Home Banking Interview with Mr. Dowlat Parbhu, Chief Executive Officer, Demerara Bank Limited

Interview with Mr. Dowlat Parbhu, Chief Executive Officer, Demerara Bank Limited

by internationalbanker

 

Demerara Bank Limited (DBL), headquartered in Georgetown, Guyana, is renowned as the country’s first and only private-sector indigenous bank. Dr. Yesu Persaud conceived the idea of a progressive bank that captured advanced technological innovation while offering export-trade finance in the 1960s, but his vision did not come to fruition until 30 years later. The new financial enterprise was incorporated as a private limited liability company in 1992 and officially opened its doors in 1994. Since then, it has spread throughout the country, with several branches working alongside evolving digital-banking infrastructure to satisfy customers’ varied needs, from savings and loans to cambio services. Demerara Bank, true to its original vision of being a catalyst for growth in building a diverse business sector, serves the needs of various commercial customers, focusing particularly on the agriculture community, for which it provides 60 percent of the sector’s funding. DBL is committed to prioritising long-term progress and relationships over short-term gains; through its green-energy projects, it has set an example for other businesses by operating most of its locations on renewable energy. The bank is concerned with a wide range of social and community-development issues, from education and sports to health and safety. Demerara Bank’s staff continue to be guided by their joint mission to “excel in providing innovative and superior banking services through well-trained, dedicated and courteous staff in the interest of our customers and shareholders and to fulfill our social responsibilities to society through meaningful involvement in community development”.

International Banker enjoyed speaking with Mr. Dowlat Parbhu, Demerara Bank’s new chief executive officer, about numerous topics related to this unique bank’s role in supporting and invigorating the communities it serves.

Mr. Dowlat Parbhu, Chief Executive Officer, Demerara Bank Limited

Mr. Parbhu, it is wonderful to have you with us today….

Demerara Bank Limited (DBL) was the first bank in Guyana to have been created by the indigenous private sector and remains the only one to this day. Does having such a status position Demerara Bank more favourably within the local market than its banking peers? And if so, what are some of the key benefits of having this status?

Demerara Bank as the only indigenous private-sector bank in Guyana, holds a unique and advantageous position that has significantly contributed to our growth and success throughout the years.

This status has enabled us to have a deep understanding of the   cultural and business environment allowing us to establish robust relationships with communities, fostering customer loyalty. This local insight of the market allows us to tailor products and services to meet the specific needs of communities, enhancing our competitiveness. Additionally, the bank’s local roots contribute to higher levels of trust and credibility, a valuable asset for attracting and retaining customers. Our agility in responding to local-market changes and customer demands further positions us as a dynamic and adaptive player in the business landscape.

Beyond Financial services, our commitment to social responsibility sets us apart. We are heavily focussed on initiatives that benefit communities and our focus on relationship banking has led to increased customer loyalty and retention. Furthermore, the bank’s employees, feeling a strong connection to the organisation due to its local roots, exhibit higher morale and productivity. This collective sense of belonging contributes to the overall success and sustainability of Demerara Bank in the financial sector in Guyana.

The bank prides itself on its customer-centric approach, with its quick approvals—personal and business accounts opened the same day and within three business days, respectively, among the clearest examples of this customer centricity. Can you provide some brief insights into how such approvals happen so quickly, especially in terms of the high levels of efficiency of the bank’s internal processes?

At Demerara Bank, we make every effort to ensure we have a swift approval process to enhance customer services. Firstly, we have standardisation of workflows through clear, uniform procedures. This eliminates ambiguity and ensures that each team member understands their role, contributing to a more efficient process.

Secondly, the bank grants decision making authority to its employees at various levels of the hierarchy.  This decentralisation of authority expedites processes to ensure a more responsive customer-service experience.

We are also supplementing these efforts with technology-driven solutions and backend automation. Our investment in a customer relationship management (CRM) system offers a comprehensive view of customer’s interactions and history. This enables more informed and quicker decision-making.  This holistic approach to efficiency and customer service is what enables us to meet our customers’ needs promptly.

In what key ways does the bank empower its employees to ensure that they consistently make decisions reflecting the company’s overall policies? And how, if at all, has this empowerment helped to improve turnaround times and overall customer service?

First let me say that our employees are our most valuable asset.  We invest significantly in comprehensive training programs that not only educate our staff on the bank’s policies and procedures but also emphasize our customer-centric values. This ensures that employees understand the rationale behind our policies and are equipped to make decisions that reflect them.

