Mr. Arif Usmani


1.The current government has now been in power for over six months. How do you see Pakistan evolving under the PTI government?

My personal view is that fundamentally the government came into power on the platform of transparency and governance to build institutions and to alleviate poverty. I believe that the combination of change at the top in terms of governance and transparency will lead to progress in the fight against poverty. Pakistan is a poor country and it has serious issues in terms of getting people out of poverty as the instruments, institutions and corporate help is lacking. The government is also trying to ensure most of the economy is formal which will help in the generation of tax and revenues.

We all have to be patient because it takes time when you make fundamental changes in a country. We speak to business leaders all across the country and I believe most are cautiously watching the government and are encouraged by some of the fundamental changes taking place. The National Bank of Pakistan is the largest public sector bank and is a key public institution. We want us to showcase transparency and good governance.

2. The Banking Industry has seen an impressive growth in the last few years but Pakistan is home to 100 million adults without a bank account, with 13% adults citing religious concerns as a reason for not having an account at a financial institution. Please give us your output of the banking space in Pakistan and how can it be improved?

Our stated strategy is financial inclusion; we want more people to have access to banking services. I do not believe traditional ways will get us there. The strategy has to be digital, using the latest technologies in order to access the people who do not have a bank account. We have 8 million accounts in National Bank, 350,000 telecom agents across the country deliver cash against remittances so financial inclusion is probably not measured accurately. I do not believe the number is as low as the government feels but whether they have access to credit is another matter.

We have to support financial institutions that are lending where the banks do not lend. We recently met 8 NBFIs companies with a combined portfolio of around 8 Billion Rupees which have zero access to credit and are financing their operations through equity. They finance micro-loans and their credit track record was amazing. Through the Pakistan micro-finance network, they are trying to put all of these companies together under one umbrella in order to collectively up-tier the industry’s reporting standards so that banks can get comfortable and expand access to credit. There is a tremendous opportunity for National Bank of Pakistan in supporting such organizations. We are looking to lend into that sector directly and indirectly through these non-banking financial institution (NBFI) and micro finance banks.

Secondly, we have to capitalize on the use of technology and leap forward in terms of the digital space in the way we do business. We have to transform ourselves. There is a tremendous potential in creating specialist units to support government efforts for poverty alleviation, which is at the centre of its plans.

3. National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) is a major state-owned Pakistani bank where the State Bank of Pakistan is the major shareholder. The bank provides both, commercial and public sector banking services. What are your objectives for 2019?

The objective is to reorganize the bank’s way of working to be more efficient, responsive to clients’ needs and technology driven. It does not need to be a disruptive transformation but a balanced change.

4. The National Bank of Pakistan has posted a standalone Profit Before provision of Rs. 41 billion for full year 2018 which is 11.4% higher than Rs 36.8 billion for the year 2017. It has recorded the highest earning of Rs 96.9 billion for the year 2018; 13.6% higher than Rs 85.3 billion of the previous year. How has the bank achieved such important profits?

Banks make money through growth and assets in the right segments and this is what we have done; we have increased deposits and assets significantly. We have achieved growth that other banks have been unable to replicate 10-15% growth year after year is a big achievement for a very large financial institution. As long as your business momentum is increasing the revenues will keep coming in.

We made sure that our business was run more efficiently and we looked towards increasing cross sell income. I believe cost and income ratio needs to be balanced, it is at 58% at the moment, we want it to go below 50% by the end of 2020.

5. The government has tasked the state-owned National Bank of Pakistan (NBP) with stepping up efforts to attract higher worker remittances into the country’s foreign currency reserves and help increase foreign income to fix the faltering national economy. Can you tell us more about this project?

First of all we are looking at educating people on sending money through official channels. We have started making trips to worker’s camps abroad and we are encouraging them to use the banking system. They do lose some money because of the official exchange rates so in order to encourage them we are planning some incentive schemes such as health cards for their families. Pakistan should be getting 30-35 Billion US dollars a year of remittances as opposed to the current 18-20 Billion US dollars. We are in the process of facilitating digital remittance for overseas Pakistanis.

6. There is a lack of long-term financing in the economy. What is the National Bank of Pakistan doing to change this? Are you offering housing finance and mortgages?

Housing is one of the three pillars that we focus on; which are agriculture, housing and SMEs. I do not want to look at housing in the narrow sense of mortgages, as there are 40 allied industries that are associated with housing; we plan on supporting all verticals. The government itself is supporting housing and has incentivized the banks by offering them refinancing and lower taxes. The Five Million Housing Plan by Prime Minister is an aspirational goal and we will support it by developing reliable financial models.

7. You have an international presence through your branches and subsidiaries in the Far East, Middle East, South Asia, Central Asia, Europe and North America. What is your international development strategy?

First of all, being present in the US itself is a challenge, there are regulatory constraints that need to be respected and we are managing this in a proactive and disciplined manner.

As far as branches in all other countries are concerned our business has to be focused on trade finance. We need to act as ambassadors of Pakistan in these countries and offer our services to potential investors. I am currently talking to the country represent to redefine their strategic intent and see what is the most appropriate business model.

8. Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is an integral part of NBP’s corporate policy. The NBP has been awarded with the “Gold Medal on CSR” by the Prime Minister of Pakistan on basis of overall NBP contributions and donations for charitable, social, educational and public welfare purposes. How important is CSR for the NBP and in which CSR projects are you involved in?

CSR has to be reflected across the entire spectrum of our business and it has to be built into the system rather than donations being showcased for the good conscience of the firm.

When it comes to financial education for SMEs who’s rate of default is very high, I want to start a program called “license to borrow” in which the licenses to borrow will be issued to SME’s who will have attended training sessions on how to ‘use’ their loans. The benefit of this program would be to improve discipline in these businesses and to offer SME’s lower interest rate as a result of them adapting better corporate discipline.

9. You have over 35 years of experience across several geographic markets and areas in various banking disciplines, including a number of critical management positions in the Asia Pacific Region. You are now president and CEO at National Bank of Pakistan, what do you feel most proud of?

I have been in very difficult markets such as some African countries and Slovakia. My expertise is developing good business in difficult markets. The lessons that I have learnt while working in these markets is that once you understand how a segment works, then there is always good business to be found. This is what I am bringing to Pakistan and to NBP; I always tell my team of younger relationship managers that their job is to find me people with the right character. Personally I am proud of the fact that I have professionally developed skills and can contribute to my country at this stage of my career.

10. What is your final message to the readers of USA Today who consider Pakistan as a potential investment destination or are looking for potential partnerships in the banking sector?

My message is that Pakistan has got tremendous resources, both intellectual and natural. The latter are still relatively under-explored. The Province of Balochistan deserves a very special mention here; it is a gold mine with a lot of under explored resources. Once we can establish a peaceful working environment with transparency and clean governance, this place will explode with opportunities.

If you come in and bring a sensible project, you will find a positive and supportive banking infrastructure and we will welcome you with open arms. NBP can be your preferred partner.