Google Ads worth R500 to help SimplyBlu merchants’ direct traffic to their newly  built sites. For those businesses looking to find alternative ways to network with other  businesses and diversify their client base with customers globally, we encourage them to  join TradeClub which is our exclusive digital platform that allows one to explore new  markets around the world or to find vetted buyers and suppliers from a wide range of  countries as a free service.  


Standard Bank’s tagline “It can be” is aspirational and hopeful – what does it mean to you? 

“It can be” inspires me to think about the art of what’s possible without limitation. In a  world where we are constantly faced with challenges and uncertainty, it’s easy to throw  in the towel but this phrase sparks determination, there’s always a way to achieve your  goal. I think this is so true for entrepreneurs, becoming a business owner is no easy job,  

you must have a vision for your business and be ambitious enough to realise it. “It can  be” helps me to contextualise how we as a bank can show up for our clients to make  their dreams possible.  


How can women owned businesses ensure they are able to participate in the government procurement process and supply chain opportunities? 

To participate in government procurement processes and supply chain opportunities,  women owned businesses should start by ensuring that their business is procurement  ready – do you have all the resources required to successfully get the job done? Can you  demonstrate your ability to deliver on the contract in your application? Standard Bank  Enterprise Development runs the Women Empowerment Presidency initiative which is  aimed at the development of black women-owned businesses to be procurement ready.  Government will ring-fence procurement opportunities that banks are expected to fund  to support SMEs and help them build capacity to deliver. We have also recently  launched the Basali (Southern Sotho name for women) Development Programme in 

August 2021, which is an in-depth skills development programme reaching 100 women  that will run for 12 months focusing on design thinking, business management , business  process and compliance, legal, financial literacy, digital marketing and sales, and  personal mastery as key modules amongst others. 


In your experience, what are the 5 key pain points for women-owned businesses? 
  • Due to historic gender inequality, many women may not readily have access to funding that could help them start or grow their business. They may find it more difficult to secure investors or raise collateral for loans compared to their male counterparts. 
  • Additionally, women may not have had exposure or access to skills required to build and run a successful business. 
  • Many industries are male dominated, making it harder for women to build their networks and find other strong business women role models to look up to and learn from. 
  • Women are often assigned the role of keeping a home – meaning that they have to juggle responsibilities such as raising children, cleaning the house and preparing meals etc. These duties make it harder for a woman to dedicate her time towards running a business. 
  • Women are also generally thought of as being softer –  creating the misconception that    we can be easily intimidated. We have had to work harder to prove that we deserve a seat at the table and can be taken seriously in our chosen professions and careers. 
You have been in the banking sector for most of your career. How do you unwind? 

In my spare time I enjoy spending time with family and friends, reading novels and I try  to get a game of golf in every now and then. It’s important to have a hobby to switch  over to that will allow one to switch off from work and recharge.  


If you could invite 5 people past or present to dinner who would they be? And what would you have for dessert? 

Venus and Serena Williams – strong female athletes with great success as professional  tennis players. 

Michelle Obama – she is such an inspiring female leader and a true supporter of women  supporting women. One of my favourite quotes is “Friendships between women, as any  woman will tell you, are built of a thousand small kindnesses swapped back and forth  over again.”  

Elon Musk – South African born entrepreneur breaking boundaries for humankind  with SpaceX.  

And of course, Nelson Mandela, the greatest leader South Africa has ever known. 

Dessert would have to be chocolate fondant – I am not a dessert person, but this dessert  is just irresistible.  


What are your plans – and what are you looking forward to – in  the coming year? 

The past two years have been tough for everyone, especially South Africans with the  onset of the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020 followed by the incidents of unrest in July this  year. I am looking forward to seeing the economy turn around as businesses rebuild,  recover and grow again. My plans are to ensure that Standard Bank is always ready to be  there for our business clients and help contribute to this positive turnaround as we  emerge from the pandemic in the coming year. It will be a long road to recovery, but we  are determined to keep businesses in business and be their partner in growth.  

In my personal capacity, I’m looking forward to travelling again once borders start to  open up. I have a bucket list that includes a holiday in the Maldives and a houseboat on  the Zambezi – can’t wait to tick them off. 


Simone Cooper is currently Head Business Clients, Standard Bank South Africa. She has obtained diverse exposure to Banking, particularly Business and Commercial Banking, having undertaken various roles within Standard Bank. Simone was a key member of the team involved in re-establishing Business Banking in South Africa between 2009 – 2013, when she headed up Business Lending Products as well as Franchising and Enterprise Development. More recently she has gained exposure to the Africa Regions division heading up Transactional and Liability Products for Personal and Business Banking and as a Regional Head of Credit. Simone has also gained exposure to various initiatives promoting the development of SMEs, including several government initiatives and development finance projects.



*For more, check out our bumper 16th edition of the Standard Bank Top Women Leaders publication on Issuu – Digital Publishing Platform – here

*Stay up to date with all the latest on Top Women in SA, by signing up to the Standard Bank Top Women newsletter – here

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