Secondly, we grant decision making authority to ensure operational efficiency. Through well-defined approval limits, meticulously crafted operating guidelines and robust post-approval reviews, the bank ensures that its staff is equipped with both the authority and knowledge to make informed decisions.

The ability of empowered employees to address customer issues promptly, coupled with quick decision-making authority, not only resolves problems faster but also strengthens customer relationships, contributing to overall satisfaction in the banking experience provided by Demerara Bank Limited.

Demerara Bank Limited (DBL) Corporate Office in Georgetown, Guyana

Demerara Bank is easily the largest lender to Guyana’s agricultural sector, accounting for some 60 percent of the total $23.5 billion as of the end of September 2023. What main factors explain Demerara Bank’s leading market position for this industry?

The bank has been supporting the Agriculture sector for more than 2 decades. Our position as the largest lender to Guyana’s agricultural sector is rooted in the bank’s distinct strengths, beginning with its unparalleled local expertise and understanding of the intricacies within the Guyanese agricultural landscape. Also we recognize the critical role agriculture plays in Guyana’s economy and food security and so we have made strategic investment to support its development.

 Moreover, the bank’s contributions to economic growth are substantial, channelling a significant portion of its lending into sectors such as rice farming, which, in turn, stimulates employment, income generation and rural development. Demerara Bank’s leading market position is a testament to its agility and responsiveness to evolving market dynamics, ensuring its lending strategies and product offerings remain relevant and effective. The bank’s approach not only solidifies its leadership in the industry but also plays a crucial role in supporting the livelihoods of a substantial portion of the Guyanese population.

Demerara Bank also collaborated with the government to grant collateral-free and concessional loans to people who lost their livelihoods in a massive fire at one of Guyana’s largest farmers’ markets. How does this collaboration work in practice? And are you happy with the bank’s lending programme’s results regarding helping your customers sufficiently recover from such a tragic event?

Our collaboration with the government to provide collateral-free and concessional loans in response to the devastating fire at one of Guyana’s largest farmers’ markets demonstrates our commitment to social responsibility and community support. In the aftermath of the tragic event, this collaborative effort ensured the bank’s swift response to the immediate financial needs of affected individuals, offering collateral-free loans with concessional terms. This tailored lending programme, designed for rebuilding and continued growth, played a pivotal role in reinstating the livelihoods of those who had lost their only sources of income due to the fire, particularly supporting vulnerable groups, such as single mothers and families.

The positive impacts of this lending programme are evident in the widespread appreciation of the Guyanese public, who recognise it as a meaningful gesture that provides affected individuals with opportunities to rebuild and continue their livelihoods. Beyond financial recovery, the programme has contributed to the economic recoveries of impacted individuals, rebuilding their means of earning a living.

Demerara Bank can claim the distinctly rare achievement of having recorded zero nonperforming loans for two consecutive years (2022 and 2023) whilst steadily growing the bank’s loan portfolio. To what main factors do you attribute this feat? And do you see this record as reflecting the quality of the bank’s internal lending processes?

We are very proud of this achievement. Maintaining zero nonperforming loans for two consecutive years (2022 and 2023) is a testament to the effectiveness and quality of our internal lending processes. The bank attributes this rare feat to key factors such as transparency in lending, objectivity in evaluation, an experienced and competent credit team and a robust monitoring process.

The achievement of zero nonperforming loans highlights the bank’s attention to detail, not only in risk-mitigation strategies but also in its commitment to continuous improvement. Demerara Bank’s customer-centric approach, personalised loan structures and adherence to industry standards showcase its dedication to maintaining financial stability and fostering a healthy lending environment. This rare accomplishment positions the bank as a leader in sound banking practices, reinforcing its reputation for transparency, objectivity and a proactive approach to risk management in the realm of lending.

What are some of the key investments the bank has made recently in cutting-edge technologies to attract tech-savvy customers and those seeking to embrace technology? Are you satisfied with customers’ current adoption of the bank’s digital-banking products and services?

Demerara Bank has invested substantially in cutting-edge technologies to cater to tech-savvy customers and those embracing technological advancements. A notable investment is the implementation of Salesforce, recognised as the leading CRM software globally. Salesforce brings world-class technology featuring advanced integration and automation capabilities. This integration is anticipated to lead to about a 95-percent reduction in manual processes at the bank. This initiative aims to provide customers with unparalleled convenience in their banking interactions.

Comprehensive measures are being implemented to gauge the current level of adoption of the bank’s digital-banking products and services. While specific satisfaction rates and adoption figures have not been determined, the bank is proactively assessing customer feedback and engagement through customer surveys and advanced usage analytics. This approach aligns with the bank’s commitment to optimising its digital-banking services based on customer needs, ensuring a seamless and tech-savvy banking experience.

