Towards the end of August this year, I&M Bank Group welcomed a new Managing Director, Mr. Robin Bairstow to head its Rwanda division. Robin Bairstow brings with him a wealth of experience and is a welcome addition to the financial sector where banking continues to dominate with 66.9% of the financial sector’s total assets.
I&M Bank Rwanda has provided financial services in Rwanda for over 50 years and is the country’s oldest financial institution and one of the leading commercial banks by assets today. In an interview with the HOPE MAGAZINE last month, Bairstow shared his objectives for the bank. Below are the excerpts from the interview;
QN: Robin Bairstow – How did you go from being a graduate of a Naval Academy to a Seasoned and highly respected banker?
Ans: I switched careers, and now have more than 25 years experience in banking. Aside from the Naval Academy I am a graduate of the University of Leicester; I am also a proud husband and father of two University going sons. Professionally I have had the opportunity to hold senior positions at Standard Chartered Bank across East and Southern Africa and this includes Kenya, Uganda and Zambia. I have also had the opportunity to work in South-East Asia market. My previous role in Kenya allowed me a view of all of East Africa including Rwanda.
QN: As a new chief executive in the Rwandan banking industry, what are your plans for the bank?
Ans: I am fortunate to have found a solid financial institution in terms of its staff and healthy financial position as at the end of 2014 which shows a tangible net worth which doubled over the last five years from Rwf 11B to Rwf 22B; deposits which more than doubled from Rwf 65B to Rwf 127B; and the loan book which grew by almost Rwf 50B in the same period.
My management team and I are therefore dedicated to maintaining this trend, but more importantly on improving service delivery throughout our branch network, enhancing our product offerings and listening to our customers.
We also plan on upgrading our operational platforms to allow seamless transactions for our customers locally and within the EAC. And to widen our distribution through technology and along the lines of Rwanda’s Vision 2020 plan. This year, for example we will move our Remera Kigali branch to the new Umuyenzi Plaza, and plan for one more branch in 2016.
You will see a more robust Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) strategy going forward. In this respect we will also continue providing financial literacy training for small and medium enterprises in partnership with various development finance institutions like the European Investment bank (EIB)
QN: How do you see I&M Bank Rwanda increasing its market share over the next couple of years under your charge?
Ans: I&M Bank Rwanda, formerly BCR is the longest serving financial institution in Rwanda- which puts us in a unique and advantageous position in terms of a very valuable brand. Much as the shareholding has changed, we intend to retain our highly valued multi-generational customers through various client retention strategies, and also develop new customer segments through a sharp focus on customer service and satisfaction.
In addition to that, in the New Year, migration to a more sophisticated core banking system will give us data mining opportunities to help us better identify customer needs, trends – and ultimately provide us with critical information to identify new opportunities and future high growth areas.
QN: How are you going to tailor the bank’s products to meet the needs of the un-banked and under-banked?
Ans: With the telling statistics from the 2014/15 Integrated Household living conditions survey issued by the National Statistics of Rwanda showing that an estimated 4 out of 5 Rwandans live in rural areas and that the percentage of persons aged 18 and over with a savings account has grown from 19 to 30 percent in the last 4 years.
This coupled with the fact that over 70 percent of the population own mobile phones with the highest uptake in the lowest income quintile – it is imperative that we continue our partnerships with telecommunication and Card payment companies such as VISA to develop cashless payment solutions, and banking products for both segments.
We are committed to being part of our country’s movement to a cashless economy, and to achieving 80% financial inclusion by 2017.
QN: With the newly launched Home Loans product, how is I&M Bank Rwanda bridging the housing gap in the country?
Ans: We are actively looking at developing partnerships with developers, and insurers to bridge the housing gap.
However internally, we looked at the needs of most first time property owners who start with a plot and find it difficult to build due to high loan contribution requirements in the market and we responded by dropping our contribution requirements by 10 percent – making our construction loans one of the most affordable in the market.
We are also making it easier for those who are more advanced in the property ownership market, to develop additional properties by using the equity they have in their current properties. In this respect we increased the value a customer can access from their property by 20 percent.
And finally, we have introduced a one of a kind “Mortgage top-up facility” which allows mortgagees to add value to their existing properties without having to qualify for an additional mortgage facility.
QN: Borrowers have in the past complained about high interest rates, how is I&M working to see that individuals, SMEs and big firms borrow much more affordably.
Ans: An interest rate is the cost of borrowing money. Or, on the other side of the coin, it is the compensation for the service and risk of lending money. Without it, banks would not be willing to lend and savers would not even save their cash, both of which require deferring the opportunity to spend in the present.
But prevailing interest rates are always changing, and different types of loans offer various interest rates.
With this in mind, we believe in responsible lending, and therefore, we lend at rates which we feel customers can afford, and which are relevant to market conditions. We are also fortunate that we have an established credit reference bureau which supports banks in lowering their risk thresholds.
QN: Lastly, coming back to ICT as a service delivery channel in banking, what are your plans for enhancing the use of electronic payments as Rwanda moves towards a cashless economy?
Ans: We at I&M Bank are committed to aligning our strategies to lead Rwanda into a cashless economy and achieve 80% financial inclusion by 2017.
We have active partnerships with telecommunication companies – MTN and Airtel for the “Cardless ATM” which allows non I&M Bank account holder’s access to funds transferred by account holders or mobile money users.
Also, we partnered with payment technologies provider, VISA to use their mobile VISA (mVISA) platform to provide payment services to over 30,000 under-banked customers in refugee camps through their mobile phones and other tech companies to make this vision a reality.