At Citi Egypt, Ghada El-Bialy heads a team tasked with forging and developing relationships with public sector companies and financial institutions, making sure their needs are matched with the different products offered by the bank.
As financial institutions head, public sector and senior government banker, she also works with the Citi Egypt management to make sure the bank is in compliance with local regulations and updated about the latest laws.
El-Bialy joined Citi fresh out of the American University in Cairo, starting as a junior dealer in the treasury department. She eventually moved up to become treasurer before going on in 2004 to head the oil and gas sector. Three years later, she was appointed to her current position.
As a woman trying to make it in the male-dominated world of finance, she says “breaking into the banking sector was not as tough at it may seem.
“Citi is a true meritocracy where the major differentiator is the employee’s performance, she told Daily News Egypt.
The more challenging task, “was balancing the equation of growing in a fast-paced organization and starting a family, which I couldn’t have done without the support and understanding of my family.
According to El-Bialy, Citi’s expansion plans in Egypt will focus on increasing distribution capability and “introducing new products and services in the areas of trade, cash management, treasury, corporate finance and consumer.
There has been a major push for the microfinance sector in Egypt this year, both by the government and by financial institutions, and going forward, Citi will begin sizing up the market and looking for opportunities to expand its offerings.
“In Citi Egypt this is a sector we haven’t looked at but.Citibank is involved in microfinance in some of the countries in North Africa and the Levant. We are planning to undertake a sizing of the opportunity to determine our next steps, El-Bialy said.
On a more general level, she said, microfinance needs attention from banks. “The borrowers are efficient in payments, the default rate is low, and this sector would actually activate the economy, she added.
Out of auto
Citi Egypt recently announced that it will be gradually phasing out of the auto finance sector, and after the first quarter of 2010, it will no longer be offering car loans in the local market.
While it may seem sudden, it’s actually been a couple of years in the making once Citi Global decided to place its auto finance and mortgage products under Citi Holding. As the bank operates in Egypt and the region under Citi Group, it can no longer deal in auto loans as per the bank’s global strategy.
In a statement released earlier this month, the bank said that in line with its global and regional strategy, “Citibank will be phasing out of the auto finance business, which has been categorized as a non-core product.
Citi said it will continue delivering auto loan products and services through their partners in the auto dealers market, up until the first quarter of 2010.
One thing executives were careful to emphasize is that this decision does not reflect their views on the auto sector in Egypt.
“The Egypt business continues to perform on a strong footing and.we remain very committed to growing our franchise here, Aftab Ahmed, managing director for Citi Egypt, said in a statement.
“Our strategy remains one of growing our involvement in other areas of consumer banking as well as wealth management services, he added.
Inflation and interest
Coinciding with the fall in inflation this year, the Central Bank of Egypt has implemented a policy to cut interest rates, until this past November when the CBE decided to hold rates.
For El-Bialy, “the adopted monetary policy is one that is conducive to growth, she said.
“It is also one that is in line with the government’s aim to make up for the drop in external demand, resulting from the global financial crisis, by taking measures to improve domestic demand, she added.
She says the effectiveness of this policy is evidenced by the 4.7 percent GDP growth in fiscal year 2008/09. “We expect Egyptian pound interest rates to stabilize with a probability of rising slightly during the year 2010, she said.
In implementing the CBE’s interest rates, Citi Egypt considers two factors: the prevailing interest rates in the market and its level competitiveness.
“Our aim is to be competitive, grow, and be aligned with interest rates available in the market. We wouldn’t like to see a huge gap between us and the market, the cuts were taken into consideration, the market also and competitiveness on both the loan and deposit side, El-Bialy said.
“It is in our interest to spur the economy as well, because that will actually create more opportunities to the financial sector to grow and introduce products, she added.
Customer deposits continued to grow and the average deposit-to-loan ratio reached very high levels, she added.
“Growth on the loan side witnessed a slowdown on the back of a drop in economic activity. However, it is worth noting that we continue to have a strong interest and appetite in growing our loan portfolio.
More sector reform
Despite a slowdown in activity, Egypt’s banking sector continues to move forward with reforms. In October 2009, Central Bank Governor Farouk El-Okdah said that in the coming period, banks will focus on shifting to a Basel II capital adequacy framework.
“It’s a key development in the sector. We need to emphasize the success of the first phase of banking reform that the CBE embarked on in 2004, as witnessed by how resilient the banks have proven to be over the course of the financial crisis, El-Bialy said.
“Over the coming year, banks will continue to enhance their risk management process, policies and controls, work on implementing Basel II, as well as on upgrading their IT platforms and increase the level of automation, she added.
On the business side, El-Bialy predicted, “we believe that more focus is expected to be placed by banks on growing their penetration in the SMEs as well as the retail sectors.