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BPR awarded overall best exhibitor at RITF 2019, blossoms into vitality

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With forty four years of operations, BPR has maintained unwavering commitment to serving all Rwandans to meet their financial needs and supporting business growth aligning with its target of taking the lead as the people’s bank, winning customers’ and stakeholders’ trust.

It is against this background that Banque Populaire du Rwanda Plc. (BPR Plc.) has deservingly scooped the overall best exhibitor award at the recently concluded 22nd Rwanda International Trade Fair 2019 (RITF 2019) that run from 22nd July to 11th August 2019 at the Gikondo Expo grounds. The bank received the award at a colorful event that took place on Friday 9th August 2019 at Intare Arena in Rusororo, marking the closure of the 22nd RITF.

During the trade fair, the bank had an eye-catching stand where it showcased decentralized services and provided deeper insights into a variety of saving accounts tailored to different client segments. It also designed products and services on how one can secure mortgage and a car loan with the bank at affordable interest rates.

The Managing Director of BPR, Maurice K. Toroitich on 20th August 2019 told the media that the bank’s journey has been full of transformation and growth that emerging the overall best exhibitor reflects outstanding services offered at the bank.

“It was an honor and privilege to receive the best overall exhibitor award at the Rwanda International Trade Fair 2019. It gives us strength to keep the momentum, striving to maintain the lead,” Toroitich said.

He explained that BPR has come a very long way in modernizing what it offers to customers, improving the quality of services to step up efforts in managing relationships with customers and improving internal capacity and competencies to be able to meet the needs of customers more diligently.

“Taking that from day to day lives, in business units and branches to the trade fair, was an exhibition of who we are and who we believe we are as a bank every day,” emphasized Toroitich.

“When we were recognized as the best overall exhibitor, of course we had a beautiful stand but most important for us, is that what we were doing inside that stand; a reflection of the kind of services that are already taking root and being experienced by our customers across the different touch-points,” he added. These include branches, Automated Teller Machines (ATMs), digital banking platforms i.e.; interacting with the bank through the mobile phone and internet banking platforms.

For the past 22 years, the Private Sector Federation (PSF) in partnership with the Ministry of Trade and Industry (MINICOM) has been organizing Annual Rwanda International Trade fairs. This year’s exhibition attracted over 450,000 visitors who interacted with over 500 exhibitors from over 25 countries exhibiting different products and services in various sectors ranging from financial services, telecom, and manufactured commodities, among others.

It is not the first time the bank was awarded during the international trade fairs organized by PSF. BPR scooped the Best Customer Service Exhibitor of the 21st Rwanda International Trade Fair which was held from 26th July -15th August 2018.

Apart from exhibited products and services, BPR MD revealed that the bank is set to inaugurate new offices and unveil an upgraded mobile banking platform that will offer a lot more services to clients than before. The upgrade is planned to be implemented in a few months. The upgraded platform will give customers options to open accounts instantly by themselves and access micro lending services among others.

State of the art offices

BPR is preparing to move to its new head offices expected to improve service delivery and enhance effective and real-time communication while processing clients’ requests, a designated Digital space accessible to all customers in the banking hall, all designed to fast-track and improve customer experience while banking with BPR.

Developed in partnership with Property Developers, BPR invested US$ 20 million in the construction of new head offices.

The new building yet to be inaugurated is an addition to existing expansion plans where it has been upgrading offices at different branches to improve customers’ experience.

At the beginning of 2019, BPR Atlas Mara re-opened four branches in Kigali city; Nyabugogo and Gisozi branches and re-located other two in Nyarugenge inside MIC Building, a merger of the former Rubangura and Muhima branches, and another in Gasabo District inside KBC on the ground floor from the former Kacyiru Branch.

The move was part of the bank’s long journey to modernize and rationalize by revamping into a more vibrant service delivery with strategic and business oriented infrastructure.

Walking with people to meet financial needs

From a humble beginning, BPR has grown to offer customers a wide range of services and products to spur their financial growth and meet personal needs. It offers home loans, vehicle loans, education loans at affordable interest rates and has different current and saving accounts for people of all age brackets.

