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Enhancing privatization value of UBL

Following are the excerpts from an exclusive interview with Amar Z. Khan, President, United Bank Limited

June 18 - 24, 2001

Amar Z. Khan joined United Bank Limited (UBL) in 1996 as an advisor to the bank and is presently the President also responsible for overseeing the restructuring and reorientation of consumer banking and treasury, overseas operations, public sector and corporate finance functions.

With 26 years of multifunctional experience with premium national and international financial institutions and exposure to markets in Pakistan, Europe, the Middle East and Africa, Amar brings to this position extensive experience in general management and business development within commercial banking, domestic and cross border corporate finance and securities trading and an expertise in new business development.

Prior to joining UBL, Amar was the Managing Director, First Securities Discount House, Nigeria. From 1981 to 1992 he held various positions at Citibank. At Citibank he was assigned to different affiliates and geographical locations and held the corporate title of Vice President since 1985.

United Bank Limited (UBL) was the first, among the nationalized commercial banks (NCBs), to announce its results for the year 2000. UBL has posted an all time high profit of Rs 2 billion. UBL's restructuring has been substantially complete and its operating profit has continued to improve during the first quarter of the year 2001.

According to Khan, "The restructuring process at UBL started much earlier than the restructuring in other NCBs. The advantage is that UBL has a much cleaner slate today and the Bank is ready for privatization. As all operations become profit generating and spread improves, the strategic buyers will be willing to offer a better price."

While evaluating the performance of UBL, it is necessary to keep the economic conditions of the country in perspective. Though, the banking sector did not face any adverse fundamentals, slow pace of economic activities and process of documentation did not allow commercial banks, in general, to increase their deposits. However, the demand for credit by the private sector was much higher than the demand experienced in the past. One of the reasons for higher credit demand was lower interest rate and bulk of the funds went to agriculture and agro-based industries.

It is true that like other NCBs, a programme for closing down non-profit generating branches and voluntary separation scheme has been going on in UBL. At the same time a vision to make the Bank a super market of financial institution is also being implemented. In order to build this environment, as well as dynamism without excessive management control, UBL proposes to pay minimum fixed salaries high variable compensation, proportionate to the business, each staff member attracts and serves. This will progressively have the effect of building thousands of entrepreneurs across the bank, which is critical need of Pakistan. UBL is thus an attractive institution for talent and for those who are confident of their capacity, willing to take self initiative, and have patience and maturity in interpersonal and selling skills.

UBL has signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) with Pakistan Post Office whereby the Bank will open its counter at selected post offices to provide basic financial services to the 'unbanked' areas of the country. These booths will also be able to fill the vacuum created due to merger of UBL branches. The Bank will provide technical assistance to Pakistan Post Office in training their staff on modern banking skills. This will also create employment opportunities in the rural areas. UBL also plans to make a dent in the menace practice of 'Hundi' by disbursing inward remittances the same day or in case of remote areas within three days under guaranteed delivery system through bank draft, money order or electronic transfer.

After the successful opening of NIT Booths at selected branches of UBL, the Bank and Orix Leasing Pakistan have formed an alliance that has been designed to help small and medium size enterprises in more and more cities of Pakistan. This alliance enables Orix to set up counters and commence operations at a number of UBL branches. This offers an opportunity to locally based businesses and cottage industry to acquire quality resources and productive assets through leasing.

In order to further facilitate the consumers and make company service more consumer friendly, Sui Northern Gas Pipeline Limited (SNGPL) has signed a contract with UBL for gas bill data gathering and processing service. At present SNGPL has a customer base of 2 million which is growing at 8 per cent per annum. UBL has got this contract through a competitive and transparent process where Citibank and ABN Amro also participated.