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One of Egypt's fastest growing private banks attributes success to corporate culture of service

Interview - February 24, 2015

Arab African International Bank is a leading private sector financial institution that has seen impressive growth since 2002. Despite spearheading key developments in the industry as 9-5 working hours, foreign currency based savings accounts, M&A advice and the underwriting of corporate bonds, AAIB Vice Chairman and Managing Director, Mr. Hassan Abdalla, admits that the company's unrelenting dedication to its philanthropic activities is what sets it apart from the rest.

MR. HASSAN ABDALLA, VICE CHAIRMAN & MANAGING DIRECTOR OF ARAB AFRICAN INTERNATIONAL BANK (AAIB)
MR. HASSAN ABDALLA | VICE CHAIRMAN & MANAGING DIRECTOR OF ARAB AFRICAN INTERNATIONAL BANK (AAIB)

How do you see the current state of Egypt’s economy in terms of stability and potential for growth?

We should have received that upgrade a year ago and Egypt deserves a new upgrade from Credit Rating Agencies. Amidst the challenges the region is facing, we have the human capital, the market size, and the structure to succeed. The country is on the rise and I’m very optimistic about the future of Egypt. Currently, the GDP of Egypt is trailing at $272 billion USD, with a GDP growth rate of 6.8% as of Q3 2014.

The measures implemented so far, along with some recovery in confidence, are starting to produce a visible turnaround. Growth is projected to reach 3.8 % in FY 2014/15 and to rise steadily to 5% over the medium term, which would create jobs and reduce unemployment.

This being said, we are on the right track. Egypt has unutilized capacities, such as tourism, where we have the structure available but need to work on the receiving end. There is much untapped potential in the country.

AAIB is the fastest growing bank in terms of size and profitability here in Egypt. To what do you attribute this success?

AAIB was among the first to implement the ambitious reform program spearheaded by the Central Bank of Egypt in early 2002. It grew its market share from 0.30% to 4.5%. Our massive turnaround can be referenced to a number of factors. First, we grew our employee base from 200 employees to 2000. Investment in our human capital was key in taking us to our standing today. Second, I always tell my staff that effective results go beyond managing their key functions and areas. Team playing and managing interpersonal communication is key in nurturing a conducive business environment that drives our bank to positive results.  Third and equally important, as a financial institution, we embraced innovation and customer centricity at the forefront of our strategy.  AAIB led the market to new working hours for our clients where we extended the previous working hours from 8 a.m- 1: p.m. to 9 a.m to 5 p.m. Additionally, AAIB was the first bank in Egypt to devise a long term foreign currency based saving offering to its clients. Nevertheless, we were the first to launch smart credit cards. Our competitive advantage lies in identifying areas where we can compete distinctively. As a leading financial group, this dedication has paid off.  Today, our bank is a longstanding market leader in M&A advice and has a market share in underwriting corporate bonds exceeding 60%.

How would you like the bank to be positioned within the sector?

We would like to remain as one of the leading banks of the private sector and increase our market share. AAIB plans to be more aggressive in retail banking and we want to build AAIB as a strong financial group. In this respect, we have launched several subsidiaries such as Leasing, Mortgages, Brokerage and Asset Management. This will help us achieve our vision of becoming the leading financial group in the region. We are also looking to expand internationally as we are one of the few banks with branches outside of the country in Lebanon and the UAE. We believe this fits perfectly to our strategy to serve projects and investment banking from the gulf to Egypt and vice-versa.

In the Egypt Economic Development Conference (EEDC) the country is planning to unveil a number of big projects and the investment banks are responsible for them. What are your expectations of the conference and what is the role that your investment subsidiary will be playing?

We will be presenting 5 projects at the EEDC. I believe the conference will raise awareness, though it is the follow up process resulting that is essential. It’s an opportunity for the world to look at Egypt, assess the situation and be reassured on potential investment.

Would you agree that the conference is about changing the perception on Egypt rather than signing contracts?

They are two sides of the same coin, while the conference aims at promoting Egypt’s potential investment opportunities, this would definitely materialize into actual concrete deals if not at the conference, in a later stage.

There is much optimism surrounding the conference but there are also challenges ahead. Can you elaborate on some of these challenges?

Egypt is looking to shore up investor confidence in recent months where we witnessed a lot of interest in FDI.  However, this might be impacted on the backdrop of falling oil prices.

In addition, Egypt may be impacted if global economic sentiment turns negative, especially in Europe, which might affect trade and tourism.

The Middle East and North Africa remains a dynamic and ever changing region. Egypt is critical to stability in the Middle East. The region’s most populous nation continues to struggle to define its political and national identity amid an ongoing economic challenge; strife between rival groups continues to undermine the overall security environment. 

There’s much optimism surrounding the conference but there are also challenges ahead. Can you elaborate on some of these challenges?

The greatest concern for the region is the increased tensions. For Egypt specifically, the challenge is to drive the momentum of election process and enact the legislative power and restore tourism.

What are your priorities for 2015?

We are planning to increase our network by 13 branches in 2015. We also want to start a micro-financing company and be more aggressive in retail and mortgages.

How do you see the new mortgage law?

The idea is encourage mortgages due to its importance. There is a great initiative from the Central Bank of Egypt of financing long term for certain mortgages sizes. We have been building the technological infrastructure and will be ready by 2Q of 2015.

AAIB has been involved deeply in CSR, being awarded many times. Could you touch on your CSR initiatives for this year?

CSR and sustainability are part and parcel of AAIB’s growth strategy. We learnt early on that growth has material and non material aspects. We knew we had to have a moral mission complementing our aggressive growth and profitability. We are the first bank in the Middle East to have a foundation for social development with the title of “We Owe it to Egypt” for philanthropic activities apart from our sustainability activities in the bank. We Owe it to Egypt mainly focuses on four main projects; “Eliminating waiting lists in Public hospitals” and we have managed to conduct hundreds of surgeries in public hospitals and actually succeeded in ending waiting lists in some specializations. The second project is “Automating of patients’ records in public hospitals”. The third project is establishing centers of excellence in public hospitals to cope with international standards, and the fourth project is conducting health care caravans for unprivileged Egyptians to help them get adequate medical services.  

Mostly we are proud that we have started a trend for a whole industry where by other financial institutions started to establish their own foundations in the fields of health and education. 

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