Azizi Bank has swiftly become one of Afghanistan’s largest commercial banks with a presence across 31 of the country’s 34 provinces. From the outset, the bank has sought to become a stalwart on the global financial market, driving technological innovation in the sphere. On the back of this approach, Azizi Bank was named the ‘Best Commercial Bank’ in Wealth & Finance International’s 2019 Global Business Excellence programme. Following this deserved success, Dr. (Prof) Mohammad Salem Omaid, CEO of Azizi Bank, was interviewed to find out more about the bank’s mission, vision and how it aligned itself with the highest international standards of corporate governance, social responsibility and customer relations.
The global financial landscape is changing dramatically, evolving on the back of technological development, and expansive regulation. On a similar front, working in tandem with this churning paradigm shift, is the effect that changing consumer behaviours are having on an industry that was- for the most part at least – in charge of its own course. As banking turns to more digital fronts, it is having to adapt to the needs of the people that utilise its services. Many long-standing establishments have become defined, as a result, by resistance, as they cling to the practices of yesteryear.
This has led to a rise in so-called ‘Challenger Banks’ who have adopted an innovative outlook to capitalise on the market’s new customer-centric ethos. But what happens when a more traditional brick and mortar bank follows this path? And, more appropriately, how has Azizi Bank in particular become a paragon on the field, reaping the rewards where their peers and competitors have floundered? Dr Omaid explains more.
“This institution is the outcome of the professional and entrepreneurial commitment of its founder, Mr. Merwais Azizi, and its top management team to establish a high-quality, customer-centric, servicedriven, private Afghan Bank catering entirely to the future businesses of the country. Having formed in 2006, the bank today has more than eighty branches and more than 100 ATMs and, along with its 100% subsidiary bank The Islamic Bank of Afghanistan, has the highest network of branches and ATMs in the country.
“The vision of the bank is to evolve into a professionally managed technologically advanced bank with world-class cost-effective products and services, following the best international practices and contributing to the national economy and adding value to its stakeholders. Its mission is to provide excellent professional services with the usage of the latest technology with an eye on a sustained corporate social responsibility and maintain its commitment towards all its customers, staff, shareholders and stakeholders.”
Ultimately, Azizi Bank has thrived through a dedication to its five founding values: Operational Excellence, Customer Focus, Product Leadership, People and Sustainability. More impressively, the bank has secured sustained growth year on year despite substantial challenges in the country, acting as testament to the strength of their offerings and ethos. “Azizi Bank’s key clients includes retail and corporate bodies, trade finance and remittance businesses. Afghanistan is an import-driven economy with more than 90% of the goods imported into the country. It is also an USD driven economy. Afghanistan is also a challenging economy, with its own political challenges over the last two decades and beyond.
The country was under the FATF sanctions until June 2017 where it was barred from having any USD inter-bank cooperation with banks around the world. This issue of USD Nostro is still a big challenge in the country with most of the banks.” Dr Omaid continues, moving on to discuss the importance of client service to the bank’s ongoing development and operations. “Azizi Bank ensures prima facie importance on customer service. It believes this important aspect as the most important factor of its sustained growth. The bank ensures regular training of its employees to guarantee exceptional customer service. Classes and training programs on the various aspects of customer service are held regularly in the training room of the bank. Employees are also sent to attend international training programs on customer relations and effective service. Regular monitoring of the same is done by the head office official and specially incorporated customer service cell in the bank.”
To make sure that the bank remains in-line with the needs of their customers, Azizi Bank regularly conducts market research, as Dr Omaid sheds more light on their efforts. “Azizi Bank is dedicated to conducting comprehensive market research to understand customer requirements. Afghanistan is a niche country in terms of new banking indicatives as only 10-11% of the people are banking, as per the Central Bank’s report, and Afghanistan is an Islamic nation. This opens up the opportunity to create products as per the requirement. This is the reason why Azizi Bank converted its 100% subsidiary bank into a full-fledged Islamic bank. Additionally, more than 70% of the population in the country are mobile savvy, and this is the reason why Azizi Bank have developed mobilebased technologies to bring more and more customers into the banking fray.”
The conversation soon turns to things of a more corporate nature: namely, governance policies and the crucial role that they play in outlining the bank’s goals and future. “Azizi Bank ensures responsible and value-driven management practices are adhered to throughout its system of corporate governance, which is built on key elements of discipline, transparency, independence and fairness. As it strengthens its presence, Azizi Bank continues to review compliance, risk management skills, systems & 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.”
Here Dr Omaid takes a moment to discuss each of Azizi Bank’s core characteristics in more detail. “In relation to discipline, we ensure that all employees and senior management members are committed to adhering to procedures, processes and hierarchies established by the bank. These are recognised and deemed to be correct and proper. Transparency remains critically important and mentioned in almost every policy. All actions implemented and the procedures that led to them are always available for inspection by authorised entities and stakeholders.
“Similarly, mechanisms and regulations have been put in place to minimise or entirely avoid potential conflicts of interests such as undue dominance by the Chairman, Chief Executive or other shareholders. This mechanism ranges from the composition of the board to committee appointments and involve external parties such as auditors. Azizi Bank remains committed to independence. Moreover, Azizi Bank believes that responsible management would, whenever necessary, take appropriate actions to set and keep the bank on the right path. Whilst the board is accountable to the bank, it must act responsively to and with the responsibility towards all stakeholders. The individuals and committees who make decisions and take actions are truly help accountable for those decision and actions. Lastly, Azizi Bank believes in ‘fairness’, and each of the bank’s systems are balanced and take into account all those who have an interest in the bank and its future. The rights of the various groups involved have to be acknowledge and respected.”
Dr. Omaid also spoke about their strategic plan, which details the banks goals through 2022. He reiterated that strategic planning is the process of determining the organization’s long term objectives and establishing the goals necessary to achieve them. The process involves in-depth analysis of current and anticipated conditions that may affect the organization’s ability to achieve the mission.
Finally, it would be remiss to not mention Azizi Bank’s considerable efforts in the area of corporate social responsibility over the last few years. In his closing comments, Dr Omaid details some of the bank’s more recent and significant ventures. “Azizi Bank has taken a strong lead in Corporate Social Responsibility initiatives by providing aid and financial assistance to local educational institutions which include schools, colleges, universities and NGOs. The bank has also engaged itself with relevant ministries in supporting female empowerment, cultural enhancement and environmental sustainability initiatives. Recently the bank involved itself with the municipality to see a Greener Afghanistan and planted trees across the country.
“Azizi Bank planted more than 10,000 trees in Kabul and other provincial locations as part of this campaign. We provided financial assistance to the Ministry of Women Affairs for the treatment of breast cancer on International Women’s Day. Furthermore, the bank is working in association with the Ministry to sponsor the event, “Empowering Afghan Through Access to Financial Services, alongside financing for the creation of job opportunities for women. In coordination with the National Blood Bank, Kabul organised blood donation campaigns at the head office. More than 100,000 ccs of blood were collected during the campaign. Lastly, Azizi Bank is promoting child education in the country, and encouraging initiatives to stop food wastes and other environmental sustainability initiatives like Save Water, Clean Air, Avoid Pollution etc.”