What is your outlook on the Rwandan economy for 2017?
Sanjeev Anand: For the Rwandan economy in 2017 I'm positive. My feeling is that the economy this year should be stronger than last year which itself was not a very good year. Last year we suffered from the drought, a decline in commodity prices, and in general in we suffered from a decline in overall investment and trade flows into Africa.
Many of these problems resulted from reasons which were unrelated to Rwanda. For example China was cutting off from the world to deal with their own situation, the US has issues, UK is going through Brexit, so I think this year seems to have gotten off to a better start. Commodity prices have picked up, in recent weeks the rains have picked up very nicely and I think there are one or two large infrastructure projects which are starting which always influence the economy positively.
How has BPR confronted the problem of on-boarding the unbanked?
Anand: BPR positions itself as a universal bank, and by universal bank what we mean is that BPR will provide services to the corporate segment, to the SME segment and to the retail segment, but more importantly we would also like to grow our client base to include those people that do not have full access to banking services or only possess partial access to banking services, so-called financial inclusion. We are very passionate about that.
Our way to include the unbanked and to include financial inclusion is predominately through digital channels. So we have a very good mobile telephone banking offering, which is convenient, cheap and easy to access, and available to anyone who would like to have it that offers plenty of services.
Eric Rutabana: Traditionally BPR has been a key player in the unbanked segment because our roots come from BPR being a credit cooperative in the past and our current network is reflective of that. Even before the introduction of digital products BPR was very active in the unbanked segment market because of our wide branch network.
We are partnering with the telcos in order to provide additional services to our customers, for example extending mobile money services which is important because mobile penetration is certainly very high in Rwanda. But we are also developing our own products such as our very functional mobile app and we also planning to roll out agency banking, which again intends to make sure that we on-board the unbanked segment of the market.
Where do you see opportunities for growth in Rwanda and for BPR this year?
Anand: I think we see opportunities for growth for us in particular in the retail segment, we are currently dealing with the local middle market, and we see some opportunities in the affluent or high income segment--we have not penetrated that segment at all.
We are already beginning to see a lot of growth in our corporate and SME banking sectors and that has been our key focus over the last year. We didn't have a dedicated SME and corporate team but now I think we have one of the best corporate and SME teams in the market so that's going to be our focus. Furthermore, we have very low share in trade finance, and that is an area we are working on. Unfortunately going there is slower than expected for reasons outside of our control, but we believe that by the end of the third quarter, or maybe fourth quarter we should definitely have a lot more traction in trade finance.
Does BPR have any significant product releases that we will see this year?
Anand: Yes, definitely. Most of our product releases, our new ones that we expect to launch, are going to be mobile. BPR really is the bank with the largest network of branches, we have 194 branches which is more than all the other banks put together, we want to make this branch network work for us much more efficiently. So I can tell you that our goal is that by the end of this year to be the largest digital bank as well. You will see a lot of action, a lot of traction and action, on our part in the digital area.
What management philosophy does BPR subscribe to?
Anand: There are not one, but a few beliefs that I believe very strongly. The first one is that we believe that our biggest strength is in our people. Right now we are focused on hiring the best people in all the key areas, we are going to focus a lot on training and development of our people and having motivated people, so people is the first priority.
The second is we believe that innovation and digital is going to be a real strength because that allows us to expand our reach in a cost effective manner, and allows us to reach more traditional corporate and SME clients but also new clients such as the unbanked segment, so I think digital and innovation to introduce new products are very key.
The third is going to be that we want to be a low-cost producer, so both low-cost production as well as low- cost of funding. We are trying to lower our cost of funding and improve our cost of producing services so that we are competitive player and are able to penetrate the market.
And let me last but not least mention our biggest focus: customer service because ultimately it is the customer that is going to drive the way in which any institution grows and if you not able to provide excellent service then you have no long term commitment and no long term attachment in the market so customer service will be very important.
[c] CPI Financial. All rights reserved. Provided by SyndiGate Media Inc. ( Syndigate.info ).