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‘We are committed to treating customers humanely’

Interview with Mohammad Ali, Deputy Managing Director and Chief Technology Officer, Pubali Bank Ltd.

 

Photo: Arif Mahmud Riad

Mohammad Ali wears two hats as a member of the Pubali Bank’s core management team. He’s the deputy managing director as well as the chief technology officer.

In a previous interview with Fintech, Ali talked about how these two roles merged and a range of other topics.

Two years later Mohammad Ali talks to Fintech again, giving all that has been happening at the bank and his take on important issues in the country’s banking sector.

We spoke with you two years ago. Bring us up to date on what’s been happening at Pubali Bank.

We have had good progress both financially and in technology. Our profit last year has been close to Tk100 crore. Compared to the current instability in the banking sector we are in a compliant position.

We have also worked extensively on our MI system, decision support system, audit system, etc. There have been some changes in the human resource management. We worked on our ERP system and banking system as well.

On the technology front, we have created a mobile app, interlinked with equity and integrated banking. We have connected API to much of our remittance.

We strengthened our internet banking, we have built about 100 new ATM booths, taking the total number up to 200 booths, and we have had 80% growth in our cards. We had about one lakh cards when we started, which has now reached two lakh. Also cards are now chip based.

We have restructured and redesigned our data centre. We have invested heavily in IT security. We are working on advanced malware for our firewall. Overall, we have worked a lot both on hardware and software in the past couple of years.

We have a very strong focus on the app now. It’s kind of like a financial Facebook in a way. You can invite people in it from outside of the Pubali Bank customer base. They can join and exchange financial messages.

We have planned to integrate a part with merchants. We will even include small local shops. The idea is to provide room for customers. If Google search wasn’t free it wouldn’t have gotten where it is now. Similarly we will focus on deposit, processing that, granting advance. We have even employed three to four people in each of our branches. We are investing a lot for this without charging the customers. So, Pubali Bank is providing a free payment system in a way. Our business is to get deposits through these free services. And that will provide us with investment.

Bangladesh Bank favours 9% and 6% interest rates for loans and deposits respectively. Why is this not more flexible?

Actually there is no official directive by Bangladesh Bank instructing this. The reason is that Bangladesh Bank cannot dictate the market.  The bank owners agreed among themselves on the numbers.

A big factor here is the government organizations. The government corporations are not giving 6% deposit. In that case, how can private organizations ensure 8%?

On our part, we have brought down a lot of the loan interests to single digit, with only one or two now in the double digits. Those are on the way to come down to single digit. Only 10/12 years ago the rate was up to 18%. When an economy develops you have to bring down the interest rate. After five or six years 9% would seem high.

Where there is a Bangladesh Bank direction, like for industrial area, SME, we have brought the percentage down to 9.

You have been quite successful in recovery. Tell us about that.

We have very strong monitoring. We have a taskforce community. Our slogan is ‘Don’t mind the divisions, recovery is everyone’s area.’ Our taskforce makes four visits each year. We go to the customers and we are connected to the customers.

When you have a deceased customer or someone that lost their business we try to settle in a way so everyone gains. Depending on the case, we may waive the suspense interest. We are committed to treating customers humanely. But we are very strict about intentional defaulters and make no compromise there.

The World Bank recently identified Bangladesh’s banking sector as the most volatile. What are your thoughts on this?

When an economy is in transition, you will see imbalanced growth. The World Bank, IMF makes observations like that. Yes, of course, there are issues with good governance in some places. There is an impact of that too. But like I said, this can happen in transition periods. But this settles down again.

Some banks were in a weak position, but they have recovered. Banking sector is very much reliant on corporate governance and any interference creates problem. I can speak for us. We have established corporate governance and we are strong here.

Talk a little bit about any upcoming project. 

We are creating Security Operation and Control Sector in IT. We have also taken initiative for 24/7 monitoring of our transactions and it will be implemented soon.

We will connect all the expats, exchange houses and banks through API.

Compared to your competitors, how do you rate your technological infrastructure? Also talk a little bit about your marketing strategy in light of marketing through digital channels.  

We have social media presence. We carry out promotional programs on Facebook. Video content with information of our products go online.

We post short clips of our events on YouTube. Social media are the main front for our digital marketing.

In terms of technology, we are very much ahead in core banking. All our branches are covered under our core banking and ours is the country’s biggest online network. We are real time capable and all developed in house. We have strong ERP solution to strengthen good governance.

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