Demerara Bank is now particularly active in promoting green-energy initiatives, can you tell us about some of these initiatives?

Demerara Bank has proactively promoted green-energy initiatives, showcasing leadership in environmental sustainability. Notably, the bank has achieved significant milestones, including transforming its corporate office into the first fully solar-powered commercial institution in Guyana, converting five of our locations to full solar energy and introducing green loans to encourage customers to adopt renewable-energy solutions.

These initiatives contribute towards lowering the carbon footprint of the bank and has led to a substantial reduction in carbon emissions, emphasizing the bank’s commitment to environmental sustainability.

You have led the bank’s digital transformation through a recently announced cloud-computing partnership with leading financial cloud provider Salesforce. What are some of the key goals of this partnership? And what improvements do you anticipate for the bank from this partnership over what was possible previously?

The bank’s strategic partnership with Salesforce in its digital-transformation journey aligns with a set of targeted goals aimed at enhancing various aspects of our operations. This includes obtaining a 360-degree, real-time view of each customer by consolidating information from diverse sources, improving customer engagement through personalised communications and services, streamlining operations for increased efficiency and identifying cross-selling opportunities through Salesforce analytics. The initiative also prioritises compliance and security, adaptive financial planning, real-time analytics and mobile accessibility, which fosters a collaborative work environment and ensures scalability and flexibility to accommodate business growth.

This comprehensive approach to digital transformation is expected to bring about transformative changes across all our branch operations, elevating customer relationships and contributing to overall business success. By leveraging Salesforce’s tools and capabilities, the bank aims to streamline processes, enhance customer satisfaction and adapt to the evolving financial landscape. The alignment with specific goals, from customer retention to operational efficiency, underscores a strategic and purposeful approach to digital transformation that anticipates positive outcomes for the bank’s future.

It has only been a few weeks since your appointment as the bank’s new chief executive officer, effective January 1, 2024. What are your main goals or targets in this new role for 2024? Do you have a specific or unique philosophy on banking that you would like to implement for Demerara Bank in your new role?

As the newly appointed chief executive officer of Demerara Bank, I am excited to lead our young, vibrant team at the bank. Our team’s objective for 2024 is to enhance our digital transformation journey, expand the suite of services to cater to the growing demands of customers and deepening our community engagement.

Our strategic vision aligns the bank with market trends and ensures a clear direction for long-term success. Prioritising risk management and compliance underscores our commitment to stability and ethical conduct, essential pillars of a sustainable financial institution. Embracing digital transformation is central to staying competitive in the rapidly evolving digital-banking landscape, while our customer-centric approach aims to improve satisfaction through personalised services and efficient processes.

As for my philosophy on banking, I believe in a balanced and ethical approach. It is crucial to blend financial success with social responsibility. Demerara Bank will not only be a financial institution but also a responsible corporate citizen that contributes positively to the communities it serves. This involves promoting sustainable practices, supporting local initiatives and maintaining transparency in our operations.

Moreover, I aim to position Demerara Bank as one that values long-term relationships over short-term gains. Building trust with customers, employees and stakeholders is paramount. By consistently delivering on our promises, maintaining integrity and adapting to the evolving financial landscape, we can ensure Demerara Bank’s sustained success and reputation.

Globally, Guyana has frequently garnered headlines for its massive offshore oil and gas discoveries and the resultant explosion in economic growth. How much exposure to this industry does the bank seek to have over the coming years? And would this prove problematic for the bank’s progress in greening its operations and business model?

As part of our strategic goals, the bank is positioning itself to capitalise on the opportunities that Guyana’s emerging oil-and-gas sector presents. We recognise the potential for expanded business and the emergence of new industries within this sector. Our approach is two-fold, aiming not only to benefit from the growth in this sector but also to play a pivotal role in supporting local industries. This is crucial for fostering a diversified economy and ensuring resources are channelled into indigenous sectors.

The bank plans to financially support businesses in the oil-and-gas sector while focusing on sustainable and responsible banking practices. Additionally, the bank is committed to supporting non-oil sectors to foster economic diversity and contribute to the resilience of local economies, creating a balanced and sustainable economic landscape.

We acknowledge the challenges posed by the need for adaptive legislation and the evolving local landscape to accommodate the complexities of the oil-and-gas sector. As part of our strategic planning, we will actively engage with regulatory bodies and local authorities to advocate for policies that balance economic growth with environmental and social considerations.

Demerara Bank looks set to scale even greater heights in the longer term, Mr. Parbhu. Thank you again for your time.

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