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Tunisia: Attijari aligns projects and performance

Attijari Bank continues to align projects and performance. No sooner had the project of reorganization completed than the bank undertook another, that of development which has always retained its priority status.
These projects were addressed at the interview given to us by Bertal Hassen, Chief Executive General of Attijari Bank.
Current news command that we address in a prologue to the interview 
an event of first magnitude which involved recently the banking sector in Tunisia, namely the planned merger between two key public banks: the STB and the “Banque de l’Habitat.” What do you think of this development and what could be its impact on Tunisia’s banking landscape.
My first reaction is a positive one insofar as the individual size of our banks remains limited compared to banks, even of the region. Bigger banks represent a positive element for the country and an economic support for our operators in Tunisia and also abroad. This can only be positive for the banking landscape. 

Do you think that this merger comes in due time or a bit later…? 

It takes place in the same logic, one that was launched several years ago:  restructuring, reorganization and now restructuring of the banking landscape. The banking system as it is today is vastly different from that which was ours in the 
recent past. I think it will be different again in the years come. It is a mutation that occurs to meet the ambitions of the country.

Do you think such an initiative could have an impact on foreign banks operating in Tunisia? 

I do not see a direct impact.  Having a larger operator is certainly good for the market, just like other elements. Indeed, privatization in this case paid off 
and had a positive impact on the market. 

Let us come to your institution. In light of your latest financial statements, 
we can say that everything is turning out for the best…

Yes, a financial statement is a summary. It reflects a trend. 
This has been built for several years, particularly around the business plan we put in place three years ago and which we have updated in the meantime. These are good results, but I will say they were expected.

Overall, you achieved what you have planned and this without
hitches or glitches 

Exactly. Overall we are quite in line with what we had decided in 2007. 

You, then, came out with the project of becoming, in 2010, the second bank 
in Tunisia after BIAT. Is this deadline still relevant? 

It’s something we have set as a goal. Today, we are not on that trend, simply because, as you know, a prediction is made with materials available on the 
time. As expected, and I will not deny that we really expected it, the market reaction and evolution of the banking system during the last three years were higher than
what we have planned. And as the market evolved more than was expected, market shares have not followed. However, this is not a problem for us. Market share reflects absolutely nothing. Our profitability is the one we had anticipated. The market share is lower because operators have worked as perfectly as us. Other banks have developed more quickly than was anticipated by the banking system. It is an overall dynamism that is positive. 

Does this development require a revision, even minor, of your strategy in this area? 

We deemed it unnecessary to make on update on this element of the market share, because this would be useless especially as the figure was expected. What is important, however, is the financial soundness of the bank. 

Is the stabilization scheme over?

You can say it. The rate of captured credits is today around 8%. This figure is largely enough to say that we are no longer in a state of reorganization. It is a very respectable figure. 

In its latest rating agency Capital Intelligence stated that you can make progress in this area. What do you think? 

What I can tell you is we are doing better than the banking system which has reached 13%. Our rate of captured credits is at 8% and the sector’s average coverage rate is 58%, and we are at 65%. We did better than the average banking sector.

Logically, this means that the supply policy should follow the same pace which is the case now.

Absolutely. We can say that in late 2008, the stabilization component is completely finished. 

What will be the next line in which you will engage? 

It will involve continuing development. We have never stopped doing it but we will devote more efforts to it.

A year ago, Attijari was blamed for not investing enough. Is this criticism still relevant?

I ignore the reason behind this reproach. We recruit many people; we have a headquarters that will cost us 45 million dinars. We have an information system which costs us 28 million dinars. All investment compartments were very active. So, it is a bank that has invested heavily in the past four years. 

Attijari is often viewed as an institution committed to a Jacobian vision 
of service-providing, in that it tends to centralize its operations and that agencies, which are doing an excellent work elsewhere, are not able to grant themselves the necessary privileges to conduct their operations as they should. 

I think we cannot claim to be totally satisfied with what we do. You can never be it in a service area, and let alone in a field of financial services. Throughout the world, banks are judged very harshly. This is normal because it affects the money and persons. That is a very sensitive area.
On the contrary, I can say that we have a work program based on quality. The quality we see today is far from perfect, but it is better than it was there before.
We made technical and even strategic choices which consider. In these choices the culture of organization allows us to open more agencies to get closer to customers and where we are welcoming, with back office operations that are less and less cumbersome.
 It is a long-term task. I inform you that we have changed the information system recently. 

I would take the random example of loans. The agency is not empowered to rule on this matter itself; it must refer to the head office which decides on this matter. This obviously results in unnecessary delays that are even more burdensome for credit applicants.

Regarding consumer credit, for example, the period of response is 24 hours on average. But whatever the organization mode adopted, there are still delays in processing records. Only systems that are not serious and credible can do it instantly.  Now, there are decision-making processes… Moreover, most of our loans to individuals are delegated to agencies. But from a certain amount, and just like all 
banks, there are committees that decide on significant amounts.
About credits, you are also blamed for granting too much
Yes, development depends on that. A bank is made to collect deposits and distribute credits. It is our vocation, and we still continue to distribute funds. Now the challenge is to give good credits to people who have good projects and 
support them. Therein lies the difficulty. But the more we distribute credit, the more we are happy, and the more we will win money. How to distribute these funds, that’s the question. Right now and as far as we are concerned we have recorded no significant problem.

You were one of the major institutions that led the cross-listing operation of Ennakl on both the Tunis and Casablanca Stock Exchanges.  Do you encourage companies to do the same to develop a culture of cross-listing? 

We think this is a first for the stock market. It was conducted thanks to our partner ENNAKL which made us this honor and confidence. It is a very good thing for integration and for the opening-up of our stock exchanges. I think it’s promising 
for the future. I, who belong to the Maghreb, think our economies will benefit from involvement in a bigger and better integration.

Since we spoke of the Maghreb, one cannot help addressing the Maghreb Development Days?  What about these days?

We are preparing the next edition, it will be the fourth to be held in Casablanca, on which we are working to see what added value we will give to it.


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