Under my leadership, it is still a strategic priority to position the [Bank of Punjab] as having the risk appetite of a public-sector organisation and the service excellence of a private-sector entity, without sacrificing a strong environment of compliance, risk, and audit. Another strategic goal was to find and keep the best experts and subject matter specialists on the market. This was done by creating a culture of meritocracy throughout the organisation, in which high performance is rewarded and career advancement is based solely on merit. We had marked 2021 as “Our People” year and 2022 as “Empathy” year. On an organisational level, this means saying that the Bank’s people and their families’ well-being is one of its top priorities.
Also, a focus that wasn’t given enough attention before is using social media to improve communication both inside and outside the company. Now, BOP is getting closer to being a brand name that everyone knows, and its products and services are becoming more well-known. Corporate Social Responsibility was also given a lot of attention. I am sure that business growth must go hand in hand with giving back to the less fortunate members of our community, making it easier for people to get access to money, and making lives better through literacy and empowerment.
In terms of the long-term structural changes I’d like to see in the banking industry. In this case, there are three main points I’d like to talk about.
First, the share of private sector credit will go up because the dominant borrower will get less money (ie, the Government of Pakistan). Pakistan’s financial sector is still not as developed as those of its peer economies, especially when it comes to financing the private sector. This can be shown by looking at the share of GDP that credit or loans to the private sector make up. Credit to the private sector in Pakistan has gone up in total, but as a share of GDP, it has gone down (17 per cent in 2020, down from 29 per cent in 2008).
There are many reasons for this, but the biggest problem is that the government is borrowing money. In the last ten years, the amount of money that banks lend to the government has gone up by more than 400%. Because of how quickly the government’s financing has grown, 66.8% of all credit given by the banking industry goes to the government (as of December 2021). On the demand side, Pakistan’s large informal sector is still an important reason.
The second one is: How the banking industry is set up. At the moment, it is completely unbalanced, with a small number of large banks holding most of the assets and liabilities. These few banks literally set the agenda for the whole sector. This calls for a change in the way banks are set up right now, so that board-based funding can be redirected to more wanted and unusual sectors like agriculture, infrastructure, etc. The third and last thing to pay attention to is that banking in Pakistan is, at its most basic level, a game of who can get cheaper deposits. Whoever has that advantage wins. So, it’s important that institutions with more deposits, which is just a function of how big their network is, be able to move those deposits to more productive, specialised areas. In this way, the previous governments tried to help by putting in place programmes like e-Kissan in Punjab and Kamyab Pakistan in Islamabad, which gave these funds to sectors that had never been able to get them before.
A quick list of some of the lessons I’ve learned from working in banking and finance would include: a strong, uncompromising ethical framework and moral code, the importance of building long-term relationships with other people, putting people first in terms of empathy and care for individuals, and keeping a clear focus on strategic goals while keeping tactical goals in mind.
If you don’t care about morals in business, you might make some short-term money, but real business people don’t trade the long-term for the short-term. No matter what you’re doing, it’s important to have an ethical framework, and it’s getting more important as people change and geographical boundaries blur. The layers and walls are coming apart. The world is getting smaller, and people are getting closer to each other. The recent global pandemic and the ongoing disaster at home caused by flooding that has never happened before have made this thought stronger.
Now I’ll talk about how I see the future of the Pakistani economy. In short, I think that our economy will be self-reliant and self-sufficient in the future. Self-reliance is when a country is able to plan, finance, and implement its own solutions to its own development problems. This is based on two things: commitment and capacity. Commitment is a measure of how well a country’s laws, policies, actions, and informal ways of running things, like cultures and norms, help it get closer to being self-sufficient. Capacity is a way to measure how far a country has come in being able to manage its own development in terms of political, social, and economic development, as well as being able to work in all of these areas.
Everyone must be able to benefit from the economy as a whole. Whether you use a bottom-up or trickle-down approach, at the end of the day, the most important thing is to include everyone. High rates of economic informality in Pakistan are one of the main things that makes it hard for people to get financial services. Another reason is that most transactions are done in cash and most people are afraid of paperwork and formalisation. And finally, the low number of women who work in the economy is one of the main reasons why the country has low rates of financial inclusion.
At the end of the day, everything we do will be for the benefit of our people and only our people. Not more and not less.
This is part of the writer’s speech to the 17th Youth Parliament, which was held on August 28, 2022, and was put together by the Pakistan Institute of Legislative Development and Transparency (PILDAT).
-With permission from The News International