Much of the growth Bangladesh has logged in so far in entrepreneurship and industrialisation has come under the auspices of the private sector banks. As Chittagong plays a pivotal role in pushing the growth up, these banks put their increasing focus on the port city, where almost every private bank has at least one branch. Recently, Anwar Uddin, executive vice president and Chittagong regional head of Southeast Bank Ltd, sat with The Daily Star to exchange his views on the private sector banks and particularly, his bank's individual operations. Anwar, who came to the banking profession in 1987, also talked about the prospects of Chittagong and how economy evolved in this business hub.
From your long experience, what do you think are the prospects of banking in the private sector?
I think the prospect of banking in the private sector in the port city as well as in Bangladesh is very bright. It is now proven. Since the 1980s, from the very beginning of the activities of private banks in our country, healthy competition has taken place in banking that is enriching the sector day by day.
You know, healthy competition is one of the main reasons for enrichment. When you see your competitors are doing better, you will be inspired to develop yourself and ultimately, it will enrich the sector you belong to.
How do the private sector banks contribute to our national economy?
The private banks are contributing a lot to our national economy. In fact, industrialisation in Bangladesh would not have been possible as you see today without the help of the private banks. The private banks have created entrepreneurs. The private banks control a lion's share of export and import business.
Do you think the private banks are doing better than the nationalised ones?
Of course. After the Liberation War, our banks were nationalised. But the outcome of the process of nationalisation was not good. Nationalisation did not achieve its goal. When the private banks started their activities, there began a healthy competition between the private banks and the nationalised banks. The private banks are flourishing through a good functioning structure, skilled personnel and well planning.
On the other hand, the nationalised banks could not do so because of bad management, unskilled manpower, unwanted interruption of trade unions and political appointments at top management positions. Our mental set up is such that we care about least for public property. Personnel at nationalised banks show apathy for developing their skills as well as for developing the position of the bank.
How much do you prefer the private banks for building a career?
A private bank is a very suitable place for a fresher to build a career. In our country, job scopes for a fresher in the private sector are limited. In this situation, private banks offer competitive salary packages for freshers. In fact, the private banks have initiated corporate culture in Bangladesh.
Why do personnel in nationalised banks show apathy?
One of the main reasons is that their salary package is poor. It does not bring job satisfaction to a person working in a nationalised bank. You know, job satisfaction mainly depends upon two things; one is salary and the other is job atmosphere. The private banks meet both the criteria.
So the personnel working here get inspiration to enrich themselves, as well as the banks. And due to the lack of facilities, people working in the state banks do not get any interest in working seriously.
Do you think the condition is changing nowadays?
Yes. After the nationalised banks were made limited companies, the condition has improved much. Now these banks are well positioned. Change has come in their approach. I would not say that they have changed overnight and they have fully changed, but I must say that they have opted for some reforms and changes which I hope will be increasing day by day.
What is your observation about the regulatory initiatives of the Bangladesh Bank?
I think the rules are supportive and they would help in expanding the banking sector. You know, during the global recession when the major economies throughout the world were in serious crisis, our economy was stable. This was possible due to the right steps taken by the central bank.
How is Chittagong for banking growth?
It is a great place for banking growth. Every private bank has launched at least one branch in the port city. I am involved in the banking sector in the port city for the last 24 years. In my consideration, Chittagong is the best place for banking growth. It is a safe zone. Businessmen here are banking friendly. They have a long tradition in business. Most of them are involved in business through the third or fourth generation. So you have options for selecting good borrowers. When you know the root of your clients, then risks of getting back the investment or loan is minimal. Moreover, you have options to be selective here, as you know who the real businessmen are. By nature, they do not default on loans. You will not get this in Dhaka or anywhere in the country.
How can the private banks benefit from the transit facilities given to the neighbouring countries?
The private banks should welcome the transit facilities. Personally, I believe that transit and transhipment are important for connectivity. We should be pragmatic. We will be benefited through transit.
The banking sector will also be benefited through the transit. For transit and transhipment, infrastructure development is a must. There is scope for investing here and the banks can be benefited largely.
How would you evaluate Southeast Bank's performance in the port city?
Southeast Bank is functioning in the port city with nine branches and clocks one sixth of its total income from here. This is because Chittagong is the business hub of Bangladesh. Moreover, the oil refinery industry, steel industry, ship breaking and ship building make the city unique. These industries have enhanced business gravity of the city.
Southeast Bank has a huge investment in the shipbuilding industry with Western Marine Shipyard Ltd. The city is also the hub of export and import. So our branches can make good income and contribute a lot to the total income of the bank. I am happy to say that the branches functioning in the port city have 99.25 percent good loans.
What are your suggestions for the development of the private sector banks?
The private banking sector is on the right track. But still, there is a lot of scope to improve the quality. I think the government should not approve the formation of any more private banks at present. We should look forward to quality instead of quantity at this moment.