Today, we are joined by Jean-Louis Menann-Kouamé, Chief Executive Officer of La Banque Internationale pour le Commerce et l’Industrie de la Côte d’Ivoire (BICICI).
A subsidiary of BNP Paribas Group, BICICI is one of the premier financial institutions in West Africa, while Mr. Menann-Kouamé himself is an award-winning banking leader, who has delivered signifiant growth for the bank in recent years.
Mr. Menann-Kouamé, thank you for joining us.
I’d like to begin by discussing the banking industry in Côte d’Ivoire. Just how competitive would you say the industry is at the moment?
The banking sector is very competitive, with 28 banks, two leasing companies and a few microfinance institutions. The market is therefore very dynamic—with, nonetheless, an indicator that speaks for itself: 80 percent of the market is held by the Top 8 banks.
And of all of those banks in the country, what in your opinion differentiates the service being provided by BICICI?
In a competitive Ivorian banking market, characterized by increasingly demanding customers, BICICI distinguishes itself mainly on the following points:
To begin with, the bank is very committed to strict and rigorous observance of regulations and compliance of its operations in accordance with BNP Paribas Group’s procedures. Our business is based on rules that must necessarily be applied (not only by employees, but also by customers) and be strictly followed.
Next, we have a wide and diversified range of products and services. In my opinion, we can cater to all the needs that can be expressed by our clients and prospects: in terms of funding, cash management, international trade and advice.
Finally, we put a lot of energy into improving customer satisfaction, following the principles of continuous improvement of our service quality. This is not a slogan but a daily commitment that involves all of our teams.
You briefly mentioned your clients and prospects just there. Does the SME (small and medium-sized enterprise) sector figure significantly within BICICI’s client base?
SMEs are actively involved in the economic development of Côte d’Ivoire, through their capacity to innovate, their agility and their contributions to servicing large corporations. They are also a regular source of job creation. Therefore, they account for an important segment of the market and of our customer portfolio.
Are you satisfied with the extent of coverage the bank currently provides to SMEs?
Although we may not be completely satisfied with BICICI’s support towards this segment, last year, we committed to being more involved in this sector with our “la Finance s’engage” initiative geared toward the SMEs of Abidjan’s financial center.
We have made a number of commitments and are actively working to deliver them: they consist mainly in participating in the training of SMEs, using more efficiently the guarantee mechanisms carried out by the DFIs (development finance institutions), increasing loans, better supporting active SMEs in our large corporate-client value chain. We believe that this should enable us to better penetrate this market segment.
A report last year from the World Bank revealed that in Côte d’Ivoire, only one in eight people who save money choose to deposit their savings in a bank or financial institution, a rate that is nearly two times lower than those observed elsewhere in Africa. What, in your opinion, is the reason for this low rate?
I think it is in the interests of the people to keep their assets with their banks, if only for safety reasons. This issue is linked to the lack of communication with the population, in order to convince people to trust their banks. Banks must, therefore, make an effort to be better known, in order to reassure savers about pricing practices, security of savings and the possibility of obtaining loans more easily if one already shows good savings practices.
Is BICICI doing anything to improve this rate?
BICICI, through its “local financial education” actions, is very clearly in sync with this approach. Beyond that, the whole banking platform must participate toward this movement.
Yes, I imagine a concerted effort across the industry must be required. Looking towards the more advanced end of banking, I understand that BICICI has a significant presence in financial markets, through its subsidiary BICI Bourse. How developed do you consider the country’s financial markets to be at this stage?
The regional stock market has performed well over the past two years, making the regional stock exchange—Bourse Régionale des Valeurs Mobilières, in short BRVM— a place of choice for its strengths (in 2016 integration into the MSCI Frontier Markets Index, still in 2016 most innovative stock exchange, in 2015 most efficient stock exchange). Nevertheless, it should increase in volume (through a larger number of initial public offerings, or IPOs) and in liquidity (with the ongoing evolution to divide share values in order to make them more affordable).
Finally, pricing should be more flexible. I think this stock exchange has a bright future, provided it keeps its pace! It is undoubtedly on the right track.
And which specific financial market products are available to clients through BICI Bourse?
In this environment, BICI Bourse, our regional subsidiary in charge of market operations, is very active and offers brokerage, custody and financial-engineering services (IPOs, mergers and acquisitions, bond issues). Thus, it was awarded “Best Brokerage Company” of the entire past decade by the BRVM in 2016.
