Interview with Souleymane Diarrassouba, Chief Executive Officer of Banque Atlantique
Not long ago, Banque Atlantique’s balance sheet exceeded 1.5 billion CFA in growth. Can you tell me about Banque Atlantique Côte d’Ivoire and what your strategy towards international competition is?
I will speak on behalf of Banque Atlantique Côte d’Ivoire, because it is but one member of a group, Atlantic Financial Group, which has several subsidiaries all throughout the UEMOA zone (Union économique et monétaire ouest-africaine - West African Economic and Monetary Union), except in Cameroun and Guinea-Bissau. The group also has a financial engineering company, Atlantique Finance, and a technological engineering company, Atlantique Technologie.
Founded in 1978, Banque Atlantique Côte d’Ivoire is the oldest entity of the Atlantic Financial Group. Initially, we had a corporate strategy, but in 1998, we obtained a bank, COBACI, which used to be a subsidiary of Barclays’. There was a crisis in 1999, and then the two banks became part of the same sector. In 2005-2006, because of the impact of the crisis, the Atlantic Financial Group was born, as a means of being present in West African countries. Then we realized that Banque Atlantique Côte d’Ivoire and COBACI were in the same market, and its shareholders decided to go forth with a fusion. We decided to change stances and go for retail banking. At the end of 2008, Banque Atlantique Côte d’Ivoire became third in the Ivorian market. We are now second and represent around 45% to 50% of the Banque Atlantique group.
Our strategy lies in being close to our clients, doing retail banking, to continue adapting to our individual clients’ needs and to maintain an expertise towards our corporate clientele.
What are your biggest challenges as a bank seeing how the market isn’t as developed as in Europe?
Of course, the biggest challenge is to become first in the market, as well as to be a bank that is highly technological, so as to be a part of the daily lives of Ivorians and the people living in Côte d'Ivoire. I want us to gain a notoriety that will make us known to everyone, to be a bank that has the necessary products, for the clients, for their lodgings, for their equipment credit, for their consumer needs – for their daily lives. When they have projects, they must think of Banque Atlantique.
Today, if we take a look at companies, even multinationals, most managers are Ivorians. Even if the CEO is an expatriate, his advisors are probably Ivorian... Côte d'Ivoire has a lot of potential, a lot to offer, although it isn't sufficiently exploited right now.
We’re the only French bank group in all of UEMOA zone. We were the first to think of expanding into a network and being present in many countries. One or two years after we took that risk, all the other banks were doing the same thing.
You are seen as an Ivorian bank that is close to its clients. What is your social responsibility?
We are only seen as a bank, period. However, the people operating Banque Atlantique Côte d’Ivoire are Ivorians. We are close to the people, we are aware of their reality, but we have the same clients as international banks. We work with multinational companies – French, American, English among others. Banque Atlantique Côte d’Ivoire also works with high-scale local firms and PMI. What sets us apart is the quality of our services. To listen, to be available. At least three of our agencies are open 7 days a week, more than 8 hours a day, and all of them are equipped with ATM machines, so that Banque Atlantique Côte d’Ivoire services can be more accessible for clients.
As you may know, in our market, circulation of fiduciary money is still considerable, which is why we present clients with those services, so they can withdraw or deposit whenever they need to. In years to come, clients will continue to use unscriptural or electronic means to make payments, as we can see in North African countries and in Europe. With all the awareness-raising campaigns going on, I think that this is something that can be achieved.
Concerning your corporate clientele, what differentiates you from others?
These days, some investors are looking to work with local banks, because procedures are usually not as long, and also because those banks have something to prove. They do not make such decisions from Paris or New York; no, they do so from Côte d'Ivoire directly. For that reason, Banque Atlantique Côte d’Ivoire works with multinational companies. Banque Atlantique Côte d’Ivoire provides the services, the necessary information, we are proactive and reactive towards the client’s needs, and I think that this is very important.
Today, if we take a look at companies, even multinationals, most managers are Ivorians. Even if the CEO is an expatriate, his right-hand man is probably Ivorian. What I mean is that people do not have such a complex anymore. They just need a bank that can provide them services. End of the story. A bank that was ranked 15th ten years ago now holds one of the first five positions. There are 23 banks in Côte d'Ivoire; international banks, regional banks and private banks. The bottom line is that Côte d'Ivoire has a lot of potential, a lot to offer, although it isn’t sufficiently exploited right now.
Also, in Banque Atlantique Côte d’Ivoire, we have a transactional approach, more than a structural approach, of the client’s activities. This way, we can lead the client through purchase orders, invoice discounting, issuance of credit guarantee; even if their balance sheet isn’t very strong, there is something we can do to help them meet their needs and attain their goals.
What is your global view, and how do you intend to promote it with your Internet/ICT products?
In five years, what I wish to have is a solid bank that works well at a capitalistic level, one that has a great structural capacity that allows it to finance Ivorian economy as needed. Credit products need to be made available to the population, in urban zones as much as in rural zones. All of this needs to go hand-in-hand with the country’s development, so that the people’s living standard can grow. If their revenues are higher, there are greater amounts in their bank accounts, amounts that are available for credit with other clients, the acquisition of equipment and the realization of various projects.
In the end, we want nothing but the best for Côte d'Ivoire.