RISE TO PROMINENCE

Turkey 2013 | ECONOMY | INTERVIEW

Turkish companies have undertaken major projects in the MENA region for many years.

Sadek K.S. Abu Hallala
BIOGRAPHY
After graduating in Accounting from the Garyounis University, Libya, Sadek K. S. Abu Hallala completed his Master’s degree in Accounting at the University of Hartford, US. He worked as the Manager of the Accounting Department at Libyan Foreign Bank between 1995 and 2006 and has been working as the General Manager of A&T Bank since 2006.

What is A&T Bank's history and background in the MENA region, and how has it grown and developed since it was founded?

A&T Bank was established in 1977 as a joint venture in accordance with the agreement between Libya and Turkey to foster trade between the two countries. A&T Bank is 62.37% Libyan owned and 36.01% Turkish owned, with the Libyan Foreign Bank, a fully owned subsidiary of the Libyan Central Bank, holding all of the company's Libyan shares, while İşbank and Ziraat Bank, Turkey's two largest banks on an asset basis, hold 20.58% and 15.43%, respectively, with the Kuwait Investment Company holding the remaining 1.62%. Currently, A&T Bank has 277 employees and seven branches in five cities across Turkey. For more than three decades, A&T Bank's founders and employees have built up banking and business relationships, expertise, and know-how across the MENA region, achieving steady, conservative growth and establishing A&T Bank as the go-to player in this attractive market.

What was the motivation behind A&T Bank's rebranding and strategy change in 2009?

The main purpose of rebranding and developing a new strategy was to provide customer-oriented and sustainable growth in the long run, increasing business volumes and becoming more active in the MENA region, especially in Libya.

What is A&T Bank doing to expand its operations and become a full-service bank with a presence in Turkey's retail and commercial banking market?

In line with the strategic plan, A&T Bank's focus is on improving its sales management processes, expanding and diversifying the customer base, completing its product range, implementing alternative distribution channels, and penetrating into target markets as well as upgrading the technical infrastructure. A&T Bank will continue to meet the banking needs of its customers with improved service quality and with its position as a leading bank in Libya and the MENA region and as a boutique bank in domestic activities.

What is the importance of Turkey for A&T Bank?

Turkey's geographical location makes it a bridge between the East, West, North, and South, with easy-cost, efficient access to businesses around the world. It is also particularly keen to further strengthen its economic and commercial ties with the countries of the MENA region.

How would you characterize the growth of trade and economic relations between Turkey and the MENA region?

For many years, Turkish companies enjoyed sharing a common culture and history with most of the countries in the MENA region. This cultural similarity, accompanied by the geographical proximity, is a competitive advantage for Turkish companies, as both sides can understand each other. Turkish companies have undertaken major projects in the MENA region for many years. They have completed hotels, towers, malls, and also projects that need a high level of technical capacity, such as metro projects, airports, pipelines, and highways. Due to its successful projects in the region and developing political implementations, Turkey's commercial relations with the MENA region have increased prominently over time.

What effect has the recent unrest in Libya had on your business, and how would you characterize the outlook for the Libyan economy and for trade and economic relations between the MENA region and Turkey?

Because of the recent unrest in Libya, in 2011, foreign trade volumes between Turkey and Libya declined by 62.3% and the construction business by Turkish contractors in Libya stopped completely. This situation affected our business negatively. However, in this period, the foreign trade volumes of Turkey with North Africa stayed at the same levels, while trade in the Middle East increased by 33.2%. Therefore, we compensated for the negative effect of the decline in foreign trade volumes with Libya by improving our business in other foreign and domestic markets. In 2012, foreign trade volumes with Libya and the MENA region increased significantly. MENA's importance as a trading partner of Turkey is expected to increase further with its rapid growth in the near future. The economy of the MENA region has developed a significant GDP and recorded bank asset growth, which resulted in important increases in its trade volumes with Turkey. Foreign trade figures imply that even the latest liberalization developments in the MENA region are boosting the figures. Turkey's exports totaled $140 billion in the first 11 months of 2012, with the MENA region accounting for around 34%, or $47.9 billion, of the total (the 2011 figure was $34.6 billion, or 26%). The MENA region will continue to represent an important share of Turkey's foreign trade volumes, especially in the construction sector.

What role does A&T Leasing play in your overall businesses, and how has it grown over the past 15 years?

In 1997, A&T Leasing was established as a subsidiary of A&T Bank to perform leasing transactions. Focusing on client satisfaction, A&T Leasing serves an extensive portfolio of companies ranging from small- to medium-sized enterprises. A&T Leasing correctly identifies customer needs to generate the appropriate financial solutions, and then transfers its resources to investors effectively. By relying on itself and its experience as a company, A&T Leasing creates a synergy with customers and offers high-quality services in accordance with their needs. A&T Leasing has fully supported the development of the industrial and agricultural sectors. By financing 2,205 projects, A&T Leasing's cash injections to medium-term projects reached $480 million. By the end of September 2012, A&T Leasing had TL48.3 million in equity, and its asset size reached TL130.2 million, with finance lease receivables amounting to TL100.5 million.

What are A&T Bank's medium-term growth plans, and what is its strategy and outlook for 2013?

A&T Bank's priority in 2013, and the coming period, will be to maintain and improve foreign trade activities through our experience in the MENA region. In line with our sustainable profitable growth goal, we will penetrate alternative international markets and extend our foreign trade expertise to other regions. Furthermore, we will also increase our domestic banking activities. We will maintain our competitive position in domestic corporate banking through improved products and distribution channel diversification to further increase the opportunities provided to customers. New products and distribution channels, effective marketing strategies, and an efficient organizational structure will be our main strengths in achieving the goals we have defined. We will continue to employ the human resources needed for the effective and efficient functioning of the new organizational model designed under our new strategic plan. We also plan to gradually implement our new projects, which are still under progress. When these projects are finalized, we will ensure a fully customer-oriented structure, which enables us to analyze customers and their needs in more detail to increase cross-selling opportunities through new products and channels.

What is your vision for A&T Bank in the long term, and where do you see the bank in 10 years' time?

In 2012, A&T Bank demonstrated an outstanding performance and remarkably strong profitability. Compared to the same period of the previous year, A&T Bank increased its unconsolidated net term profit by 56.4% from TL33.5 million to TL52.5 million in the first nine months of 2012. A&T Bank, the asset size of which is over TL2.1 billion, continued adding value to the national economy and support to its customers by its cash loans portfolio of TL569 million, and by its non-cash loans portfolio of TL1.6 billion. Shareholders' equity climbed by 14.8% from TL354 million to TL406.5 million in the first nine months of the year. The capital adequacy ratio (CAR) is over the sector average by 17.81%. The return on equity (ROE) and return on assets (ROA) ratios of the bank, which were 12.89% and 2.08%, respectively, at the end of 3Q2011, climbed to 19.60% and 2.74% at the end of 3Q2012. In the near future, we will start on the implementation of new projects to be much more customer oriented by increasing cross-selling opportunities through new products and distribution channels. We have been playing a leading role in trade achievements between Turkey and the MENA region, notably Libya, as the first Turkish bank specialized in this vision for 35 years. I believe that our experience in Libya and other MENA countries, our wide network of correspondent banks, and our distinguished banking approach will lead our customers to grow with us, and keep us as one of the most prominent players in the banking sector over the next 10 years.