Banque Saudi Fransi: Leading transformation
‘Excellence’ is the watchword for Patrice Couvegnes, Banque Saudi Fransi’s Group CEO.
Couvenges sat down with CPI Financial CEO, Robin Amlôt at BSF’s head office in Riyadh. To watch the full interview, click here.
Banque Saudi Fransi (BSF) is a Saudi Arabian Joint Stock Company established by Royal Decree No. M/23 dated 4 June, 1977. The bank offers a wide range of banking and investment services to commercial clients inside and outside Saudi Arabia. Patrice Couvegnes, Group CEO and Board Member joined BSF in 2011. He received the Outstanding Contribution to Banking & Finance Award at the Banker Middle East Industry Awards 2017.
What do you identify as the key challenges and opportunities facing the bank?
The challenge today for BSF is to continue the implementation of the restructuring and transformation we did in the last five years in order to completely change the bank. The challenge today is to cope with the new economy in Saudi Arabia (KSA), the new opportunities for corporate clients, the new opportunities for our retail clients and our high net worth clients.
We are facing a big change in the country but given our position in the market we have many opportunities to manage the situation. Let me remind you of something important. Today the bank is doing well. This is not by chance. We were expecting a big change and we totally restructured and transformed the bank with a new business model and new international practices because we were expecting a big change in the economic environment.
I strongly believe in the economic cycle and when I came here in 2011 the economy was doing very well but I was expecting change and that is the reason why we prepared the bank for the future. Not only to get good results and good performance for one year but to prepare a new BSF. The banking industry is not short-term. When you focus on short-term business you are wrong. Today, the performance of BSF is the result of the work we did on the heavy transformation of BSF and I think we are more prepared than the competition to cope with the more difficult environment.
Before [I joined] BSF I spent 15 years in Asia and I experienced a lot of difficulties and crises. The banking business is experience so what I brought here was my experience… we could have been facing big difficulties if we had not totally changed the bank. It was difficult, it was painful but it was necessary to prepare the bank for the future.
What is the biggest challenge facing BSF now?
We want to be the best quality. Our culture is ‘the bank of clients’, ‘the bank of excellence’. We are in long-term relationships. What we want to do is to serve our clients; to be a service provider; to focus on the quality of service; to act quickly to bring a better service. In order to do that, for our top 100 clients we have 10 senior bankers, high quality relationship managers, in charge of the biggest clients of the bank in order to serve them in the best possible way.
What I am implementing with our team is action not reaction; to be ready with solutions for clients. Our culture is service. For example, take a five-year loan with bullet repayment, what is the difference between bank X and bank Y? It’s the same product, the difference is the quality of the person you have with you. You need a banker who understands you and understands what you want. We need to understand what the client wants and to really know our customer.
The basis of this business is ‘know your customer’, know their strategy and their balance sheet. We want to be the best at what we do and be recognised by our clients as ‘the bank of excellence’.
How competitive is the marketplace in KSA?
It is a very competitive market. I am talking specifically about the corporate market. We benefit because of the DNA of BSF. Historically, we are more a corporate bank than a retail bank. We have strong positions with our clients but we face challenges every day – most banks in KSA started as retail banks but they are looking to do more corporate banking.
How is the business of banking changing? What opportunities do you see for new product areas for the bank to grow in – in retail, private banking, SME and corporate banking, etc.?
Bonds will be important. I am highly supportive of the development of the bonds/Sukuk market here. It will help diversify the risk for the bank. That is a big change I expect in the future. Securitisation will help us. The debt market, for the bank, is a solution to reduce risk and reduce pressure on the balance sheet.
The banking business will have to change and be more of a solutions provider. Clients, particularly corporate clients are becoming more sophisticated. Banks will have to provide more equity capital market and debt capital market solutions. We have Saudi Fransi Capital to do that. I am keen to develop Saudi Fransi Capital. There is a long way to go but I think that BSF is moving in the right direction.
Do you agree with the commonly-held view among many bankers in the Middle East of the need to foster a ‘savings culture’?
There is no culture of saving [in KSA]. There is a need to change, to save, for education, for children, for the future, for retirement, etc. We are working on that at BSF to prepare savings products. Before, retail banking was mostly providing consumer loans and home loans. Now we have to think about products for the future and to take account of the population. The population of KSA is very young. We have to accommodate our business, our retail banking for the new generation.
To watch the full interview, click here.