BANKING ON THE CASPIAN

Azerbaijan 2016 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Taleh Kazimov, CEO & Chairman of the Executive Board of PASHA Bank, on growth at home and abroad.

Taleh Kazimov
BIOGRAPHY
Mr. Taleh Kazimov has extensive professional experience in commercial and investment banking, loans, and risks management. He was appointed as CEO and Chairman of the PASHA Bank Executive Board on July 1, 2015. Mr. Kazimov is a Member of Supervisory Boards for PASHA Bank Turkey and PASHA Bank Georgia. Prior to this appointment, Mr. Kazimov served as the Chief Investment Officer of the Bank and a member of the Executive Board responsible for business development, institutional, investment, corporate and SME banking, and risk management. He holds a bachelor’s degree in Automation and Computer engineering from Azerbaijan Technical University. He also pursued an MBA from Azerbaijan State Oil Academy and a Commerce degree with a major in Finance from Georgia State University. In addition, Mr. Kazimov successfully completed the executive educational programs of the London Business School in 2010 and Harvard Business School in 2012.

PASHA Bank is the first Azerbaijani private bank with subsidiaries in Azerbaijan, Georgia, and Turkey. What was the strategy behind positioning yourself as a regional bank?

We are indeed the first and, for the time being, the only Azerbaijani bank with a fully fledged presence in the three countries you mentioned. Our geographical expansion­­ stems from PASHA Bank's overall strategy—we follow our clients in their business endeavors, as we strongly believe that PASHA Bank is more than a bank. PASHA Bank is the business partner that will be by its client whenever he needs it. PASHA was established in 2007 solely as a corporate bank with no retail arm. We render banking services to companies operating in the non-oil sector in Azerbaijan. As our economy developed, we observed the growth of local enterprises and their expansion into neighboring countries, with Georgia and Turkey being on the top of their investment destinations. The trade triangle between Baku, Tbilisi, and Istanbul has intensified and we saw this as an excellent opportunity to support the business flow between these three countries. It was an exciting opportunity for PASHA Bank to enter new markets with advanced and very competitive banking sectors in both Turkey and Georgia. In order to succeed, PASHA Bank has chosen a good niche: we work with companies that do business within these three countries. It is not only about Azeri business in Georgia and Turkey, it is also Turkish companies doing business in Georgia and Azerbaijan, and Georgian companies in Turkey and Azerbaijan. Tough competition in established markets is the great challenge for us. However, we see this competition as an excellent opportunity for us to position ourselves as a regional partner of choice, strengthen our competencies in new markets and, very importantly, share our experience and knowledge with each other.

PASHA Bank recently launched a new platform with the Oracle FLEXCUBE. What advantages does this new platform offer to your company?

The change was dictated by the rapid growth of our business. Over the last eight years, our portfolio grew to $700 million with half of this growth occurring within the last two years. Therefore, our core banking system no longer met our current needs from a functional perspective. Oracle's FLEXCUBE solution is one of the best systems in the world for financial institutions as it gives us numerous opportunities to bring new products to the market. As our business grows locally and internationally and, as we expand into new markets, we have to keep abreast of innovations and technologies and be highly efficient from an IT perspective to be always at the cutting edge of new technologies.

PASHA Bank has a history of supporting sports and cultural events in Azerbaijan and is well known for its CSR initiatives, recognized by many awards, both domestically and in Europe. What is PASHA Bank expecting from the Formula One Grand Prix to be held in Baku in 2016?

The Formula One Grand Prix is going to be an exciting event for Azerbaijan and for the region. Whatever PASHA Bank can do to support and promote our country, we are happy and honored to do so. In fact, we are the official financial partner of Baku City Circuit, the company operating the Formula One Grand Prix in Baku. As a regional bank, the reputation of the country is important for us, and we are happy to support these initiatives because they place Azerbaijan on the map of significant international sports and cultural events. PASHA Bank is committed to the development of the youth, investing in human capital as the future of our country. We attach great importance to nurturing talent in various professions, because 10, 15, or 20 years on from now they will become PASHA Bank's potential employees, or potential customers, or just good citizens. These will be the PASHA Bank stakeholders who will share our love of our motherland, our faith in our country as a key regional player, and our passion to make it an even more prosperous place to live and to work. I believe in the power of corporate entities contributing to the development of country and society through well structured and a thoroughly thought out CSR mandate and let me assure everyone that PASHA Bank will remain one of the most enthusiastic CSR contributors in Azerbaijan's corporate sector.

The Azerbaijan Microfinance Association has awarded PASHA Bank with the “Participant of the Year" and “Leading Company Promoting Gender Equality" awards. What have been some of the steps PASHA Bank has taken in the microfinance sector since 2014?

PASHA Bank's core business is focused on the corporate and SME sectors. Although micro lending is not within PASHA Bank's business mandate, we partner with non-banking credit organizations (NBCO) that are involved in microfinance lending directly. We open credit lines for NBCOs for their microcredit projects and we will continue doing so no matter what the economic situation is, because we believe that partnerships are not reserved for good times only. As the best partner, we will be with our customers on both sunny and rainy days. As concerns awards we won in 2015, we are very proud to the best company promoting gender equality: half of our managerial staff is a representative of the better half of the humankind. Moreover, two out of our five executive board members are women, too. Individuality and equality are the internal values of our Bank: the personality, competence, and contribution of our people in the ultimate goal of PASHA Bank is what is the most important. The “Participant of the Year" award has been the recognition of our contribution in the development of the microfinance sector—within our CSR program, we fund the capacity building program for participants involved in the microfinance sector.

After the parliamentary elections of November 2015, what is your focus for the banking sector in Azerbaijan for the medium term?

We had successful parliamentary elections in November and, looking at the recent changes we have seen, I expect that our economy will undergo many reforms in 2016. These reforms will definitely support the further diversification of the economy of Azerbaijan and development of the real sector. As a financial institution that has built its core business outside of the oil and gas sector, we are looking forward to seeing and contributing to the thrilling changes that 2016 will bring.