Great Expectations Ahead

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To celebrate the success of Azizi Bank winning the Finest in Finance - Best Bank in Afghanistan award, Mohammad Salem Omaid, President and CEO writes about this bank’s amazing array of services, plus their emphasis on Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities, as well as women’s emancipation in the workplace.

First of all, I must say that it is a moment of tremendous pride and honour for me on behalf of Azizi Bank, Afghanistan (the largest bank in the country), to win this prestigious Finest in Finance - Best Bank in Afghanistan award from the team at Wealth & Finance International. These sentiments were expressed sincerely by my colleagues Samrat Dutta and Mohammad Osman Nowrozi when they visited the offices of the esteemed Wealth & Finance International magazine on 29th March to collect their trophy for this prestigious award. They greatly enjoyed their visit to the UK, enjoying the stunning countryside viewed from the train and the City of London equally.

This award means a lot for me Azizi Bank, which I believe is the place to do banking in Afghanistan, with our superior customer service approach, state-of-the-art technology in line with banks from other countries. We are currently in a growing phase, and we have great expectations for the future, indeed we dream of becoming the best quality bank in Afghanistan, providing nothing but world class services.

We need such international recognition to build upon our brand and sustain its strong image. I am once again gratified to your esteemed organisation in recognising a bank from the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan for this prestigious award. I believe that Afghanistan should be viewed in a positive way, and be supported by bigger banks in other countries.

In terms of my own background, I have been associated with the bank since its inception. I started my career as a teller - and I then moved into various positions which included credit and finance - before becoming the President and CEO in August 2016. I have also served as the Azizi Bank’s Deputy CEO for 5 years. I have been widely responsible in developing local human resources and personally founded the capacity building programme at the bank.

In addition - I have a doctorate in Financial Management from one of the leading Indian University - plus an MBA with specialisation in Banking, Risk Management and Finance.

Azizi Bank and its role in the banking sector
Azizi Bank is a commercial bank in the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan set up in 2006. It has been the vision of Mr. ‘Mirwais Azizi of the distinguished Azizi Hotak Group and their family, to set up an establishment in the country that provides banking services to all sectors of the population. This came at a time when banking services in the country were having challenges of their own, after the time of the Taliban regime.

The bank was initially set up with a capital of $5 million and 25 employees. Today - we have statutory paid up capital of more than $80 million with the central bank - and employ more than 1500 members of staff. The bank remains the largest banking group in Afghanistan today, with more than 145 branches spread across the country. Presently, Azizi Bank is the market leader in the country in terms of absolute business, percentage share and network.

Azizi Bank banking products
Azizi Bank is currently offering all types of banking products as per the customer needs and requirements. We offer current and savings accounts in four currencies – AFN, US Dollars, Euro & GBP. The following are the other products and services currently being offered by Azizi Bank, apart from the vanilla CASA:
• Fixed deposits with attractive rates in AFN and US Dollars;
• Salary savings & current accounts for corporates and institutions;
• Trade finance products which includes – bank guarantees, letter of credit and term loans;
• Business loans;
• Treasury products;
• Domestic and international remittances;
• Master credit and debit cards, ATM cards;
• Master pre-paid cards and;
• Western Union and SWIFT.

The bank, by the second quarter of 2017, will increase its CASA variants by introducing products targeting children, students, women, senior citizens and high net-worth corporate individuals.

The bank also offers the following services:
• Internet and mobile banking;
• 24-hour call centre facility;
• Instant account opening at all branches;
• Biometric finger print recognition at branches for enhanced security;
• Green channel at branches for fast and efficient cash dealings;
• Dedicated priority counters and lounges for VIP customers;
• Dedicated relationship manager for VIP and high net worth customers;
• ATMs, cash dispensers and video kiosks (the latter is coming soon);
• Branch less banking through POS devices and;
• Extended branch business hours.

We are evaluating further digitalisation process to enhance the level of service for customers, by introducing more innovative features and services in line with the best practices at the other international banks, thereby creating an impetus in the individual and national growth of the country.

Social responsibility in the community
Azizi Bank is extensively into Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) activities. In 2016, amongst other activities, we donated the first digital library at the esteemed Kardan University, which was inaugurated by HE - the Ambassador of India to Afghanistan. We have also ensured that we support the underprivileged section of the society, especially the NGOs supporting the orphanages.

Apart from other activities, we contributed to the development of the Women Breast Cancer Hospital in Kabul this year on the occasion of the International Women’s Day. We are entering into a MOU with the Ministry of Women Affairs, Islamic Republic of Afghanistan on various projects of the ministry which will also include efforts to improve educational opportunities for women.

In addition, we will shortly be organising an event for women entrepreneurs where we will be announcing customised small scale loans for this group at a reduced rate of interest, to support their empowerment in the country. We have also launched a special programme in collaboration with the provincial municipalities to plant trees for a greener Afghanistan.

The First Islamic Bank in the Republic of Afghanistan
We are converting our 100% subsidiary bank – Bakhtar Bank - into a full-fledged Islamic Bank by the end of first quarter of 2017. This will be the first Islamic Bank in the country. The total bankable population in Afghanistan is around 12% of the 32 million who live here.

Being in an Islamic country - this strategic move will further increase the banking population - and will play a pivotal role in our financial inclusion programme.

Women’s emancipation in the workplace
More than 16% of our workforce are women, all of whom play a quiet but effective role in their empowerment and emancipation. We have been constantly encouraging women to break the shackles and join the main stream. We have tied up with local agencies, backed by the USAID projects in the recruitment of talented women into the system.

