Financial ExpertSpeak: Fierce competition in Mauritius banking sector
The CEO of Bramer Bank said that margins have been under pressure and with increasing regulations, banking business has become seriously challenging.
Ashraf Esmael, CEO, Bramer Bank, opened up to AfricaMoney on how the Mauritian banking sector requires innovation, regional diversification and constant technological monitoring to retain its competitive edge in the future. Our financial expert also commented on the current landscape of fierce competition in the banking sector, where margins have been under pressure, and business has become seriously challenging with increasing regulations.
Edited excerpts from an interview:
Bramer Bank was recognized as the fastest growing bank in Mauritius at the International Finance Awards in December. What were the key factors behind this win?
Since its very creation, Bramer Bank has empowered itself to achieve its vision of becoming a leading banking institution in Mauritius and the region. In line with a clear strategic plan, significant investments were made with regards to the modernization of its core banking system, the creation of an eBanking platform, the strengthening of its human capital, the extension of its geographical footprint across the country (from 6 to 20 branches and 5 to 28 ATMs) to be closer to the customer and the development of new product lines such as credit cards and new business segments such as private and international banking.
A clear vision and intense focus, combined with key strategic investments as well as a young and talented team of professionals have all contributed to bring the Bank to new heights.
As one of the fastest growing banks in Mauritius, with Total Assets exceeding USD 410 million and with over 80,000 customers across Retail, Private, Business and International Banking, what is your success mantra?
Our Mission Statement is our success mantra: To generate enhanced shareholder returns through delivery of excellent, differentiated banking products and services to growing businesses and aspiring individuals. It is through the realization of this ideal every single day that we constantly raise the bar higher and dream beyond what is possible.
Bramer Bank recently announced a merger with a major African bank. How is the bank expecting to leverage this development for its Africa strategy?
Indeed, Bramer Bank issued a statement on the 11th February 2014 to announce that it has entered into an MOU to initiate discussions with an African Bank for a merger or amalgamation of their respective businesses to create a larger banking concern that would operate across Africa.
The Board of Directors of Bramer Bank believes that this represents a formidable opportunity for it to capitalize on the growth potential of the African continent. The merged entity will benefit from its presence both in Mauritius, an international financial jurisdiction, and the African market to offer a wider range of banking services and products, create operational efficiencies and enhance execution capabilities.
Bramer Bank has ambitious plans for growth and development in the region and already has considerable exposure in the region over the past few years. The opportunity to work with a major African bank would mean direct access to a massive market where there is growing demand for robust financial products and services.
What geographies and segments does Bramer Bank plan to focus on for 2014?
Bramer Bank forms part of a large diversified group, the British American Investment Group, the 3rd biggest conglomerate in Mauritius that has interests in financial services, trade & commerce, and services. The BA Investment Group has an established presence of over 40 years in Mauritius and has operations in Africa, Europe and Asia.
Bramer Bank is set to expand its footprint in the region in line with the country’s vision to transform Mauritius into a regional business and financial services hub. It will leverage on the BA Investment networks to expand its activities across and beyond the continent; starting with the announced merger talks to create a larger banking concern that would operate across Africa.
Currently, Bramer Bank serves four segments: ‘retail’, ‘business’, ‘international’ and ‘private’. It remains a universal bank offering a range of products and services to a selected number of customer segments. However, in recent years, the share of business for International and Private Banking segments is steadily growing as a result of the desire of the Bank to develop these niches and will undoubtedly continue to foster growth in the current year.
The Bank is currently on the lookout for a Chief Operating Officer to strengthen its management team. How is the COO expected to contribute to the wider strategy of the bank?
The Chief Operating Officer will need to ensure that the Bank’s systems and operational infrastructure support outstanding execution of its strategic initiatives and have robust internal controls in place to consolidate Bramer Bank’s market position in the retail banking segment.
Bramer Bank believes in keeping customers at the centre of its focus and delivering excellent customer service is a key priority. The COO will be expected to continually work towards improving our service delivery platforms.