The BPR journey started in 1975 in Nkamba village presently Ruramira sector in Kayonza district of Eastern Province, by a group of ordinary Rwandans with extraordinary dreams. They wanted access to finance to help them achieve better livelihoods. This is how the first Bank Populaire was born.

Subsequently, other community based savings and credit schemes were born in other areas of Rwanda becoming autonomous with “Banques Populaires”.

The growth of these savings and credit schemes and their significance in financial inclusion led to the formation of an umbrella institution in 1986 under the name “Union des Banques Populaires du Rwanda (UBPR).

Early 2000, BPR was basically a cooperative with autonomous little cooperatives operating in the village run by the people from the communities and the offering in terms of service was very limited. It was basically save and borrow in a very limited way.

In 2008, BPR was transformed to become a fully-fledged commercial bank while retaining its cooperative roots. It was the beginning of the transformational journey the bank is still undergoing.

Between 2009 and 2012, BPR had a big task to put together all these cooperatives and run as a proper bank.

Automated transactions

Transactions had not yet been automated though it started operating as a commercial bank.

A customer would only be served by one particular branch which has all previous banking transactions.

Driven by its vision to serve all people, BPR made constant upgrading that saw the bank becoming fully automated overtime to serve retail customers, SMEs and corporate customers all at once.

Today, all BPR branches are connected that a customer can be served in one of the 186 branches countrywide.

According to the Managing Director of BPR, Maurice Toroitich, the milestone required a lot of investment in technology, training of staff, acquisition of new staff, improvement of the processing environment, processes, systems and policies.

All that was meant to move from old cooperative systems to a proper commercial bank, initially with old systems but now with new systems that connect branches.

That was not enough because the bank had to upgrade into things like ATMs, Mobile Banking introduced at BPR in 2012.

Toroitich explained that it was part of the vision to be able to serve as many people in the bottom of the pyramid in a very efficient way.

Very long time ago, the bank was not profitable, it was not generating tangible return for each shareholder, and its life looked stagnant.

In 2013, the bank was struggling because of capital constraints. It was not able to do major transactions in the market, not lending money to big companies, and was basically focused on small businesses in the rural areas and profitability was a challenge.

With increased investment in the bank, BPR gradually recorded solid progress that enabled the bank to maintain trust among customers.

In April 2015 Atlas Mara Limited (“Atlas Mara” or “the Company”) ( LSE : ATMA ), a financial services holding company with subsidiaries and investments in Botswana, Germany, Mozambique, Nigeria, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania, Zambia and Zimbabwe, acquired minority shares in BPR and later in 2016 it merged BPR with the commercial banking wing of the Development Bank of Rwanda (BRD) that it had acquired in 2014 giving Atlas Mara the controlling stake in BPR with 62.1% of shares, strategic partner Arise remaining with 14.6% and 23.3% retained by Local Shareholders.

“When Atlas Mara came in 2016, we had new breath of fresh air with new capital coming to the bank, new connectivity to a more regional and global organization and so certainly from being a more retail bank, BPR is such a bank which can now compete at any other bank in corporate banking, Small and Medium Enterprises’ banking and personal banking,” says BPR MD Toroitich.

Since then BPR has seen the performance steadily improving from a break position in 2016, to a profit of Rwf 1 billion in 2017, Rwf 4 billion in 2018.

“That is the kind of growth path that we are looking at .Ultimately, the goal is to begin to generate the right level of return to the investment in the business apart from getting the services. They want to get a return from the money they put in and we believe that journey is already in progress,” assures Toroitich.

Projections

All improvements that BPR is making in mobile banking, internet banking and upgrading online payments solutions for SMEs and corporates are among efforts promising to turn dreams into reality.

“That is now coming on stream. A lot of services will be available to customers on self-service basis. This means we are giving convenience to customers, we are reducing the cost on the side of the bank, and positioning customers to be able to do their businesses a lot better and that is apparently how it is today because the bank is in their pocket and their office,” said Toroitich .

