Ms. Tahira Raza – President – First Women Bank Ltd. (FWBL)

The mission of FWBL is to promote economic prosperity and self-reliance in women by transforming their role from passive participants to active partners in the economic development of the country

EVOLVE: What are the major developmentsthat have taken place in First WomenBank Limited since you assumed the role ofPresident in 2014?

Ms. Tahira Raza: Since I had the advantage of being a pioneer in FWBL and re-joined after almost 11 years, my first agenda was to bring in a strong compliance culture & commercial focus in the bank. Compliance for the sake of
compliance fails to bring economic and commercial advantage. Cost of noncompliance is generally not measured. My first priority was to ensure compliance to regulatory and internal policy and procedures in letter and spirit. The
main objective of any commercial organization is to make money, for the simple reason that if an organization itself is not financially strong and stable, it cannot serve its purpose. So in order to make it a viable commercial entity at par with other competitors in the market, we took certain key steps:

Controlled costs and brought in broader financial discipline (brought down admin costs from 6% PA on YoY to 3 % PA).
Defined clear KPIs with heightened focus on business development.
Developed Vision Mission and value of the Bank and made it a living document.
Improved governance and management through introduction of MIS and hiring on key positions purely on technical competencies/merit
Strengthened technology by enhancing the capacity of the existing software with professional management.
Developing strategic alliances to create synergies.
Focus on need based product development / capacity building of the organization i.e. training of staff and strengthening the manual procedures and technological platforms.

I am pleased to share that recently Euro money also recognized the role of First Women Bank and awarded FWBL The Best Bank Award for CSR for the year 2017. Euro money believes that CSR is embodied in the very purpose of
setting up of First Women Bank ltd. The fact that it survived for almost 30 years with this tough agenda, limited resources while facing tough competition from large and established local and foreign banks.

EVOLVE: Please enlighten us about theproducts of First Women Bank Limited(FWBL)?

Ms. Tahira Raza: Being a commercial bank it is utmost important for FWBL to be a sustainable financial institution. Hence, it has taken a strategic shift from its slogan of by women and for women, to a bank manned by competent individuals with a 50% women / men ratio to avail the benefit of diversity. It has also opened up its market to men as well. However its products, development focuses specially on women business needs. It ensures that:

The Product is easily accessible by women,
Products helps in improving women participation in labour force such as day care centers
Improve women asset ownership
All products & services are delivered in a responsible manner so as to positively impact environment and socio economic wellbeing of the community at large.
We are offering a wide variety of products which include PMYBL, SME loan, Business Loan for Women, Credit Guarantee Scheme, and Nikhar Loan the product which is specially designed to encourage and empower the professionals and also the transgender associated with the beauty industry by offering hassle free financing on easy terms.
Besides loan products it has made online services available through its ATMs, such as online fund transfer, payment of utility bills, school fees etc.
To keep our customers informed, SMS Alert service is also introduced to keep them up dated on every transaction that is routed through their account.

On the saving side we have introduced Smart Account and Zindagi Asaan Account, the product which we developed in light of the SBPguidelines for financial inclusion.We are also offering Bancassurance with the arrangement of State Life Insurance Corporation of Pakistan. We recently introduced our first Debit Card Paypak Internet Banking and Mastercard are other products in the pipeline.

EVOLVE: What makes First Women BankLimited standout?

Ms. Tahira Raza: I would like to term First Women Bank Limited (FWBL) a unique entity because of its charter which is, Undertaking the conduct of all forms of business of Banking Company in a manner designed to meet the special needs of women and to encourage and assist them in promotion and running of trade and industry and practice of profession. FWBL is the only Bank in Pakistan that has a mandate to cater to financial and business
needs of women and provide special services to access credit for enterprise development. The FWBL Vision and Mission statements reaffirm this commitment. FWBL is being regulated like any other commercial banks, which puts extra burden on Bank, as like any business it is setup for profits. There is no funding stream committed for FWBL to perform development activities. Therefore it has to operate on purely commercial basis and generates its resources from the same market on competitive terms. The bank continues to look for better and more efficient ways to operate, safeguard customer information, and provide flawless service to our customers. It is important to understand that we cannot meet diverse expectations from the cross section of society but our approach is to take
small steps that lead to women empowerment and improve their access to financial services. Technology is a game changer and we are fully cognizant of the fact that steps in this direction can bring in phenomenal progress. To confront this challenge and avail the opportunity, Bank needs to invest in technology and capacity building of human resources. Capital inadequacy is the main hurdle in this regard. It is imperative to use technology for lending small
loans and mobilizing small savings where achieving financial sustainability require large number of customers and products. Besides technology quality of Human resources, its training and retraining is another challenge to capture this market.

