Apr 16 - 22, 20

Tahir Yaqoob Bhatti, EVP/Regional General Manager Regional Office Central Askari Bank is versatile banker. Before joining Askari Bank as Chief Manager about 10 years ago, he served in different banks and had a lot of exposure to banking operations.

Before his current assignment, Tahir also served as country head special asset management Askari Bank. Being area manager of Askari Bank at Faisalabad, he played key role in the growth of his bank. He is considered as one of the key bankers in the country who only believe in merit, transparency and commitment with the job.

In an exclusive interview with Pakistan and Gulf Economist (PAGE), Tahir shared his views about the challenges posed to the country's economy in general and banking sector in particular.

Mr. Bhatti termed non-performing loans (NPLs) as main challenge to the banking sector as NPLs registered a massive increase. Further, he said economic slowdown is also affecting the banking sector like other sectors.

To a query, he said that in testing times, relentless borrowings by the government have been a blessing for commercial banks, providing a convenient option to place bulk of their funds in risk-free securities.

Talking about corporate social responsibility (CSR) in Askari Bank, he said, "CSR is an integral part of the way we do business and a vital element of our strategy. As a responsible corporate entity, Askari Bank always endeavors to contribute to the society in which it operates, and believes in giving back to the society by taking initiatives with the intent to provide products and services that help customers meet their financial goals. Askari Bank contributes to various CSR initiatives which include educational events like conferences/ conventions, sports events like golf, squash, and international sports events."

Tahir said "With 245 branches across the country, Askari Bank is now moving on strong footings as one of the leading banks in the country catering to needs of all segments of society with innovative products and focus on customers satisfaction. He said, "We are offering unique and innovative financial solutions to a large portfolio of investment, corporate and consumer banking customers."

He said the Askari Bank has been assigned AA+ and A1+ rating.

Mr. Bhatti said the Askari Bank's aim is to assist its customers in fulfilling their banking needs of today and realizing ambitions for tomorrow by offering a comprehensive range of financial services while ensuring service excellence.

"Our products are getting massive public support, as we are determined to further improve the bank's corporate image by increasing its visibility to customers and increasing deposits. KASB Bank's future is bright and promising," he said.

Askari Bank has a widespread presence across Pakistan catering to the needs of customers from all walks of life.

"We have branches in all major cities, cantonments and smaller cities, an extensive network made up of conventional, Islamic, as well as agricultural branches. We aim to provide our customers with a wide array of products and services catering to all their banking needs in the form of commercial, consumer, agricultural, Islamic and corporate banking," he said.

He further said, "We provide comprehensive product menu range of innovative saving schemes in the form of term deposits and saving accounts with competitive profit rates and financing options that provide convenient and flexible banking solutions to our valued customers, coupled with superior services by our friendly staff in order to give them an excellent banking experience."

"Our consumer banking services division's products and services mainly comprise auto finance, personal finance, mortgage finance, smart cash, Askari credit cards (Master Card), corporate credit cards, Zarai credit cards and iNet banking (internet banking service).

Our consumer finance focuses on expanding target market and enhancing portfolio through new and improved initiatives and products.

Special attention is being given to business opportunities involving strategic alliances to earn sustainable returns with greater emphasis on secured form of consumer lending and an aim to increase product offerings while improving and maintaining a quality of its risk asset portfolio."

In view of the recent phenomena of inflation and changes in interest rates, our consumer banking has adopted a selective approach for fresh lending and focuses on containing the growth of problem loans and improving recovery efforts and internal controls, he added.

Mr. Bhatti said, "We understand the unique business requirements of our corporate and institutional clients, and accordingly the corporate and investment banking group (CIBG) strives to meet their expectations through provision of customized and relationship based banking approach. CIBG's approach to provision of Askari Bank's comprehensive and integrated, multi-product services is based upon a client-centric and distribution-focused business model supported by a culture that prioritizes client relationships and economic returns. CIBG is specifically structured to provide dedicated banking services and products to its corporate customers through two key divisions."

About agriculture sector, he said the role of agriculture in Pakistan economy is of pivotal nature.

Due to diverse geographical and climatic conditions, the country has tremendous potential for agricultural growth and development.

Askari Bank's agriculture and rural business division (ARBD) has gained further strength with improved and efficient delivery and control mechanism for meeting increased demand for credit by the farmers in easy, accessible and affordable manner.

With an innovative product range, being best rated in the market, the bank continues to surpass its allocated targets for agriculture financing, he added. ARBD has already extended to 89 branches across the country and remains proactively engaged with its stakeholders for aggregation of services and improving life standard of farmers through its distribution network, he said.

He further said, "Askari Bank Limited - Islamic banking opens the doors for Halal banking solutions. Our objective is to put in place an efficient banking system supportive to economic justice and welfare of society in line with Shariah standards.

The bank has expanded its Islamic banking network to 29 branches and two sub-branches in the major cities of Pakistan, covering the capital and the four provinces. Further expansion is planned with improved capabilities for offering products conforming to Shariah principles."

In the end, Mr. Bhatti expressed his firm resolve to work diligently for further growth of Askari banking.