“The job we will be left to do is discussing how we might be able to provide better services to customers, more credit to them, how we might be able to raise more capital for the bank and boosting collaboration with customers,” he stressed.

With ongoing upgrading, the services available will be a lot more in the new upgraded platform  giving customers options to open accounts online themselves contrary to existing systems where a customer’s only choice was to go to BPR branch to fill up a form to open an account.

Customers in remote areas will just need to have the USSD code or the mobile app and can be able to create their own accounts in the bank using ID number, receive a mobile banking password that they will be required to change to their own passwords and immediately begin transacting with their accounts.

If the account is open, they can transfer from other wallets like mobile money to the bank account and vice versa or can go to an agent to withdraw the money.

“We want as many as possible services that are currently offered by physical branch to be made available on mobile banking application or internet banking enabling to process more transactions, “emphasized BPR MD.

Reducing base lending rate

BPR has recently announced a reduction in its base lending rates from 16.5% to 14.5% a move that is aimed at aligning its loan pricing policy to global best practices and also assess the risk of its customers and assign differentiated pricing between different types of customers and products and also ensure that the interest rates charged to customers are aligned to changes in money market conditions and risk profile of each loan amount granted.

Improved non-performing loans

80% of BPR customers are from personal and Small and Medium Enterprises customers with the rest (20%) being corporate. The bank’s rate of non-performing loans declined from 13% three years ago to 7.8% currently and targets 5%.

Growing with communities

As a people’s bank, BPR attaches great importance to supporting the community.  In 2009, BPR donated Rwf 9 million towards the One Dollar Campaign, an initiative aimed at raising money to build accommodation facilities for orphans of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi. The campaign initiated by the Rwandan Diaspora aimed at getting housing for 600 orphans.

In 2011, BPR donated 10 Friesian cows worth Rwf5 million to residents of Nkamba Village in Ruramira Sector, Kayonza District.

Later in 2012, the management of BPR initiated a Short Message Service (SMS) program aimed at mobilizing the public to donate to differently-abled people.

Through the initiative known as Fasha Gatagara (Help disabled people in Gatagara), one donated a minimum of Rwf 500 by sending an SMS to 3727.

During the commemoration of the African Child day held on 16th June 2012, BPR donated Rwf 15 million to cater for household equipment for physically challenged children in Gatagara.

Among others, Banque Populaire du Rwanda in April 2019 donated Rwf 10 million of which Rwf 8 million was allocated to improving welfare of survivors of the 1994 Genocide against the Tutsi in Ruramira sector of Kayonza district while the rest (Rwf 2 million) was meant to support the maintenance of  Nkamba Genocide Memorial.

Recently, BPR staff donated blood in support of the world blood donation day that was celebrated worldwide on 14th of July 2019.

In February 2019, BPR received a delegation of residents from Nkamba village, Ruramira sector of Kayonza district in Eastern Province who visited facilities of BPR headquarters before proceeding with their itinerary with visits to other sites in Kigali

A delegation of 60 persons from Nkamba where BPR began operations in 1975 was comprised of shareholders and opinion leaders from Ruramira led by the Executive Secretary of Ruramira sector, Longin Gatanazi and the Director of Business Development in Kayonza district, Innocent Hakizakumeza.

BPR team led by Christelle Kayihura, the Country Head of Credit who represented the Managing Director welcomed the delegation and took them through the journey and progress of BPR.

The first shareholder who opened account with BPR for the first time was also part of the delegation

The Executive Secretary of Ruramira sector Gatanazi Longin said the bond of partnership between Ruramira and BPR should last longer and invited the bank to keep closer partnerships in social economic development of the sector.

Ruramira is one of 12 sectors of Kayonza district. It comprises over 21000 residents whose livelihoods mainly depend on farming.

BPR is the largest retail bank in Rwanda with  186 branches and over 90 ATMs in different parts of the country. In April 2017 BPR was awarded the Best Bank in Rwanda for the year 2017 in the Banker Africa Awards for the East African region by CPI financials.

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