EVOLVE: What have been the most pressingneeds or challenges for FWBL?

Ms. Tahira Raza: The most pressing or first and foremost challenge was to meet the MCR as it was related to Banks existence, which has been reset by State Bank of Pakistan. Now the Bank is required to maintain paid-up capital (net of losses) of Rs.3 billion and Capital Adequacy Ratio (CAR) of 18% at all times. Although reducing MCR from Rs.10 billion to Rs.3 billion is not the solution it only helps address regulatory non-compliance issue. The other big challenge is its structure that is compatible to meet its dual objectives. If an organization itself is not financially stable, it cannot serve its purpose. Another challenge is high nonperforming loans portfolio which continues to cannibalize the efforts to grow its business.

EVOLVE: There are many underservedurban and rural areas. How is your bankplanning to address that void? Will you liketo share your 2018 expansion plan?

Ms. Tahira Raza: It is true that in rural areas brick and mortar marketing strategy still play a key role. However, deployment of technology has helped in overcoming the limited number of branches. FWBL is also working with telecommunication companies and Fintech to achieve financial inclusion. One of the major achievements is collaboration between FWBL and Aurat Foundation to achieve greater financial inclusion of women. Having said that the void is so big and expecting FWBL with a meager capital of 3 Billion and current urban based footprint is unfair. Nevertheless FWBL will keep on endeavoring to outreach women to by building its strength in technology.

EVOLVE: How do you see the banking sectorgrowing in 10 years from now?

Ms. Tahira Raza: As said earlier, we all will witness a sea change in the way the banking environment will change due to mass scale digitalization primarily in financial services. The global financial inclusion target is 50% of
the world population by 2020 which is only 2 years from now. Based on this you can well imagine the number of customers that banking industry would be catering to. With this kind of population there will be a vast range of products including payment services, insurance etc. besides traditional saving and loan products, and the cross sell of these products will further increase the volumes. Hence the growth appears to be unimaginably high.

The global financial inclusion target is 50% of the world population by 2020 which is only 2 years from now. With this kind of population there will be a vast range of products including payment services, insurance etc. Besides traditional saving and loan products, and the cross sell of these products will further increase the volumes. Hence the growth appears to be unimaginably high

EVOLVE: How do you see the banking sectorresponding to the expected increase indemand of credit from private sector?

Ms. Tahira Raza: The simple mathematics can explain this scenario. When in business you buy low, sell high to cover the cost of doing business and keeping a reasonable reward for the services for the investors / shareholders.
Current in Pakistan and a number of other developing countries, Governments borrow from banks to cover up their deficit and pay a return that based on sovereign risk status which is minimal. Most of banks lending is currently
in this category. Cost of compliance and investment in technology, cyber security and training is continuously increasing and soon the banks with this skewed portfolio distribution will become unviable unless they introduce other financial and non-financial fee based services and meet the credit need of private sector.

EVOLVE: Identify three priority areas forwomen?

Ms. Tahira Raza: To be economically strong, every individual on the globe irrespective of gender, physical and mental capacity must be able to exercise their choices to basic necessities which empower them to take control over their lives such as:
Own and manage financial assets
Infrastructure facilities that enable them to conduct their day to day life.

EVOLVE: Any message you want to conveyto the women of Pakistan?

Ms. Tahira Raza: Believe in yourself. Only you know what is best for you. Sincerely and honestly work towards achieving your goals; all barriers are surmountable, it just require persistent effort. My message for men is to be just. This world is for both, and dont think that you have the power which you are surrendering in favor of women. You have unduly assumed power to control women which should be revisited on the basic principles of justice.