Mr. Claes, you are member of Supervisory Boards and Committees of three various banks in the region. How Azerbaijani banking sector differs from other countries of the region?
The Eastern European banking industry is very heavily dominated by subsidiaries of Western European banks. Consequently, they are benefiting from support across the board, ranging from financial support (capital, borrowings) to operational support (technology, training, risk management). This is almost not the case for the Azerbaijan banking industry, which is comparatively speaking much more ‘self-supporting’.
Eastern European banks are under pressure to deliver results in a narrow short-term perspective, as their mother companies are largely stock-listed and closely followed by investment analysts. This situation tends to cloud some of their perspectives, leading to those banks not to focus sufficiently on the long-term view.
How would you position Azerbaijani banking sector, and what areas should local banks and AccessBank be focused on for the near future?
A banking sector can never be fully dissociated from the economy in which it is operating. Considering the country’s high reliance on oil and gas, banks should play a catalytic role in synch with other economic actors to help preparing the country in reaching a certain level of economic diversification. While at the same time preparing themselves for the digital transition that shall undoubtedly leave a strong footprint on the organization of the individual banks.
AccessBank should focus on creating an ecosystem for its core customer basis, allowing micro-companies, SMEs and retail customers to benefit from a closer integration with non-banking and non-financial participants. AccessBank should try to be instrumental in delivering benefits for its customers by widening distribution channels, improving technology without compromising quality.
What are your expectations of AccessBank in the next 5 years?
The future performance of a bank is defined by the quality of its human resources and its systems, it being understood people develop systems.
AccessBank has a great future ahead. It has proved to bounce back from almost any type of crisis and has demonstrated a level of extreme resilience and creativity that I believe to be unmatched in the local and even regional context.
Based on the above, I expect the bank to be the financial institution of reference for its core segments, increasing its market share in micro, SME and retail banking while fundamentally remaining very healthy and reaching a high level of profitability and financial sustainability that should benefit shareholders, customers and the bank’s staff.