That’s a fantastic achievement. I imagine the bank has a great team behind it to be able to earn such awards. How would you rate the bank’s Human Resources division, and in what ways does it ensure that the bank retains it best staff for the long-term?
Talent retention is a major issue for human-resources management. New banks are entering the market with little time and little means to train their staff, which leads them to attract staff from historically established banks such as BICICI.
We react to this threat in several ways. First, by relying on the leverage that the BNP Paribas Group provides. As a member of BNP Paribas, we can offer career opportunities to our employees—whether they are in Côte d’Ivoire, throughout Africa or worldwide! We also put a lot of resources into training our teams.
In addition, we work on remuneration topics, in order to remain competitive in the labor market. Finally, we make sure we remain realistic in our decisions regarding professional development.
It is not always easy, but most of our talents trust our long-term vision and willingly participates in BICICI’s dynamic management.
I’d like to turn now to yourself, Mr. Menann-Kouamé, if I may. If I’m not mistaken, you have now been CEO of BICICI since December 2014. How has your role changed during this time? And what are some of the biggest changes you have made to the bank during your tenure thus far?
First, it is important to note that BICICI has been present in Côte d’Ivoire for more than 50 years. It has long been known for its professional management. When I became the head of this bank in December 2014, I could rely on solid foundations. Nonetheless, I have tackled some important actions that to me seemed valuable in maintaining our long-term robustness. These actions mainly consist of keeping the staff alert and engaged with operations’ compliance, counterparty-risk management and internal quality controls. Of course, business matters are never far away. Thus, I think I have successfully shared my vision on the business potential prevailing in Côte d’Ivoire, which exists despite the difficulties that can be encountered in this market, and is according to me not sufficiently exploited. This implementation of the guidelines enabled us to achieve a record net result and a historically low cost ratio in 2016—a performance to be attributed to all teams.
Well, it seems that your efforts have not gone unnoticed. In last year’s Choiseul 100 Africa list, which highlights the best young African leaders of tomorrow, you made a giant leap from 71st to 13th place. Firstly, congratulations, and secondly, what do you think has been the main reason (in terms of your/BICICI’s accomplishments) for the higher ranking?
I am very honored to have been nominated in the prestigious Choiseul 100 – Africa Edition three years in a row. Knowing the rigor of the analyses in the selection of the winners, I am even more delighted to be 13th in the 2016 ranking. The Institut Choiseul says they analyze several criteria related to image and reputation, background and skills, power and function, influence and networks, potential and leadership.
They certainly found reasons why they think my profile and my career deserved to be recognized. In all fairness, only the Institut Choiseul can explain these reasons!
Yes, I suppose the judging criteria will be closely guarded. Perhaps it might have something to do with your style of leadership—do you employ any specific philosophies in order to get the most out of your workforce?
Women and men who work at BICICI have all been carefully selected for their talents and skills. Relying on the quality of our human resources, my personal stake as manager is to take advantage of their strengths. This requires developing a trustful and pleasant working environment. Moreover, the search for collective performance that is so important to our organization requires each employee to achieve individual performance. We work on these aspects, in particular through clear annual individual objectives validated with each employee, so as to obtain an unbiased evaluation process. Finally, I am very attached to positive sanctions to encourage the most deserving employees.
And finally, how do you see banking changing during the coming years, both in Côte d’Ivoire and the wider West African region?
The banking system in Côte d’Ivoire and in the West African Economic and Monetary Union (WAEMU) is rapidly evolving. An increasing number of banks are participating in the financing of economies, which are globally in a better situation than they were 15 or 20 years ago. Moreover, the emergence of mobile phones has considerably modified practices for payment and transfer of small amounts of money. As a result, we are already witnessing a movement that will necessarily accelerate in the coming years: the imbrication of physical contact with digital contact in our banking industry, what some call phygitalization.
The stake for banks is not whether we should participate in this development but rather think about how we can participate in a global manner, in order to take a more active part. Our bargaining power with telecoms (telecommunication) cannot but be reinforced, in order to offer diversified services, and that at lower costs for our customers.
Well, thanks in no small part to your leadership, it seems that BICICI is firmly at the forefront of that banking-system evolution. Mr. Menann-Kouamé, thank you for your time today.