Rwanda Commercial Bank (BCR) has turned around its operations to become one of the country’s most profitable financial intuitions.
The bank was sold to UK’s private equity outfit, Actis, in 2004 as part of government’s privatisation policy. Actis owns 80 per cent shares in BCR while the government of Rwanda holds the remaining 20 per cent.
Sajeev Anand, its Managing Director joined the joined the bank at a time when it was facing internal problems with industry experts suggesting it was headed for another round of sale.
Although he joined the accounting profession by twist-of-fate, once given the job, the Indian national was able to use his experience to streamline BCR’s operations and restructure it to become one of the country’s best banks.
Before his appointment in May 2009, he worked in various businesses and held a number of senior positions in Africa, Asia and Europe. In all, he has over 25 years of experience in corporate, investment and retail banking.
“I was attracted to BCR because at the time I came to Rwanda, it was not doing very well on the market and yet, it had a good customer base, good products and a deep potential to perform better. I think it lacked good management and I thought that if I offered it the necessary ingredient, it had the ability to turn into a dominant bank once again,” Anand told the Business Times.
“It was not just cost cutting we had to do, we changed processes at BCR and looked at every element of expense to see if they were required or not. We reviewed our insurance coverage, staffing levels, outsource services, payments and maintenance and took critical actions.”
It is from these drastic actions that turned BCR into the second best bank by cost-income ratio in 2010, at 73 per cent, dropping from 92 per cent in 2009 and 89 per cent in 2010.
“My message to the market is that; yes we had some problems; we however worked hard and fixed them in a very short period of about six to eight months.
“The issues are behind us and today we have one of the best capital levels, one of the highest levels of liquidity, offer attractive products that cater for every segment of the market, be it retail, SME or corporate.”
In short, he says, they focused on crisis management and in 2010, it was all about internal cleaning by improving efficiency, the cost-income ratio, and the customer base.
This year, BCR is fully ready for business.
When he first arrived, Anand was encouraged by Rwanda’s impressive economic reforms and policies, which provided him with a good platform for his work.
“I find Rwanda a very orderly place; it is a clean environment, has zero tolerance to corruption, good rules and regulations, fast paced infrastructure development, in general, the policies are obviously taking the country to the next level.
“This certain order and system by which things are being done is what encouraged me to work in Rwanda, and also is what many business people want to see. It is not like in some other countries where things happen by chance.”
Anand says that the local banking sector is moving forward, although it still faces underlying setbacks particularly with newly implemented payment systems.
“The introduction of new payment systems in any country is a very major and exhaustive exercise. I have implemented them in countries like Zambia, Nigeria, Poland and every one of them took at least eight months to one year to be fully implemented.
“I will not say that the problems are unique to Rwanda. As a matter of fact, Rwanda has done relatively better than other countries.
New payment systems were introduced here in February, and for the first time in six months, I can say that they have at least stabilised.”
Considering the inefficiency of Automated teller machines (ATMs) in the country, the experienced banker notes that although it is not correct to enter into a blame game between the operators and the banks, the machines do not operate to required standards.
“ATMs are having an average of 80 per cent uptime (Time during which they are in operation), which is unacceptable by any standards. ATMs must operate at least 95 per cent uptime. The good sign is that SIMTEL as the operator, the central bank and the sector are all working hard to find a solution as soon as possible,” he said.
From his history, Anand believes that people are not born as successful entrepreneurs but become so through sweat and commitment.
“I started my studies in accountancy when I graduated from high school yet my passion at that time was doing sciences. Although I was set to join medical school, my best friends went into accountancy and I felt like I did not want to be the black sheep so I simply joined accountancy school for the sake.
“I performed poorly in my first two years of college simply because I did not like what I was doing. But before I knew it, I started enjoying it and when I finally graduated, I got my first job at City Bank (India) and my passion increased.”
His passion for finance and accounting has made to travel alot since 1993.
“For 18 years now my family has been moving around the world because they enjoy supporting my work. Currently, I live with my wife in Kigali while my son studies medical science in the USA,” Anand added.
During his career, Anand has been associated with several landmark transactions in sectors such as oil, gas, telecommunications and airlines amongst others. He was also one of the pioneers of new bank payments systems as well as the SME financing programs.
He currently acts as the Chairman of Rwanda’s Leasing Association, Deputy Chairman of Rwanda Banking and Rwanda’s Chairman in the East African Banking Association.