A 15-year career with Attijariwafa Bank has taken Hicham Seffa from one side of North Africa to another. First, there were the six years spent in his native Morocco, five of them as Head of Operations. From there, Tunisia – and the C-Suite – came calling; by the time he left eight years later the filial had been crowned ‘Best Bank in Tunisia’ five years in a row by Britain’s The Banker.
What lured him away was another exciting opportunity within the group: the Managing Director role at Attijariwafa Bank Egypt (AWB Egypt). Hicham’s move to Cairo came two years after the Moroccan bank arrived in the country – in order to strengthen its geographical position in the region, in May 2017 it acquired the entire operation of Barclays Bank Egypt.
Today, AWB Egypt has 65 branches nationwide, as well as online services, a 24/7 call centre, 1,445 employees and a base of international, regional and domestic clients. Much of AWB Egypt’s success so far, he says, has come from reimagining ideas to create new products that add value to its clients.
“Being a customer-driven organisation, our value proposition is providing solutions to our clients wherever they are, whether through our corporate cards, internet banking services, the online loans application form hosted on our website, or by leveraging our network that extends across the country,” Hicham tells The CEO Magazine.
The bank’s diversified product portfolio serves several sectors. “For SMEs, our lending programs include fast-track lending, export finance, and Central Bank of Egypt (CBE) initiatives such as subsidised interest rates,” he explains.
Established by AWB, the Africa Development Club fosters economic opportunities between Egypt and other countries on the continent. “This online platform grants members access to an international marketplace that brings together the main international trade operators from over 180 countries,” Hicham explains. “The club includes several services, such as on-demand B2B, where the club team takes care of member connection requests as needed and personalised support for investors, meeting with promotional agencies, and site visits.” One of the club’s flagship events is the International Africa Development Forum, which brings participants together around pre-programmed B2B meetings, trade missions, and seminars. “Other initiatives the club undertakes include market discovery missions, where we move a delegation of economic operators to a target country and organise meetings with promotional agencies, other businesses and site visits.”
A range of non-financial services facilitate the development of an entrepreneurial network. AWB Egypt is one of 13 banks to support the CBE’s NilePreneurs initiative which, since it was established in early 2019, has overseen the launch of 28 business development centres, as well as the incubation of 85 companies and technical support for more than 56 projects.
For corporate clients, a series of innovative solutions that support the business cycle has been implemented, such as the Supply Chain Finance program, designed to ease payment delays clients may face. Another initiative is called Confirming.
“This is an administrative and financial service that makes it easier for companies and suppliers to manage their client payments in a coordinated way,” Hicham explains.
The bank has lost no time in establishing itself as one of the leading financial players in the renewable energy sector, financing both a solar project and a wind project – the latter via one of the subsidiaries under the AWB Group.
“The direction we are taking is to continue to promote, encourage and support all types of sustainable energy projects, to capitalise upon our Green Climate Fund accreditation,” he says.
“We have also supported the enrichment of the securitisation bonds market and engaged in five deals during 2019, one of which was the first short-term securitisation bond product in the Egyptian market,” he continues, adding that the bank is closely following the introduction of new products.
“Another part of our strategy is to maintain an active presence in the syndication market to support appropriate mega deals,” he says. “This reflects positively on the country’s economy.” Consumers have not been forgotten either.
“For the retail banking sector, we have expanded our offering of debit and credit products, increased international limits and introduced several products and services such as auto loans, variable-rate certificates of deposit, digital asset onboarding, and the Attijari mobile app,” he explains.
“We’ve also launched event-based promotional campaigns around back-to-school, Black Friday and Christmas. There is also a new payroll program that fits all tiers and segments. In addition, we have launched the highest level of secure safe deposit box for our valuable premier customers.
Special loan schemes have also been unveiled for doctors and university professors, and we now offer loans to the self-employed of up to EGP1 million (€58,000).” In today’s tech-driven environment, the bank has made providing additional services that enrich its digital platform a priority.
“Following the acquisition of Barclay’s Bank Egypt, and after the completion of the model migration project, both a short- and long-term strategy was formulated and put into action,” he says.
While leadership, commitment, ethics, citizenship and solidarity are the five cultural values shared across the AWB Group, on a local level AWB Egypt is playing a leading role in community activities. “We identify social responsibility with citizenship and we believe that an important part of our role is supporting the country’s sustainable development goals,” he says, adding that, “Stemming from the Group’s direction, we have adopted an ambitious CSR strategy.” Centred upon six main pillars, and concurrent with Egypt Vision 2030, a strategy to promote inclusive development, this includes economic empowerment (for young people, women and SMEs), empowering people with disabilities, financial inclusion, support and development of the sustainable economy, entrepreneurship and innovation, respecting the environment and combating climate change.
Some of the diversified digital solutions already in place include internet banking for retail and corporate segments. “This is already live and in use by our customers both with transactional capabilities and further upgrades to come before the end of 2020,” he explains.
Another new channel is mobile banking, which enables retail customers to view and perform inter-account transfers. Enhancing the customer experience and banking journey has also been a priority.
“We’ve built a series of linked systems that provide our customers with a perfect 360-degree view of their whole profile,” he says, adding that,
“It has been designed so that customers will have a consistent experience across current and future applications. In terms of behind-the-scenes innovations, this year the bank is hoping to complete its integrated data warehouse project.
“This will be built on a flexible platform that will naturally move to a big data platform supported by state-of-the-art AI modules,” he explains.
“We also plan to use middleware to link all current and future digital rollouts. This would sit on top of the existing layers of core banking and data analytics, giving our customers an experience that is more dynamic and diverse than normal banking.”
With such extensive business plans to focus on, it’s hard to imagine that Hicham has much time to discover his adopted country’s many treasures. But one thing that has helped him to settle in is his team.
“People are the main enablers in achieving our strategy, so we’ve set our human capital vision and plan accordingly,” he says, explaining that its HR strategy is set around four pillars: attract, retain, develop and engage.
“A new benefits scheme has been introduced to retain our highly qualified employees and we develop our assets through various technical and leadership academies,” he continues.
Promoting from within is another priority – in 2019 alone, he says that 214 employees were moved to higher positions. An open-door policy and events such as the MD breakfast encourage employees to engage with upper management.
“We also encourage our employees to participate in volunteerism as active advocates who serve the Egyptian community positively and work hand-in-hand with civil society. We are working on attracting the best people and building an employee value proposition that positions us as the employer of choice,” he says – and along the way, AWB Egypt is also implanting itself as a bank of reference for the nation.
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