The bank has always encouraged women to take up leadership positions. Indeed, we have women leading few of the major branches as branch managers and as deputies at some of the key departments in the head office, in addition to the other roles being managed at the branches and other departments.

Human resource capital
Our human resource capital consists of more than 1500 employees. The management team here has a mixture of youth and experience. We have a strong in-house state-of-art training department, who provide all kinds of training and refresher programmes, right from the orientation of new employees and basic banking up to international trade and credit programmes.

In order to provide international exposure, we also send our work force for training abroad in countries such as the UAE, India and Pakistan. Our board of supervisors and the board of management includes expatriates from the US, India and other countries with an average experience of more than 18 years in the banking, financial and administrative sector across the globe. Their experience, mixed with the local enthusiasm in developing a better brand, have certainly played a significant role in the undoubted success of Azizi Bank.
Customer satisfaction and feedback
We have a systematic approach towards customer satisfaction at our branches. The branch staff are provided with regular training on customer service and delivery TAT. We have introduced a customer level feedback programme on the quality of services we provide. The call centre department makes regular calls to the customers to ascertain the quality of services provided, and updates management on the feedback and action taken on any anomalies.

Azizi Bank have been awarded the Best Bank - Customer Service and Best Retail Bank, 2016 award by the International Finance magazine, London and South Asian Partnership Summit, Sri Lanka respectively last year.

We have been receiving quite encouraging responses from our customers. The bank has seen a transformation change on the level of customer service provided over the last 18 months. Amongst all the banks in Afghanistan, Azizi Bank have the highest customer acceptance on Facebook, with a rating of 4.5 on a scale of 5. Azizi Bank is also widely accepted on the other social media pages. Last year, we received an award from an international firm for being the best socially acclaimed bank in Afghanistan.

Opportunities and challenges in the future
Azizi Bank has completed a tough and challenging, yet quite interesting journey of more than 10 years of existence in the country. We are foreseeing opportunities for the bank rather than any challenges. Success cannot be achieved unless you beat all the challenges. Our team is committed and ready to face all the challenges.

We have already incorporated the Vision 2020 plans and have very positive feelings about that, something that reverberates throughout all of our energetic team here. We have engaged one of the top US based international consultancy firm – Alvarez & Marshall, to strategise our vision of sustained growth in a systematic and phased manner.

On these premises, Azizi Bank has developed its strategic plan, with a keen eye for progress and development. The bank has planned an aggressive growth strategy through reconstitution of the sales team and various marketing strategies, i.e. tie-ups with corporates, various international joint venture initiatives for investment in the country etc.

Accordingly, Azizi Bank has drawn up our financial plan projecting strategies for growth. In its Vision 2020 initiative, the bank will witness a significant growth on all sectors thereby maintaining its position as clear market leaders and catering to the customer requirements and expectations.

Azizi Bank has initiated several measures, aimed at vigorous marketing efforts specifically branding of the bank, co-branding with other organisations, tie ups, technological innovations with an eye to cater and partner all in the developmental cycle. The bank is getting engaged in expanding the business activities into other areas through cross sale of other products, i.e. insurance products, acting as collection agents for bill collections to several service providers.

The future of the banking industry
Banking services are the economic backbone for any nation. One of the important aspects of unifying people and bringing peace in this nation - is developing the economy - and making people financially secure and independent. Azizi Bank is playing a major role here. The job market has seen a reasonable improvement over the last 3 years. Many employment opportunities are created from the government. There are several international NGOs working in the country, who believe in taking the energetic and the talented youth of the country. The mass exodus from the country have reasonably decreased over the last year.

Performance of the bank is of course dependent on various eco-political factors. In a country of Afghanistan’s stature with political insecurity, with instability looming in the minds of all there is less capital inflow as donors are uncertain of investment outcomes, as it is difficult to predict them.

However, given the present prevailing situations, and the World Bank survey reports, optimism is prevailing in selected infrastructural sectors of the economy, indeed there are prospects of substantial growth. There is much promise for foreign direct investments, and tremendous scope for the developmental of mining, quarrying (with one of the world’s richest resourceful countries), low inflation, improving education rates, more and more integration of the provinces with the capital, more sponsored infrastructure and more economic benefits trickling down owing to economic integration with other countries etc.

Real GDP growth is projected to increase to around 3.90% in 2017, from its present position of 3.10% in 2016. It is expected that these economic benefits will trickle down to the entire population. The economy will continue to be stable in the next 2-3 years.

With the economic depression, apart, a substantial quantum of investments has been planned for road infrastructure, the power sector, power transmission lines, power generators, electricity generation, the agriculture, IT, oil and gas sectors and so on are estimated to be in the tune of $2 billion.

In closing, I would like to stress that Azizi Bank will be the bank of the future in Afghanistan. As it strengthens its presence, Azizi Bank continues to review compliance, risk management skills, systems and processes and where appropriate - it aims to enhance these further.

The commitment applies to Azizi Bank’s relationship with its shareholders, customers, employees, suppliers, regulators and the community in which it operates. In addition to our vision 2020 plans, Azizi Bank will expand its presence to neighbouring countries and will open new offices in India, China, UAE, Turkey and other neighbouring CIS countries over the next 1-3 years. Finally, I would like to say that I strongly believe we are the bank of the future.

Company: Azizi Bank
Name: Mohammad Salem Omaid, President and CEO
Email: customerservice@azizibank.af
Web Address: www.azizibank.com
Address: Azizi Bank, Head office
Ankara Square, Opp Turkish Embassy
Main Road, Kabul, Afghanistan
Telephone: 93 (0) 701 80 15 15

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