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Focusing on Indo-African corridor

FirstRand Bank is focused on building a strong commercial banking franchise in India. The key value proposition that FRB is bringing to SMEs and mid corporates is its unique ability to help businesses operating in the African continent

Gopalakrishnan Ramaswamy - Head Comemrcial Banking with FirstRand Bank

Gopalakrishnan Ramaswamy – Head Comemrcial Banking with FirstRand Bank

Ramaswamy, head, Commercial Banking, FirstRand Bank India branch, is a financial services veteran having begun his career with Ashok Leyland Finance way back in 1997 and moved on to Citi, first in Citicorp Finance India and later Citibank, handling different roles, including business development, franchise relationship management and portfolio management focusing on SMEs. He joined FirstRand Bank India in 2015 to head its commercial and business banking vertical. He elaborates on the bank’s positioning and the value-add it can bring in to Indian customers.

Mohan: Can you outline FirstRand Bank’s initiative of banking in the Indo-African corridor?

Ramaswamy: FirstRand Bank started Indian operations in 2008-2009 when it became the first bank from the African continent to be granted a full scale commercial banking license in the country. It commenced its banking operations in April 2009. We began as a small unit, handling gold trade and forex. Today, we have assumed the role of a bank of choice in the Indo-African corridor for trade and investment activity. Our primary focus is on trade finance, investment banking, fixed income, currency and commodity products as also debt capital markets and other structured products.

As a bank in India, our value proposition is to offer banking solutions and advisory services in the Indo-African corridor to our customers. FirstRand Bank, as you are aware, is present in the major sub Saharan African countries and there are no other banks in India which can equal its reach in the continent. We have the wherewithal to meet all the banking needs of the Indian corporates wishing to do business with their counterparts in the African countries.

For an Indian Commercial Bank client, apart from our ability to provide them with advisory and banking solutions in Africa, we provide full suite of banking products in India.

We started commercial banking in India in 2013. We have a loan book of around Rs 400 crore, funding Indian corporates to do business with their African counterparts. In two years’ time, we intend to take this to Rs 1000 – 1200 crore.

What are your focus areas while operating in India?

Obviously, it is trade finance and advisory services. FirstRand Bank has been able to build a strong brand among those Indian corporates which do business with African companies. We are able to do this because we can offer them a whole spectrum of services along with funding. We provide clients with advisory support and help them execute their strategic plans. This may be in the form of identifying potential targets for acquisitions, identifying distribution channels for their products and potential joint venture partners. A client wanting to have trade relations with an entity in Africa can depend on us for a variety of products and services. This is what distinguishes us from other banks and is our USP.

What distinguishes FirstRand Bank from other foreign banks in India?

First, our total focus is on Africa. Second factor that has indeed helped us stand apart is the transparency and the quality of service that we offer. When I say transparency, I mean our pricing of the services is well laid out on paper and there are no hidden clauses. This improves TAT in the delivery process and helps to remove the possible angst in the customers.

Today, we have 750 highly satisfied Indian customers, nearly 350 of them borrowers, whom we have helped in their dealings with their partners in the African continent.

Broadly, we cater to sectors such as chemicals and pharmaceuticals, auto ancillary, mining equipment and capital goods.

Can you speak about your technology advantage?

We have been constantly updating our technology platform to ensure seamless online transaction banking experience.

From a client experience perspective, we have the requisite tools to ensure consistent delivery of collections, payments, trade, forex and liquidity management solutions.

Chaalo Africa Event - BarodaFRD

Chalo Africa Event Sponsored by FirstRand Bank in Baroda to promote investment in Africa

What are the allied services that the bank provides?

Our endeavor is to be a thought partner to our clients. This is mainly because most of our clients have some connect with African countries. For example, when a customer from India has a trade relation with a client in Nigeria, we offer 100% assistance to him. It goes beyond the trade finance deal. We do have an advantage here because we have dealings with approx. 120 banks in Africa and we have presence in most of the major Sub Saharan African countries by way of branches, representative offices or correspondent banking arrangements.

Another advantage we have is our corporate finance business that has deep understanding on whole of Africa. An Indian customer can seek advisory help from this team in order to have an impartial assessment of the business proposal. The team is wired to all the major cities in Africa and it can expedite an authentic view in couple of weeks whereas in other cases, it may take months to obtain such a feedback. It is sort of an end-to-end service that we offer to the Indian corporates, who are our customers. In short, it’s a single window service we try and offer here.

Do you offer wealth management (investment opportunities) to your customers?

Yes, we help our customers to identify avenues for profitable investment options in Africa. As I said earlier, what we offer are end to end solutions. The economies in Africa are all emerging economies although some of them are admittedly volatile economies at the moment. But, there is vast scope for Indian enterprises to have the first mover advantage and we help them in this effort.

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