STEPPING UP

Kazakhstan 2016 | FINANCE | INTERVIEW

TBY talks to Guram Andronikashvili, Deputy Chairman of the Board of Forte Bank, on targeting new customer segments, the country's evolving banking sector, and strategies for sustainable growth.

Guram Andronikashvili
BIOGRAPHY
Guram Andronikashvili was appointed as the Chief Executive Officer of METROCOMBANK in April 2010. Prior to that he worked as Vice President of J.P. Morgan in London, where he started his career in 2001. At J.P. Morgan, he led a significant number of M&A and equity transactions with financial institutions, focusing primarily on emerging Europe with broad experience across CIS and Turkey. Some of his notable transactions with J.P. Morgan include the sale in 2007 of ATF Bank to UniCredit in Kazakhstan and the 2006 IPO of Kazkommertsbank in Kazakhstan. He earned a degree in economics from the University of Durham.

What segments of the market are you targeting?

Forte Bank is currently the third-largest bank in the country in terms of capital. We want to make sure that our customer base of SMEs, corporate clients, and retail clients all understand this and are ready to continue to do business with us. The bank's portfolio is approximately 60% retail, with the remainder consisting of corporate and SME clients. As part of our branding we segmented the bank and created three targeted business segments within the bank. We have Forte Bank, which is the largest part and covers the retail segment. The other segment is Forte Business. That was created at the end of 2014, and started at the beginning of 2015 with a specific focus on SME clients, later growing rapidly. We also have Forte Corporate, which is focused on large quasi-sovereign companies and international companies. In the mid-term we see ourselves as a universal bank in Kazakhstan providing best-in-class services to all the three core customer segments.

How do you envision the Kazakhstani banking sector evolving in the medium term and where do you see Forte Bank within that outlook?

The Kazakhstani banking sector underwent great difficulties in 2015 and at the beginning of 2016, which was quite a shock for the whole economy. When you move from having fixed exchange rates to having a floating exchange rate the effect on the economy can last for an extended period. It is normal for an economy to adjust to major reforms, and this is never something that happens overnight. We feel that the sector has already adjusted quickly to the changes that have occurred. We feel that performance of the banking sector in general is a good reflection of the performance of the economy, so if an economy is growing well, then banks will perform well. We believe in the potential of the economy of Kazakhstan, and this is why we have invested in this project.

What are the bank's top strategic priorities for the year ahead?

Last year we made a profit of approximately KZT8 billion. These numbers are due to be finalized by our auditors, but we feel that we are probably the third or fourth largest bank in the country by profitability. To achieve that in the first year after restructuring, after merging three banks and carrying out all the operational work that needed to be done is quite a success. We feel that 2016 should be a year of improving our internal efficiency, because even though a lot was done in 2015 and our systems were combined, we feel that there is a huge amount of automation that can still be done and improvements that can be made from within. The aim of increasing this efficiency is to ensure our front office staff are focused on providing services for our clients, rather than collecting information or creating reports or reviewing charts. We want that work to be automated and the front office staff to become real banking consultants where they can actually spend time with the clients. We are also going to implement a lot of changes for our clients in 2016 with brand new internet and mobile banking platforms and new retail and SME banking products to be introduced this year. We are also going to be opening new offices this year for both ForteBank and ForteBusiness offering completely different levels of service to our clients. In general we see this year as a year of preparation for when business picks up in 2017-18.