Interview with Mr. Berhanu Woldeselassie - President Dashen Bank, Ethiopia, May 2013

BUSINESS FOCUS (BF):What are your expectations about Ethiopia's potential?

BERHANU WOLDESELASSIE (BW): The Ethiopian economy has been registering double-digit growth for over a decade so we have one of the fastest-growing economies in the world. The government has designed and introduced a five-year Growth and Transformation Plan (GTP) to make this development sustainable and facilitate the transformation to industrialization. The actions necessary to move the GTP forward are properly coordinated, the GTP is owned by the people and the level of commitment is high. The conditions necessary to promote investment from both foreign and domestic sources are adequately provided for. The country’s resource potential is high and there are workable investment policies and laws in place. Viewed from these angles, I firmly believe Ethiopia’s perspective in the future will flourish.

BF:What steps are needed for Ethiopia's banking industry to fully develop?

BW: The primary requisite for the sustained development of Ethiopia's banking sector is the right conditions for growth to be created. As a regulatory body, the National Bank of Ethiopia is providing the necessary guidance and support in this respect. The changes introduced in the economic system following the downfall of the military regime have brought a fundamental shift in the ownership and operation of commercial banks in Ethiopia. Quite a few commercial banks have been established within the past two decades and the focus of the banking business has changed. The traditional way of doing business has given way to more technology-centered and personalized banking services. Modernization has become the focus to cope with the advanced world and the means for growth. Ethiopia is in the midst of great change and development: it is attracting huge foreign investment and the banking sector should get ready to satisfy needs of existing and potential customers, and that requires dynamism. Capacity-building is the key area that the banks should pay attention to in this regard. Enhanced accessibility, through the use of appropriate OM and technology, appears crucial.

BF: How has Dashen Bank reached the top of the banking industry in Ethiopia?

BW: One of the key factors that has contributed significantly to our excellent performance is the focus given to strategic planning. Dashen Bank’s operations have been guided by prudently drawn strategic plans since its inception. Planning is at the center of its management philosophy. Our vision and mission statements clearly explain where we want to be. Another key measure that has contributed immensely to the result achieved is the focus given to technology. The high value we give to our customer too is the success factor. The shareholders, board directors, management and the entire staff's commitment to fulfilling the ideals of the Dashen Bank's vision and mission has been very strong, and the support and encouragement we've had from our customers have been instrumental.

BF: What makes Dashen Bank different to other banks in Ethiopia?

BW: The business philosophy of Dashen Bank concentrates on the provision of modern services through the application of appropriate technology within the continuous challenges for excellence. We were determined to apply ICT from the beginning. The move we have taken in this direction has enabled us to introduce modern banking services and products in Ethiopia. Dashen Bank was the first bank to introduce an integrated payment card system in Ethiopia. This bold initiative was a milestone and I am proud that the other banks followed this path and that the country’s banking system is advancing.

BF: How does it feel to be a pioneer in the banking industry of Ethiopia, in terms of culture and management of the bank?

BW: It’s always challenging and painful to be a pioneer. Considerable effort was required to tackle the wide range of difficulties we encountered. One of the main challenges we faced in introducing new products was the resistance to change from people both within and outside of Dashen Bank, which required patience and diligence. Another problem we faced was the absence of adequate knowledge and access to information. By overcoming these obstacles, we have made history. The knowledge and experience gained is the reward we get in executing each new project.

BF: How is Dashen Bank working to educate Ethiopians on financial services?

BW: We use different approaches. One of our policies regarding this issue is contacting customers directly. We arrange seminars focusing on different topics, new products and the overall services that we provide to the public, and introduce them to the new products and services that we are launching. We tell them about the policies and procedures we follow and listen to their feedback, which enables us to understand their needs and serves as input to improve our services. We always plan and schedule time to connect with our customers. We also prepare promotional materials that give adequate information on the products and services we provide.

BF: Could you elaborate on the priorities in your new strategic period 2012-2017?

BW: Based on the excellent experience we have gained from past strategic plans, we have drawn and launched a well-structured Strategic Plan for this period. It is based on ice pillars. Unfortunately, the detail of the information is classified.

BF: Dashen Bank has been recognized by “The Banker” magazine as Ethiopia's best bank for ten years now. Why is this?

BW: It is a reflection of our performance. The overall growth of the bank is evaluated using different factors. They obtained the figures from our financial statements and found that we exceed other banks in many respects. The parameters used to evaluate performance are: the level of deposits we have mobilized, the magnitude of credit extended, the payment card service we provide, the number of customers attracted, branch network, technology applied, the volume of profit recorded etc. They apply objective parameters to evaluate the bank. It is the final outcome that put us in that position.

BF: What services can Dashen Bank offer international clients?

BW: The international banking department is focused on the import-export business. We facilitate foreign trade for different companies and maintain correspondent accounts with major banks in the world. We have established business relations with a large number of banks following the interests of our clients. We also act as agents for international money transfer companies, such as Western Union, Money Gram, Express Money etc. We served as a card acquirer for Barclays before we introduced our own card system. We were the first bank to become a principal member of international card associations (ICAs) VISA, Master Card, and China Union Pay.
The link we've established with these ICAs eases the financial needs of international travelers; it means they can access their usual account through our bank ATMS & POS Terminals deployed all over Ethiopia 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. We also buy and sell foreign currency throughout our area bank offices and forex bureaux.

BF: How can the UK help in the development of Dashen Bank?

BW: Although we've seen encouraging progress, the development of the banking system in our country is far behind the advanced world. There are many things that we can learn from the banks and the financial systems in London—transfers of skills and knowledge can be facilitated through training programs, for example. Our employees can acquire advanced knowledge by enrolling in their institution. A lot of things can be done together, particularly in terms of modernizing the banking system.

BF: What is your management style like?

BW: My style is participatory and transparent. It is through the participation and involvement of the team that you establish commitment and ownership which is necessary to move plans forward and achieve the targets set.

BF: How can this country be successful?

BW: By moving the Growth and Transformation Plan forward.

BF: What message would you like to send to the international community about Ethiopia?

BW: Ethiopia is a great country endowed with huge potential for development. I encourage and invite investors to come and work in Ethiopia in the fields of their choice. It can be agriculture, manufacturing, services, mining etc. The country is peaceful and stable. The government system is transparent the legal framework required to do business in Ethiopia is adequately provided. The climatic conditions are excellent. We have long-established cultures of respect and friendship. The peoples of Ethiopian are kind and hospitable.

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