In a move to expand its business and client base, Everest Bank, one ofthe country's top commercial banks, recently issued debentures worth Rs 600 million. According to the bank the move has been met with wide approval and popularity with demand exceeding expectations. New Business Age talked with Everest Bank's Chief Executive Officer AK Ahluwalia about the latest venture, among other issues. Excerpts:
Everest Bank continues to be one of Nepal’s strongest commercial banks, enhancing its performance year after year? What are the major reasons behind this success?
Behind the success of any organization are the contributions of various stakeholders. In the case of Everest Bank, the credit goes to our visionary board, dedicated staff members, loyal customers, guidance of the Central Bank and others who have directly or indirectly helped the bank.
The key strength of Everest Bank has always been quality customer service. We provide prompt and hassle-free services throughmodern technology and efficient staff members and have upgraded ourselves in every possible way. Furthermore, our area of thrusthas always been the retail segment. Our products, in deposits or loans, have been designed to meet the expectations of the general public, which is the main reason why our clients have placed their faith in us and made us a bank withthe highest customer base i.e. 700,000. But it doesn’t mean we do not finance corporates. We do have substantial investments in energy, infrastructure, trade and other productive sectors. Besides, agriculture and SMEs are also close to our heart.
Another factor I would say is continuous innovation as a result of the feedback we receive while interacting with our present and potential clients.We try to innovate and customize things according to the feedback. It’s generallybelieved that we arethe pioneers behindhome loans in Nepal. Similarly, we are the ones who introduced the concept of Bank on Wheels, a vehicularbanking service to serve segments deprived of proper banking facilities- a first of its kind. Likewise, we introduced the system of branchless banking for the first time in Nepal.We are now doing the same thing with mobile phones under the service called Mobile ATM where our customers can deposit, withdraw and receive remittances by just visiting our outlets or business correspondents spread all over the country.
We are also the first bank to establishan agro-specialized branch,KrishiUdhyamBikashSakha at Rajbiraj. Likewise, through our mobile banking service i.e. Touch 24, our customers can access their accounts, transfer funds and make utility bill payments even while at home. Similarly, we introduced the Cash Deposit Kiosk for the first time in Nepal through which customers can deposit cash conveniently. The crux is that we have to adapt ourselves with the fast changing times, lest we be left behind and also to ensure that our customers take pride in banking with us.
In fact, I would like to be modest in admitting that we are strong in terms of system/procedure, consistent in term of performance/growth and dependable in terms of returns to ourstakeholders.
Everest Bank has recently issued debentures worth Rs 600 million. What’s the reaction been like from the general public? And how many peoplehave bought them?
The response I must say was overwhelming. We have been heavily oversubscribed. We had allotted 90,000 units to the public andapplications were received for more than 180,000 units. This shows the kind of faith the publichas in Everest Bank.
Everest Bank has a good presence in Nepal with more than four dozen branches, 5 extension counters and dozens of ATMs etc. What about the bank’s presence and penetration in the rural areas?
In fact, we have 53 branches, 5 extension counters, 24 revenue collection counters and 80 ATMs.I believe that banking should reach everyone irrespective of the geographical and socio-economic divisions. We should also admit that there are immense investment opportunities in rural and mountain regions in terms of tourism and agriculture. In fact, these places have not developed just because the potential of those areas are untapped. If we talk about our bank, it has always believed in penetrating the rural areas. Be it in Bhojpur in the hilly areas and Rajbiraj in the Terai, our branches have been doing well. Very shortly, we shall be opening severalnew branches. Besides, as stated earlier, we have a number of business correspondents across the country, mostly in rural areas,who are ensuring branchless banking.
As somebody who has been watching Nepal’s banking sector from up close, do you think banks which mainly rose out of the remittance business are coming up strongly?
Around USD 5 billion which amounts to more than 25% of the total GDP is contributed by remittance in Nepal. This vividly depicts the significance of remittance in Nepal. Very recently, post-earthquake, the inflow hasincreased substantially but I believe it is a temporary phenomenon. In these circumstances, definitely the banks which have a strong base in remittance business are in anadvantageous position provided the credit off-take is also there. I feel that to do well in banking anywhere there should be diversity in the services the bank provides. Focusing and depending on a single sector may seem beneficial in the short run. That’s why we believe in diversifying our portfolios as reflected in our balance sheet.
What has Everest Bank done to provide relief to the victims of the earthquake?
Immediately after the devastating earthquake, we operated limited banking services from our major outlets. From the third day, we were fully operational except in Tatopani where our branch suffered damage. Our branch managers immediately got in touch with our clients, who are part of the Everest Bank family, to know their welfare as also to ascertain the extent of loss suffered, if any.Furthermore, we also announced a support package of Rs 1 million for the reliefand rehabilitation of earthquake victims. We also maintained relief accounts at our bank as well as at Punjab National Bank in India for the collection of relief funds. Besides all this, we also offered free remittance services for one month. Now we shallbe playing an important role in the reconstruction activities for nation building