By Mansoor Ahmad
LAHORE: National Bank of Pakistan is among five leading global banks which have been granted permission to open a branch in Saudi Arabia which has kept a ban on entry of foreign banks for the last 25 years.
“We will be opening our branch in Saudi Arabia in early 2010,” said NBP President Syed Ali Raza in an interview with The News.
He said presence of the bank in the holy land would enable it to maximise flow of worker remittances through official channels. “This will also facilitate the bank in attracting Saudi investment into Pakistan.”
He said the bank would be able to inform Pakistani exporters about export opportunities present in Saudi Arabia. Above all, “the bank will be able to introduce Hajj and Umra packages for the pilgrims.”
Raza said the NBP had made tremendous progress over the last decade and came out of the shadow of government deposits which were over 70 per cent of the total in 2000. “Now private-sector deposits are well above 60 per cent of the total, which shows confidence of the private sector in the NBP.”
As far as government deposits were concerned, private banks were competing with the NBP and those offering better returns were given preference by government departments, he said.
He said NBP’s assets, which were Rs371 billion in 2000, had increased to over Rs900 billion. Over 80 per cent of lending by the NBP in 2000, he said, was to the government, state-owned corporations and for commodity purchases by federal and provincial governments. “Now 80 per cent of financing go to the private sector.”
Ali Raza said the NBP was the only bank in Pakistan with triple A rating and its pretax profit had increased from Rs1 billion in 2000 to Rs28 billion in 2007. Though decline in economic activities had impacted the bank’s earnings, its pre-tax profits were still in the vicinity of Rs24 billion, he added.
The bank, he asserted, weathered the economic storm over the past two years better than contemporary banks and its written-off amount was only 0.83 per cent of total assets compared to 3.61 per cent of the next largest bank and 5 per cent of the third largest bank of the country, both of which were in the private sector.
He said the bank in recent years embarked on enriching its human resource. In the exercise, 150 MBAs were added to the workforce every year in a transparent manner through the Institute of Bankers. Currently, the bank has over 1,100 MBAs which have enriched the quality of the human resource. He said at least 25 per cent of the new MBAs were from the fair gender. In 2000, there was one woman branch manager in the NBP and now there are 90 women who are heading its branches.
The NBP, he added, was investing heavily in technology and within two years the bank would be on a par with world’s best banks technology. He said with presence in 26 countries the NBP was the only multinational bank of the country.
Ali Raza claimed the NBP was currently the largest corporate bank of the country. Its exposure to the agriculture sector was the highest among commercial banks. The bank had also the distinction of being the largest retail bank in the country with retail loans of Rs75 billion compared with Rs55 billion by its nearest rival.
He said the bank was also instrumental in putting Pakistan’s name in the Guiness Book of World Records this year by sponsoring the planting of 550,000 plant saplings in a day. That eclipsed the record earlier held by India.