The Bank has been going from strength to strength since its merger with Mauritius Leasing in May 2012. Can you mention some of the key benefits from this restructuring?
The merger between Bramer Bank and Mauritius Leasing in May 2012 aimed at combining the expertise and client franchise of these two institutions. It is the realization of a shared vision to provide a more comprehensive service and a wider range of financial solutions under one roof to the combined client base of these two financial institutions.
The most visible event was the rebranding exercise in May 2012 which saw the birth of three other brands, ‘Bramer Leasing’, ‘Bramer Micro Finance’ and ‘Bramer Private Banking’. Over the months following the merger, a synergy emerged between the various components of these two entities, with necessary adjustments on a human, organizational and customer relationship level. Here, I wish to acknowledge and thank our employees who have contributed to the success of the merger and set the right foundations for the new larger entity which enabled us to reap the rewards of this shared vision.
With a Sustainability index planned by the SEM, how is Bramer Bank planning to leverage this platform to showcase its green accounting practices?
The implementation of a Sustainability index by the SEM is a great initiative since the investors would be able to assess companies on their commitment to long-term economic, social and environmental asset management plans. Such an index can be modelled on the Dow Jones Sustainability Indexes (DJSI) which are the longest-running global sustainability benchmarks worldwide and have become the key reference point in sustainability investing for investors and companies alike.
We are already known for the preservation of the Mauritian architectural legacy through the refurbishing of a historical building located in the buffer zone of the Aapravasi Ghat World Heritage Site to house our new headquarters since November 2013. Bramer Bank is also actively engaged on the preservation of the environment and will soon be moving the bulk of its back office operations to Bramer House in Ebène, a building that has been awarded in the category “Green Design, Building, Development and Land Use” in the Green Africa Awards 2012.
Please tell us your views of the Mauritian banking sector and the way forward for Mauritius as it becomes an international financial centre.
The banking sector’s performance is closely linked to the Mauritian economy itself which is dependent on our various export markets. Thus, the current sluggish economic climate is reflected in the consolidated profits for the sector, which fell by 8% in 2012.
However, the banking sector in Mauritius remains strong, with good capitalization, substantial investment and innovation, as emphasized by the World Economic Forum and the latest Global Competiveness Report.
Competition is fierce in the banking sector both on the business and retail fronts with 21 banks for a population of around 1.3 million. Margins have been under pressure and with increasing regulations, banking business has become seriously challenging. However, with the positioning of Mauritius as a regional and international financial centre and increased investment/trade activity in the Africa/Asia corridor, there is scope to grow the business significantly.
On a broader perspective, the financial services sector performance in Mauritius remains respectable in 2013 with an estimated annual growth higher than 4% and contributing to over 10% of the Gross Domestic Product of the country and becoming, in recent years, one of the major economic pillars for the country together with other key sectors like agriculture, manufacturing and tourism.
The Mauritian banking sector requires innovation, regional diversification and constant technology monitoring to remain competitive in the future and to be able to capitalise on the emerging regional markets.
Finally, could you please share with us your outlook on the Mauritian economy?
The economic outlook for Mauritius remains overall positive, but remains contingent on external conditions and economic reforms. The GDP growth, around 3.7 – 4%, is expected to be driven by financial services and manufacturing sectors amid stagnation in tourism and contraction in construction sectors. The fiscal consolidation programs in advanced economies and the increasing debt and financial worries in Europe continue to affect the Mauritian economy despite recent efforts to diversify our export markets.
We believe a strong performance by the financial sector coupled with sustained growth in the export oriented sectors (manufacturing and tourism) will continue to support economic growth in 2014. The financial services sector of Mauritius remains one of the most important economic pillars of the economy with a sustained GDP contribution of over 10% and an average growth higher than 4% over the last 3 years. The future of the sector is indeed very promising as a growing number of operators look at establishing footprints locally across various sub-sectors, ranging from global business and investment banking to investment advisory, management and structuring, broking services and international legal services with a view to capitalising on emerging opportunities in the Africa-Asia corridor.